As new technologies and trends emerge in the marketplace, small and medium-sized companies must look out for ways they too can benefit from improvements and advancements. Startups have demonstrated time and time again in recent years that the company willing to put new technology to use to solve an old problem (Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, etc.) are the companies that will succeed — no matter how big or small they are when they begin.
No matter whether you are a solopreneur or a company with a hundred or more employees, these are the trends I would suggest you watch in your own field:
1. Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, deep learning and cognitive computing
These technologies mean that work that once might have been too time consuming or expensive for a small company to do becomes quick and relatively inexpensive. For example, smarter message ‘bots’ are on the horizon in the very near future. Companies that can’t afford a dedicated customer service representative can outsource much of that work to a chatbot that can answer simple customer service questions.
While a very small business might not be able to employ the latest in robotics in-house, the advent of more automated manufacturing will make manufacturing more affordable and small runs of products more achievable. This will open up production possibilities for many small businesses.
3. Big data and analytics
Programs already exist to give small businesses access to their online data and analytics. Google has just announced that part of its 360 Analytics suite will be available for free to help create useful data visualizations for small businesses and individuals. Data and analytics are being democratized very quickly.
4. Internet of Things
RFID (Radio-frequency identification to give it its full name) tags and other small sensors can turn just about any object into a smart Internet of Things object these days. And the hardware and software to make them work, is easier and less expensive than ever before. This means that businesses of all sizes can benefit from “smart” IoT devices in any manner they can dream up.
5. 3D printing
I know a woman whose kindergartener will have access to a 3D printer as part of her computer class next year. If that’s not going mainstream, I don’t know what is. Innovative small businesses, I predict, will be using 3D printing technology to disrupt traditional manufacturing in any number of ways. It’s especially useful for the inventor who will be able to create prototypes on the fly for new products and tools.
6. Virtual reality / Augmented reality
The possibilities for virtual reality are only just barely being tested as new technologies emerge. I predict that small and medium-sized businesses will be at the forefront of developing new applications for this technology from entertainment to medicine, to distance learning and working.
Of course, it’s not all roses and rainbows. Some of these technologies will challenge smaller companies even as others offer new opportunities. But the larger trends I see are towards the democratization of tools and information, narrowing or eliminating the gap between what a large company (with deep pockets) can achieve and what a small startup or medium-sized company can expect to do.