Love it or hate it, you need it

Technology offers great help as well as opportunity for small businesses, but it involves cost, research, upkeep and protection.

Technology can open up big opportunities for small businesses, from helping with daily tasks to attracting more customers, but the range of options can be challenging even for the largest company. If businesses choose technology compatible with their activities, they can reap big benefits.

Many technology challenges are common to new and/or existing businesses, and finding how to manage and minimise their impact is a worthwhile exercise.

Owners and customers alike can truly benefit from access to more accurate information and from new technologies such as beacon marketing, fintech, IoT and virtual assistants. These technologies can give businesses greater access to valuable information and open up more opportunities, but the technology needs to be relevant, kept up to date and secure.

In this age of the mobile customer, apps such as Google or Tripadvisor are used regularly to research such information as accommodation and eating options. We rely on the information to be accurate and up to date across all platforms. Similar technology can be harnessed by small businesses to optimise their chances to attract potential customers as well as improve the customer experience. If a restaurant changes its location or hours, it could be weeks or months before the information is updated in the places people search online.

One of the most obvious challenges for start-ups when it comes to technology is cost. Buying and maintaining tools can be expensive, especially as your business starts to grow. Carefully consider short- and long-term benefits versus cost. Once you have identified the need for a certain technology, you must decide if it is within your area of expertise. If not, you will need to find someone who can help, or spend the time training and learning how to get the most out of it.

Emerging technology trends

Along with the growth of mobile technology, cloud technology and smart apps, here are some emerging tech trends that offer enhanced customer experience:

  • Virtual reality: This involves 360deg photography and videos allowing the viewer to move around and “see” in any direction (use your smartphone or consider hiring specialised photographers or equipment for professional results)
  • Voice: Technology is becoming less screen/keyboard focused with personal assistants like Cortana and Siri, where you talk to your devices rather than type on them. Virtual personal assistants and voice-control options are the way of the future.
  • Video: While photos are easier to shoot, video can be more engaging and offer more information. Video can also be quite affordable, again being achievable with your smart phone. For bigger projects, hire a professional.

Even though technologies are becoming more sophisticated, more cyber-security attacks are being reported. Businesses, no matter how small or large, need to actively protect themselves. Basic forms of protection include updating software, setting up a firewall (internal and external), training and awareness for all staff, regularly changing passwords, regular back-ups of all data and developing a cyber-security plan. Government help is available for improving security measures, so research the options available.

“We rely on the information to be accurate and up to date across all platforms.”

Unfortunately, smaller-scale businesses are a target for cyber activity because, more often than not, they are poorly protected, leaving themselves and important data vulnerable. Seeking out an expert is a sound business decision.

While technology advances are certainly exciting and move quickly, the astute start-up or small business will be across all these issues. Small businesses have much to consider to make their ventures successful, and to maximise their opportunities. However, they should thoroughly research the technological options available and ensure their business is protected at all times.

 Jo Rathjen, Acting Business Development Officer, Greater Shepparton Business Centre

This story first appeared in issue 20 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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