Uncertainty is the most daunting part of entrepreneurship. That uncertainty has likely been compounded exponentially this year. But one thing is certain— in a time of crisis, innovations have assumed a head-spinning pace, rendering outdated approaches extinct and causing many companies to completely reinvent the way that they work.
The first stage in this crisis was survival. Cutting costs, revisiting forecasts, and stabilizing your business. But that can only get you so far, and you now need to be looking past COVID-19.
You’re not forgetting it or avoiding the practices that have saved your business so far. Instead, you’re maintaining your crisis plan while looking for previously non-existent opportunities to gain traction going into 2021.
Today, the analysts of McKinsey Digital agree that the crisis has led to emerging business opportunities, and the recovery from COVID-19 will be primarily digital. So what can small business leaders do to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis as winners?
Let’s explore the latest trends in information technology and 4 practical tips for how your business can leverage them during your recovery.
Tech Trends For Businesses in 2021-2022
Many technology trends that have slowly been making traction, have seen an unprecedented boost in the past year. You’ve likely noticed a few of them as you’ve transitioned your team to working remotely or explored launching an eCommerce platform. But here are a few others to be aware of going into 2021.
Marketplaces Like Upwork
Just like on-demand delivery services, freelancing marketplaces like Upwork will continue to gain popularity. Driven by job cuts and budget reductions urging businesses to hire more freelancers, online freelancing platforms will enable companies to tap into expanded pools of global talent and hire qualified workers.
Similarly, there will be more opportunities for companies to enter the freelancing platform creation market. Whether it’s better service, streamlined applications, or greater job curation, there are plenty of ways to disrupt this emerging service.
AI has been a consistent presence and focus for startups and technology companies over the last 10-years. And while it’s been useful for incremental functionality in the past (think iPhone and Siri or Tesla and self-driving cars), now, it’s truly becoming a major business disruptor. Not only because of its capability to accelerate and automate rule-based processes but also because it helps achieve better operational efficiency and reduces human error.
AI is also likely to be your greatest asset for business recovery. Here are just a few things you can do by leveraging data analytics:
- Gain a better understanding of changing customer preferences
- Discover new business opportunities
- Identify and eliminate bottlenecks in your operations
- Minimize and better allocate advertising costs
- Provide greater customer support through automated chat
For entrepreneurs looking to start a business or for established businesses looking to pivot their business model, you can use AI to build as-a-service operations. Take delivery service apps like Instacart for example, that use AI analytics to garner insights about customers and their behavioral patterns. There are still plenty of industries prime for these types of services, as well as room for competition in current ride-sharing, food delivery avenues that are worth exploring.
Internet of Things
While AI helps businesses make sense of their data, the Internet of Things (IoT) helps capture and deliver data from a plethora of interconnected devices. Simply put, IoT is a combination of sensor and data analytics systems, helping businesses aggregate metrics to make more accurate decisions.
In a post-COVID-19 world, IoT is becoming the main driver of telehealth, helping physicians remotely monitor patients’ state and automatically alert them to urgent conditions. It’s also improving remote doctor visits, allowing for patients and doctors to have more versatile check-ups, without having to meet in-person.
The benefits of IoT even expand into products and services. In the supply chain management space, businesses are leveraging these data sources in app development for smart inventory management, logistics, and merchandising. As of today, IoT applications are present in the manufacturing, automotive, agriculture, energy sector, logistics, and hospitality industries, to name a few.
The increase in remote work is making cybersecurity one of the top post-COVID-19 priorities. The amount of disparate connections to sensitive data is increasing and so are the potential targets for perpetrators.
The top cybersecurity threats this year have included phishing, IoT attacks, cryptojacking, the evolution of ransomware strategies, state-sponsored attacks, and crypto-physical attacks. In other words, the opportunities for data breaches are increasing and the methods to do so are becoming more and more intricate.
In 2020, data breaches were among the greatest cybersecurity concerns, with health records, corporate intellectual property, smart cars, and connected devices being the most vulnerable targets. As of today, tech companies increasingly rely on data encryption and blockchain technology for resolving cybersecurity issues, which is becoming more readily available.
5G is a next-generation cellular network technology which has a number of advantages over 4G: it has wider coverage, greater data bandwidth, higher speed, and lower latency. As such, it has the potential to transform the world as we know it and improve the functionality of self-driving cars, smart cities, AR/VR, and facilitate machine-to-human interactions.
5G mobile service is expected to be implemented by 2030, but 2020 marked the start of the deployment of the 5G telecommunication network. The long-awaited advent of the 5th generation mobile networks will act as a major impetus for accelerated development and adoption of most of today’s groundbreaking technologies.
These trends will develop in synergy, with 5G. Supporting the spread of IoT, propelling the further increase in applications of AI and data analytics, and creating the need for sophisticated cybersecurity solutions.
How to prepare for a digital transition
Now you know what digital trends have escalated in the past year. But the question remains, how can you leverage them to benefit your business? Or even to help you start a business? Here are our 4 tips.
1. Learn how to manage a remote workforce
If you’re planning to return to on-site work, there’s one important aspect to consider. A Deloitte survey reports that companies tend to overlook social and psychological factors as they plan for post-crisis recovery. Simply put, they tend to focus on an employees’ ability to return to the office and overlook their willingness to do so. Concerns for their safety and the safety of their families, as well as their perception of risks, make people reluctant to report to work even after the lockdown is officially over.
Ensuring clear and transparent communication, accurate information on risks, and safety measures that the company has taken is a must under these circumstances. Including your employees in the process of the decision making as you agree on the return to work dates and schedules will also have positive feedback on employee loyalty.
If you are still concerned about employee health and morale when returning to the office, staying remote may be necessary. But there are plenty of cost-saving, productivity and even hiring benefits that make remote work an attractive option. Now, the complete or partial transition to a long-term work from home (WFH) model won’t be easy. But it may be worth it, even if it’s not fully remote.
A hybrid model, i.e. combining both on-site and remote work, is likely the natural step forward for most businesses. It still takes on the productivity and cost benefits of remote work, while allowing the opportunity for in-person interaction (when that’s safe again).
Simply put, remote work is here to stay, and learning how to manage a remote workforce will help your business accelerate digital adoption. In the future, remote workforce monitoring solutions and apps for building employee engagement will hopefully make this easier. But the earlier you embrace it, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits.
2. Build new business outside of your core company
To meet customers changing post-crisis expectations business owners have had to start creating new offerings or pursuing new revenue streams outside of their core business. Some of these additions are simple product releases or feature adjustments, others require a willingness to shake up the entire business model.
For example, the Red Roof hotel chain started offering WFH workers hotel rooms that they could turn into temporary workplaces for rates as low as $29/day. The benefit was a quiet room, where workers wouldn’t be distracted by pets, children, or spouses at home. Basically, they transformed a hotel chain into a chain of coworking spaces, and this shift enabled them to stay in business.
Many companies are pushing to create digital alternatives to their physical services and many use AI tools and analytics to quickly iterate, test, and launch these new ventures. Some of the most inspiring examples include the rapid rise of telemedicine, e-commerce, and e-learning, as well as numerous delivery services.
As you approach adjustments to your business, one good rule of thumb is to focus on reevaluating, improving, and rethinking your core business model. Revisit your business plan, forecasts, and company goals. Look into digital avenues that complement, enhance, or revitalize your current business and move forward from there.
3. Invest in analytics
Becoming data-driven is crucial for companies that want to stay competitive. Aside from customer and market insights, business intelligence tools and solutions can also help you detect weak spots in your operations. This is especially important when approaching digital initiatives and deciding on which departments or tools showcase the greatest opportunity for an upgrade.
AI analytics can also help you detect new business opportunities. For example, in China, a taxi company discovered a new business area by using AI to monitor what people were saying on social networks. As it turned out, many IT professionals who were required to show up to work during the lockdown were struggling with commuting. By offering targeted services to these workers, the taxi company managed to minimize revenue losses and stay in business.
Start with solutions that give you greater clarity into the health of your business. Whether that’s automatic financials, web KPIs, machinery diagnostics, sales platforms, or anything else that gives you greater insight into your business. From there, look for ways to leverage these tools to better understand your market and find new business opportunities.
4. Work with a startup mentality
As consumer needs have shifted, lately on an accelerated timeline, so must your business operations shift to meet them. For established businesses, or really any business that isn’t a startup, changing business practices can be incredibly difficult. The bigger more established you get, the more comfortable you become with specific processes, the harder it is to make adjustments.
Which is why you need to start shifting the way you operate now, in order to make your business more nimble. You’ve likely had to make more decisions and changes due to COVID, and while those may have been forced, it does provide a model to make your business act more like a startup. Making lean decisions, testing minimum viable products (MVP), actively seeking feedback, and being willing to make continuous adjustments in pursuit of optimization.
The best thing you can do, as you approach nimble operations, is always look back to your business plan, forecasts, and company goals. Make sure any adjustments or testing supports your overall business operations and that any technology investments are financially feasible. The more you can act like a startup, where you’re testing, failing, and improving on a regular basis, the more likely you are to foresee customer needs and be exactly where they need you to be.
Embracing digital trends now will prepare your business for the future
The crisis and the transition to a “new normal” opens a window of opportunities for many companies. With changing customer spending habits, digitization, and the spread of remote work, it looks like the world, indeed, will never be the same. But simply venturing into new business areas, won’t be enough for success.
While it’s important to still focus on managing your business through this crisis, it’s now just as important to be looking ahead. Listen to your customers, become data-driven, forge new partnerships, and promote workforce resilience to improve your chances of expanding your business post-crisis.