Posted: Wed 12th Dec 2018
The advances in artificial intelligence, big data and robotics happening at the moment may seem like science fiction, but small businesses are tapping into the digital revolution and leveraging tools that are available today.
Ant Morse, head of digital solutions for SMB at O2, spends his time future-gazing at new technology and researching what the team can implement for customers right now. Here, Ant covers the new technology that small businesses can use to work more effectively and grow.
True collaboration and video calling
Small businesses are benefiting from new communication tools that help with remote working.
"I've spent years and millions of miles on the motorway. There's no need. We can get more from me working from 7am. I will have no dead time today at all and be able to pick the kids up from school," says Morse, speaking from his home office.
Video conference calling helps improve the quality of communication between remote workers. It might not quite be as good as sitting down face-to-face but it's close and saves lots of travel time.
Tools like Microsoft Teams and G Suite allow companies to chat and work on files at the same time. This helps team members collaborate and work in a more efficient way.
Small businesses can access big data
The number of applications and online platforms has created an increasing amount of data. The term 'big data' refers to extremely large data sets, which are analysed to reveal patterns. The sheer amount of information means computers have to be used to spot trends.
Large companies and research organisations are developing techniques for mining this data. But Morse says small business owners are also plugging into these resources.
In one example, anonymised data about purchases, phone models and more helps a shopping centre understand customer demographics. Small businesses can't access or process that data, but the platform can inform them of who to expect and tailor their advertising to make it more effective.
Smart assistants for business owners
Intelligent assistants like Alexa and Siri are automating everyday life for millions of people. The tools are learning and getting smarter every day and more business-related functions are being added.
"Alexa is good at changing the heating and settling arguments. It's become part of the home. Imagine that in a business accessing a power AI computer with specialist industry knowledge/information," Morse says.
As a business owner, you could use time-saving commands like setting alarms and managing your calendar. Voice controlled business apps are being developed to check cashflow, stock and other business information too.
Security and back to the future
Security is a big part of what Morse and his team work on. Small businesses are increasingly using cloud software such as accounting packages like Xero. The transition needs to be managed in a way that ensures the business and its customers' data is secure.
"Our customers are in a transition," Morse explains. "We know we need to secure our devices and move to the cloud. We know there are lots of collaboration tools. As well as providing technology and advice, we need to help people access that security and education customer and end users on the risks."
Morse has been in the telecommunications industry for 24 years and has witnessed a huge shift in the way we use technology first-hand.
Looking back on all the tools that have become available during that period, what does he think has made the most impact?
Morse believes mobile phones have been the biggest enabler. But adds instant messaging, presence and video are incredibly powerful, although their use is still in its infancy.
What's Morse's advice for small businesses thinking about using new technology?
"Darwin said it's not the strongest or most intelligent species that survive, it's the ones most responsive to change. You need to be on board.
"You don't have to look far for businesses that were leading their field and didn't embrace change, like Blockbuster, Kodak and the current massive disruption in the high street, and see what's happening to them."