Small to medium businesses (SMBs) are already reaping the rewards of technologies such as mobile applications running on smartphones and tablets. Surfing the next wave of technologies that will eventually saturate the sector is one way SMBs can grow and remain competitive.
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But which technologies are poised to move from niche markets into mainstream use by businesses in this category? Here we explore four progressive and closely linked technologies that your SMB should monitor, trial and adopt where relevant.
1. Platform as a Service (PaaS)/Software as a Service (SaaS)
By now, many businesses are familiar with Infrastructure as a Service, which allows customers to access virtualised hardware resources such as storage and compute power from the cloud.
Fewer businesses are familiar with PaaS, where a cloud provider makes available a managed platform that enables customers to develop and deploy applications. PaaS lets developers focus on delivering high-quality applications as quickly as possible, enabling a business to become more agile and responsive to new opportunities.
SaaS goes a step further by making vendor or service provider applications available to businesses on a subscription basis over the internet. This enables businesses to shift functions such as accounting, customer relationship management and similar systems to the cloud.
As SaaS becomes increasingly sophisticated, businesses are likely to spend less time on administrative IT tasks such as applying updates or managing software licences. In turn, this will allow IT workers to switch their focus from tactical technology management to initiatives that add value and help the business realise its strategic priorities.
2. Machine-to-machine technologies
Machine-to-machine (M2M) devices record information and relay it to applications that help users understand event data in real time. M2M components include sensors, radio frequency identification to track items, a Wi-Fi or mobile communications link and autonomic computing software programmed to help a networked device interpret data and make decisions.
M2M technologies can be used for situations that require remote monitoring, such as vending machines messaging distributors when a particular item is running low or hardware sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles helping farmers measure field conditions. For SMBs, opportunities lie not only in offering M2M products and services, but in adopting these technologies themselves to operate more efficiently and at lower costs.
3. Intelligent software
Intelligent software describes applications and tools that perform autonomous functions based on input data. Such systems serve a wide range of purposes, from rule-based programming and machine learning to natural language processing and image recognition.
Intelligent software represents a considerable advance from traditional user input programs. As with SaaS, it holds the potential to alleviate many manual processes that involve software, allowing workers to think and act more strategically in their roles.
4. The Internet of Things
M2M technologies and intelligent systems underpin the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT refers to the connectivity between equipment embedded with sensors, electronics and software, and how the exchange of information can boost value and performance.
According to Gartner, 3.9 billion connected ‘things’ were in use in 2014, and this is expected to rise to 25 billion in 2020 at a growth rate of 35 per cent per year. Despite the fact that IoT technologies and business models are still immature, momentum is building – large technology and telecommunications businesses are investing heavily in opportunities such as the connected home and connected car.
Gartner claims the IoT could offer businesses new revenue streams, more efficient cost structures and more targeted channels. It also notes that the trend could help businesses monitor, control and use assets more efficiently. The potential for the IoT to reveal valuable operational and user information could also help businesses move from selling products to selling customer outcomes, potentially using a pay-per-use model.
These four closely interrelated trends are poised to revolutionise many industries in Australia and open a range of opportunities for businesses in the small to medium sector. Companies should review what these trends mean for their business and map out a comprehensive, multi-year plan to take advantage of them.
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