The world has seen some huge technological developments this year, a lot of which were purely catalysts setting the scene for an explosion of growth in 2017. There are three areas where I see huge expansion over the next 12 months – all areas that I believe small business owners should all take note of.
Artificially intelligent agents that enable even the smallest of businesses to provide information to visitors on their business website. They are effectively a 24/7 AI concierge advising about products, services, answering questions or even helping to sell more.
What’s the benefit for SMBs? Chatbots give instant feedback to customers, and can provide answers to simple questions such as ‘do you offer free estimates’ or ‘what are your opening times’. Chatbot technology can give your customers a personal service while improving your responsiveness and giving you back some precious time.
Natural voice agents
Since first going mainstream in 2011, with the launch of Apple’s Siri, this technology has come a long way. With the release of the new Alexa service inside Amazon’s voice controlled speaker, Echo, and the new Google Home equivalent, 2017 is likely to see the adoption of voice recognition soar as the level of sophistication and intelligence continues to develop at shocking speed.
What’s the benefit for SMBs? Voice agents will ultimately make us more efficient, something the UK desperately needs to improve given our second to last place in the G8 nations in terms of productivity. By passing tasks on by natural voice, time (and money) is saved as the technology develops and AI can handle more administrative tasks.
This year has seen a worryingly dramatic increase in online fraud and hacking and we need to be tougher. There will be improved security disciplines, with vastly improved secure technology set to feature more prominently in 2017.
How can SMBs protect themselves? Systems such as Two-Step Authentication which requires a password and username as well as an extra piece of information only the user knows, can provide business owners with another layer of security to protect themselves against phishing scams and security breaches.
Gary Turner is the co-founder and MD of Xero.