In 2018, technology helped level the playing field for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), positioning them to better compete against their larger counterparts. Thanks to the cloud, resources such as enterprise planning tools are no longer plagued with high costs and lengthy deployments and are finding their rightful place with SMBs. Now, small businesses are deploying cost-effective technology to automate business processes — which can save time on tasks like invoice management by almost two-thirds—to grow even faster.
As workplace technology continues to advance, we expect to see three major technology trends emerge for SMBs in 2019.
1. Small businesses will increasingly incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) into their services and solutions.
Due to their size and flexibility, small businesses will be some of the first to employ cutting-edge AI- and ML-driven technology to improve their stance against larger companies. AI and ML allow SMBs to effortlessly scale without causing constraint or adding exorbitant amounts of headcount.
With conversational interfaces being one of the fastest-growing ways to implement AI and ML, we will see SMBs leverage chatbots to provide 24/7 customer assistance while keeping costs down. This could take the form of a bot reading PDF documents, then “learning” and answering common questions, to create efficiencies and free up valuable employee time.
Given their focus on cash flow management, SMBs will also use AI and ML to detect anomalies in financial data, such as in expense reports or invoices, to prevent erroneous, fraudulent, or duplicate payments. ML can also be used to essentially “read” text—like that on a receipt or invoice—and pre-populate information to eliminate human error.
2. Small businesses will grow at a faster pace by tapping into their professional networks to learn from thought leaders and crowdsource insights that previously weren’t available.
Technology allows small businesses of all industries and geographies to connect and work better, together. In 2019, we will see SMBs take this to the next level and create communities to power their businesses with pooled knowledge, insights and data previously exclusive to larger companies.
SMBs will use these newfound business relationships and broadened networks to learn best practices for common business needs, such as marketing, customer lifecycle management, manufacturing, and finance. They’ll also team up to purchase and share physical resources, like tools or equipment that’s only needed a few times a year, to reduce capital expenditures and create major savings. Pooling resources for items like
- specialty printers,
- presentation equipment.
can also spread out storage and maintenance costs.
With SMBs gathering industry-specific data and working closely with each other, innovation will flow from these organizations. The one-two punch of technical solutions and practical application will poise them for unprecedented growth and success. Small businesses will also work with peers to give back to their surrounding communities and organizations.
3. Small businesses will become increasingly diverse. We will see a rise in women, minority, and millennial business ownership.
The American workplace is becoming increasingly diverse.
- Women-owned businesses account for 20 percent of businesses with paid employees
- approximately 11.1M businesses are minority-owned,
- and almost half of millennials intend to start their own business in the near future.
These numbers will only continue to grow as SMBs harness technology and the power of their communities and put an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Through bourgeoning community networks, we will see different backgrounds and perspectives converge, bringing together diverse viewpoints, spurring open discussions and supporting healthy, constructive debates.
As each of these technology trends come to fruition, we’ll see small businesses break barriers and create greater opportunity. These trends, partnered with athleticism, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit, will cement 2019 as a marquee year for SMBs
Christal Bemont, SVP & GM of the Small, Midsize and Nationals business unit, is building a thriving and connected global community of SMBs within SAP Concur. By expanding the customer relationship beyond Travel, Expense and Invoice, Christal’s vision is to improve customers’ economic and financial viability, help them unlock new opportunities and promote social and environmental good. Christal’s personal connection to the industry started as a young girl, helping her mother with several small business ventures. Since joining SAP Concur in 2004, she’s grown her career from individual contributor to a leading sales executive and company spokesperson. In her free time, Christal serves her community by volunteering at organizations, such as the Anderson Animal Shelter, the local women’s shelter and Feed My Starving Children. For more about Christal, please visit her LinkedIn profile.