Technology is core to almost any business. Today, even street shops provide digital payment options. In that sense, technology helps every entity from small to large, in doing their daily business in some way or the other.
However, a street seller would not want to apply technology any beyond using it for payments. But if your goal is to build a company that makes millions some day, you need to see technology as a transforming agent.
In this article, I intend to briefly cover, how technology can be used in various facets of your business to effect a positive change. Since every topic discussed is vast and requires further reading, I will also list relevant resources for you to explore further.
There is a general notion that tech is only meant for technology companies – like a Google or Apple – or IT services firms – like TCS or Infosys. But technology is a powerful enabler to any business for using data, managing applications, engaging with customers, managing employees, selling a product or service etc. Every industry will have unique technologies, such as a harvesting machine in agriculture. However, here we will look at technologies that are used across industries irrespective of the domain or business you are in.
1. Automation and straight through processing
Automation is not a buzzword anymore. Many companies today, have achieved advanced maturity levels in automation. So if you haven’t thought about if yet for your business, it is time for you to.
It cuts across all the different layers of an organization’s technology landscape such as infrastructure (servers, networks), applications, business (business processes, workflows) and customer experience (customer facing applications/interfaces).
Automation helps automate routine and sometimes complex tasks to reduce human involvement, thereby utilizing those resources for more fruitful activities. It could be applied to a variety of activities like invoice processing, insurance claims processing, new user registration, automated chat etc. At the same time, Straight through processing helps to automate a lot of these processes by seamlessly carrying out actions and workflows.
These are achieved by a combination of UI automation, API based automation, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), task automation and intelligent automation. Automation over a period of time, can help bring down your costs significantly through productivity improvement. If your organization doesn’t have automation capability internally, you could consider hiring a third party consultant to help you with it.
Following are a few useful resources that will help you implement automation in your organization:
- The why what and how of automation and its impact on job market
- How to Automate Your Small Business in 5 Simple Steps
- How to own your automation transformation
2. Systems of engagement – chatbots and voicebots
With increasing customer demands and requirements, businesses are forced engage with them at the time they want and where they want.
According to Mindsea.com, more than 50 percent of smartphone users in the U.S. download zero new mobile apps per month. So you cannot expect every user to download a new app when he/she wants to use your service.
That’s when you engage with them on platforms where they spend time the most. And many small. medium and large businesses have built chatbots and voicebots on platforms like Facebook to provide support, sell products or services and push offers and discounts. Already there are over 34,000 chatbots on Facebook alone.
Two of the largest Canadian banks BMO and TD, have recently released voice apps that are integrated with Amazon’s voice-activated assistant, Alexa, to answer customer questions. To learn about more such examples, have a look at 10 Examples of How Brands Are Using Chatbots to Delight Customers.
Chatbots and voiccebots are highly recommended for organizations with high volume of customer interaction. However, you should use them only if they add value to your business. You may refer the following articles to understand how they can be used in your business.
3. Big data, IoT and analytics
With rapidly advancing internet technology, availability and accessibility of data have become easier than ever. There is a huge amount of data available online and from offline sources. But how do you make sense out of that data to derive actionable insights?
That is where big data analytics comes into play. Popular big data tools such as RapidMiner, Qlik, Knime etc, provide products, tools and services for mining huge amounts of data and make meaning out of them. Depending on the purpose of using data, the preferred tool can change. Technology giants like Microsoft, Google, IBM etc. also provide domain centric big data services.
First of all, you need to decide what kind of data or data services you need for your business. If your focus is more on data visualization, you could go with a tool like Tableau Public. You could also look for smaller companies that provide data services in your niche.
You might also want to explore opportunities of using IoT (Internet of Things) for collecting data. Again, do it only if it helps your business in some way.
4. Visual interaction (Augmented/ Virtual/ Mixed Reality)
The Augmented Reality (AR) market is getting bigger and bigger with total market size expected to reach $35.22B in 2022. Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality are also in the path of growth. All these technologies have been applied in various domains such as marketing, education & training, travel & tourism, healthcare, e-commerce, manufacturing & retail etc.
AR uses devices such as smart glasses, other AR devices and even our mobile phones and tablets to bring the experience to life. VR is mostly experienced through headsets connected to computers or game consoles. You might have seen such gadgets in a VR entertainment center in a shopping mall. MR uses holographic devices that let you interact with the surroundings or surrounding objects.
AR, VR and MR have been applied to a wide variety of use cases, some of which are given below
- Remote diagnosis by a doctor
- Augmented demo of heavy equipments, vehicles or machines
- Virtual walk through of an area, like a resort or educational institute
- Retail floor where product info can be observed through a VR gadget
There are many more real life applications of AR/VR/MR. To learn them and know if these can be applied to your business, have a look at VR vs AR vs MR: Differences and Real-Life Applications.
It is expected that blockchain will transform transactions the way internet did to information. Initially designed for bitcoin, blockchain has started finding umpteen number of applications in other areas, with the global blockchain market anticipated to grow to over $60 billion by 2024. Apart from large companies like Samsung, Softbank, Maersk etc, a lot of new companies like Celsius Network, Gameflip, ADBIT etc, are also investing heavily in blockchain technology, and see it as a core to their business.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger that enables information distribution among various stakeholders without copying it. It provides easy traceability of information and ensures transparency. Some of the major applications of blockchain are:
- Tracing of goods and supplies
- Defect detection: if there is a problem anywhere in a distribution network, blockchain can trace it back to the point of origin.
- Accounting and auditing: accurate recording of transaction data with zero human error
- Validating and approving contracts and agreements
- Tracking and measuring energy and water supply
Even though it has been quite a few years since the technology was introduced, it is still in its nascent stages. It might be too early for small businesses with low volumes of transactions to adopt it. Also implementing blockchain without adequate caution is risky. Following are a couple of relevant resources for a detailed reading:
- What is Blockchain Technology? A Step-by-Step Guide For Beginners
- How Businesses Can Use Blockchain to Boost Revenue?
- How Companies Can Take Advantage of Blockchain
6. Infrastructure on cloud
Here, infrastructure refers to the IT infrastructure of an organization. Due to the flexibility, efficiency and scalability it provides, many organizations are migrating their infrastructure to cloud today. Almost all the startup firms adopt cloud for hosting, as there is close to zero capital investment required. Also cloud service providers like AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google cloud etc. have developed extensive capabilities and solutions around cloud to support any requirement.
However, this doesn’t mean that every organization needs to adopt cloud. Following are the major factors to be considered while exploring cloud adoption:
- Return on Investment (ROI): cost associated should be justified and need to provide guaranteed return over time.
- Business impact: you need to evaluate how adopting cloud would affect your business.
- Complexity: you should avoid hosting/moving complex architecture to cloud, better to go for an on-premise hosting in such cases to ensure better management and disaster control.
- Security: if your business manages highly sensitive and confidential information, you need to ensure that the cloud provider has adequate security measures and complies with regulations.
So, think before you leap. See if cloud suits your business, or whether your business needs cloud at all. You may refer Cloud computing: a small business guide to learn more about cloud adoption.
7. API enabled economy
One of the main challenges that businesses – especially large organizations – face in their IT landscape is lack of integration between applications and systems. Many have siloed monolithic systems having little communication with others. API enabled integrated enterprise solves this problem. It is characterized by applications and systems which are integrated through APIs that enable easy abstraction of functionality from one system to the other.
To understand how APIs work, have a look at What are APIs and how do APIs work
The way in which APIs can positively affect a company;s profitability is called an API economy. API economy has enabled a lot of companies to open up their services to partners and customers in order to improve their inventory of services. Following are a few such examples:
- iPhone famously leveraged a set of APIs to attract developers to create apps to sell in the App Store. This helped in bringing a whole new set of apps and functionalities into App Store.
- Walgreens released an API for its in-store photo printing services that enables developers to build photo apps on its platform.
- LevelUp, a mobile payment company, works with restaurants and local businesses to create customized mobile payment and customer loyalty solutions based on its APIs.
Above are just a few examples. API economy can bring in change both in the form of internal integration and exposing platforms or services to the outside world. It is on you to decide how to leverage it to transform your business.
8. Machine learning and artificial intelligence
There is no technology firm that doesn’t talk about Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) today. John McCarthy, recognized as the father of AI, termed AI as the science and engineering of making intelligent machines. It uses computers to simulate human intelligence. ML is a subset of AI, that enables computers to detect, analyze and learn patterns and behaviors.
Both AI and ML have wide range of applications. It attempts to eliminate human involvement in insights based decision making and action.
In a business context, ML can be used for providing a personalized experience for customers, predicting irregularities in IT landscape, data driven marketing & sales etc. See 9 Applications of Machine Learning from Day-to-Day Life to learn more about applications of ML.
AI has applications in many industries such as banking & financial services, healthcare, military & defense etc. To know more about applications of AI see Applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in business.
If you are thinking about applying ML/AI in your business, you can go with a phased approach. Don’t go all in, which is very risky. First identify one or two areas where ML/AI would give you the highest return in the shortest period. Start with those. As you attain more maturity, you may consider complex scenarios and use cases.
9. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
You might be wondering why SEO has made it into this list. Even though SEO as such is not a technology, it is core to digital marketing and a must to make the maximum out of your business’s online resources.
There is a ton of content on Search Engine Optimization online. Simply put, it refers to the steps you need to take to help your website or blog stand out in the billion ones out there.
But why SEO?
Did you know Google (or any other search engine like bing) takes time to recognize that your site exists? That is one of the main reasons why SEO is important.
Also if you want to generate significant organic traffic to your website, you need to appear on the first page on Google. To accomplish this, you need SEO.
But how to do it? SEO doesn’t rely on one method. It is a combination of various techniques such as content optimization, backlink creation,technical optimization etc. To help you understand more about SEO, and how to apply that to your website or business, have a look at the following resources:
- SEO Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Your SEO Checklist: 4 Steps to Optimizing Your Website
- SEO Case Study: How I Increased My Organic Traffic 652% in 7 Days
That covers my list of top 9 ways to transform your business using technology. I would recommend you to do further reading using the links given in the article. Make sure you take enough advice from experts before you go ahead implementing or using any of these technologies. Otherwise, if the decision was wrong, you could end up losing millions.
Please feel free to leave your queries and opinion in the comments section.