Digital HRDigital TransformationHow SMEs can gain competitive advantage through new technology

How SMEs can gain competitive advantage through new technology

When it comes to embracing new technologies, small businesses face unique challenges and opportunities. But what are these, and how can these provide a competitive advantage?

On the one hand, their smaller teams mean that there is often less resource available to explore business technology trends; in turn this means they are unable to assess which tools they ought to be considering. Similarly, a lack of capital expenditure or cash-flow issues can make it difficult to find the finances to invest in new technologies, particularly if the return on investment is not immediately apparent.

However, on the other hand, small businesses have the chance to steal a march on their larger competitors by being more agile in the adoption of new digital solutions. The fact there is typically less red tape, fewer legacy IT systems and shorter sign-off processes means that SMEs ought to be well-placed to act more quickly than large enterprises when incorporating tech that can provide a competitive advantage.

The rise of artificial intelligence

Topping the list of rapidly evolving technologies that businesses of all shapes and sizes ought to be considering is artificial intelligence (AI). Once the subject of doomsday prophecies within science-fiction works, AI is very much a reality – and thankfully it’s far less scary than the predictions of decades gone by.

Through advances in AI and machine learning over recent years, computer programmes are now able to analyse vast sources of data, recognise pertinent trends and recommend potential actions to help businesses improve internal efficiency or boost their commercial growth. Unlike previous forms of data analytics, which would provide insight into past events, AI is about delivering forward-facing results that help a business move with confidence and speed.

So far-reaching is the projected uptake of AI tools that the value of the global artificial intelligence market is set to rise from $2.5 billion in 2017 to a staggering $60 billion by 2025. And it’s vital that SMEs put themselves at the forefront of this technological movement; at present only a third of UK small business leaders say they are using AI in some form within their operations – a figure that should be far higher.

It’s important that firms don’t become overawed by the hype, nor lured in by the disingenuous IT service providers that now claim to provide AI solutions when in reality they don’t. But ultimately, SMEs must realise the potential of AI to transform their business. From generating new leads for the sales team through to enabling marketers to accurately personalise social media campaigns, AI delivers greater intelligence to help a small business make better decisions.

Getting on board with new technologies

As stated, small businesses are well placed to act fast and benefit from new technologies. Even more so thanks to the proliferation of cloud computing, which is now critical to the IT make-up of the vast majority of organisations.

The cloud has made it possible for companies to tap into reliable, high quality IT services on a pay-for-what-you-need basis. As such, SMEs no longer require upfront capital to buy infrastructure or develop software – these things are available on the as-a-service model at affordable monthly rates.

With cost no longer a barrier, the key challenge small businesses face is in their own culture. New technologies, like AI, are fully developed and ready to be implemented. But SMEs must have a proactive approach to researching and adopting new tools. Those that do aggressively pursue opportunities through innovative digital solutions will gain competitive advantage over their rivals – those that don’t could quickly see themselves lose ground.

About the author

Salvatore Minetti, CEO and founder, Prospex

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