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Technology can provide a strong competitive advantage to any organization when used timely, correctly, and in alignment with the business strategy. But the rate of technological innovation increases every day, and for a business leader laser-focused on running the show, keeping up with technology trends may not be exactly top of mind.
You are in luck if you work side by side with a Chief Information Officer (CIO). Their main focus is to sift through IT innovations and conceptualize the forms which these innovations may take in the organization to maximize return on investment. But for small and medium-sized businesses, or SMBs, CIO, an IT department, or even an IT specialist may not be in the budget. However, ignoring the evolving technology landscape that closely reflects the evolution of expectations and experiences of your customers, is a sure way to be left in the dust. So, what is an SMB leader to do?
Many SMB top managers choose to outsource their IT and work with a managed service provider in their area. The benefits of this route are plentiful: you get 24/7 support from IT experts, proactive management of your servers, security, and data, and a variety of the most innovative solutions you can “try on,” all at a fraction of a cost of a single qualified in-house IT specialist. Plus, if you work with an MSP in your areas, like 3nom for New York, New Jersey, and Florida, you can be confident that they will know and ensure compliance with all the local tech regulations—an important consideration in light of the recent lawsuits and their outcomes.
To get you started thinking about all the possibilities of the latest technology trends and how they may play into your business strategy for 2021, we have turned to the Top Strategic Technology Trends report published annually by Gartner, an authoritative business research firm.
In this two-part blog series, we will cover all the nine major trends identified by Gartner, as well as elaborate on their implications for the SMBs. Today, let’s talk about People.
Proclaiming the theme of 2020 to be disruption (we are not inclined to argue with that), Gartner identified three major technology trends centered around people: Internet of Behaviors, Total experience strategy and Privacy-enhancing computing. Let’s talk about each of them.
Internet of Behaviors
Most of us are familiar with the Internet of Things (hey, Alexa, order milk!) but the latest buzz is around the Internet of Behaviors. The idea behind it is that each of us using the Internet leaves plenty of digital “pebbles,” or “digital dust” as Gartner puts it, that reveal our identity, desires, and soft spots. With large enough datasets, governments and businesses can learn enough about the way we behave to be able to influence said behavior. If it sounds dystopian, we should remember that marketing and leadership theories have always had a toolset for influencing the behaviors of individuals and groups.
The key here, and the way SMBs can leverage this trend for their and their customers’ advantage, is to focus on positive behaviors. For example, a healthcare practice could use AI to help their patients make healthier choices in their daily lives while a construction firm can increase motivation and coordination of their crews. Behavioral datasets are not widely available yet so there is still plenty of time to consider how your business can have a positive impact on customers and the community.
Total Experience Strategy
The topic of customer experience is hard to underestimate, especially for businesses who chose not to compete on price. According to Gartner, the time has come to retire the old way of thinking about customer experience as simply answering the phone and handling returns. The concept of total experience incorporates all aspects of connection and interaction, from customer experience (CX) to employee experience (EX) to user experience (UX) and beyond.
A practical way of thinking about it would start with mapping out your customer journey, including all the touchpoints with the company’s digital and physical properties. Some of this has already been realized with retargeting advertising campaigns with products following customers around the web. The main idea of the total experience strategy, however, extends beyond pervasive advertising. A customer may receive check-in instructions where they approach your office, or a timely notification to ensure they bring the right documents the morning of the appointment. Your retail customers may receive a follow-up message with suggestions on how to extend the life of their purchase while your staff may get alerted in advance of the reason for a customer visit and the best ways to address them.
The final people-centered trend for 2021, according to Gartner, is all about safely exchanging large amounts of data in unsafe environments. It is an umbrella term that encompasses many early and mature technologies, such as confidential computing, federated machine learning and privacy-aware machine learning, differential privacy, homomorphic encryption, secure multiparty computation, zero-knowledge proofs, private set intersection and private information retrieval.
In an increasingly virtual work environment, it is hard to underestimate the importance of safe data handling and storage. A testament to that is the fact that in 2020, cyberattacks soared and spread along with the pandemic, spiking 400% in March 2020 over the same month in 2019. While remote work has decreased our ability to physically firewall our data in secure office networks, the new technologies listed above have emerged to fill the gap and ensure the protection of our financial and customer data, as well as trade secrets from prying eyes.
The bottom line for SMBs interested in this trend is that it requires a deep and broad technical expertise in both finding the best mix of solutions for your unique business case, as well as the implementation and maintenance. This means that SMBs that partner up with a trusted and experienced managed service provider will be the ones winning the innovation game.
Next week, we will discuss top technology trends for 2021 in the spheres of location independence and resilient delivery. Stay tuned!