4 Key Small Business Trends for 2017

Change is on the horizon, meaning companies must be prepared to navigate uncertain and possibly treacherous waters as we head into 2017. That being said, it’s time for businesses to assess what 2017 is likely to bring.

Phil Foster, Managing Director at business energy comparison site, Love Energy Savings, has spoken to a host of experts to get their take on the key small business trends to look out for in 2017.

The rise of “game-changing” artificial intelligence

Across a range of industries, companies are finding new and progressive ways to conduct business. No longer the preserve of sci-fi novels and scarily-prophetic Hollywood films, artificial intelligence is set to make huge waves in 2017.

Joel Baynes, CEO of data science and intelligence marketing company Profusion, believes this is just the beginning for businesses and artificial intelligence.

“We may once have only seen AI on TV screens, but in 2017 and beyond, AI will increasingly appear on our computer screens. The best AI systems work in the background, improving the way we work without us taking much notice of how they do so. In the future, AI will carry out nearly all the admin tasks that clog up our time, allowing our workforce to become more effective and efficient. AI also has the ability to be taught and constantly refine its algorithms. This means that in whatever task a business assigns an AI to do, it will constantly improve and find more effective ways of carrying out that activity. Looking towards 2017, we’re going to start seeing more and more businesses work with AI – whether they are aware of it or not. With applications across all aspects of a business, from admin to supply chain management, AI will be a game-changer for businesses,” Baynes said.

For companies to stay ahead of the curve, they need to be willing to try new technological innovations. Artificial intelligence isn’t just handy for reducing admin and cutting business costs. It can be used to track performance, develop strategies and deal with huge amounts of data intelligence.

Chief digital officers will become more influential

While we’re on the subject of technology, it makes sense to address the growing presence of all things digital. Traditional modes of business have shifted in recent years to make way for numerous digital innovations, and operations have become more expedient as a result.

From allowing employees to work remotely to creating optimum user experience levels for customers, the migration to digital has gifted companies the opportunity to move into new territory. Businesses can make informed decisions that are based on solid data.

We spoke to Mike Hughes, director of customer experience consultants PeopleTECH, who assured us that there are still many companies that are stuck in the past.

“The sheer impact and importance of digital cannot be underestimated. I think that a large number of companies confuse IT and digital, and in 2016 still aren’t focused enough on digital transformation. This must be a priority for 2017. Not having a chief digital officer in a senior role does not necessarily mean that organization is not focused on digital transformation, but it can be no coincidence that organizations that are said to be ahead of the game with digital transformation generally have a senior digital executive to bring it all together. This will be a key trend for 2017, the rise of chief digital officers within an organization,” Hughes said.

Hughes provided some insight into how companies fail to develop digital platforms, and how it affects business. It’s largely down to misunderstanding.

“Part of the problem is that many companies feel they can ‘do’ digital transformation, as if it is a box to be ticked. It’s not so much that companies are neglecting digital – I think most people know how important it is – more that they believe or hope that it can be done easily, by passing it onto the chief information officer. The reality is that it’s an ongoing process that requires a dedicated and bespoke leader to really make it happen. We live in a digital world. If an organization is not taking digital and mobile seriously then the repercussions will be huge. We’ve seen over the past decade or so how disruptive businesses with a purely digital agenda can thrive and take massive market share from companies that were slow to react to the emerging digital market. So organizations will ignore digital at their peril, making it even more important to assign someone to the CDO role,” he said.

Recent studies from the Harvard Business Review showed that a staggering amount of companies are being left behind in the digital age, and these aren’t just any Average Joes. Huge players in the business world are still getting digital wrong – don’t let this be you!

Employee wellbeing will be more important than ever

A recent survey conducted by Virgin Pulse demonstrated just how popular employee wellbeing programs are becoming. More employers are seeing the benefits of staff wellness initiatives – bolstering their bottom line and making workers much more settled, happy and productive.

Claire Penson, head of people and compliance at Love Energy Savings, comments on why employee engagement is so important:

“We give our employees a voice and speak to those at the heart of the business to understand what motivates them, inspires them and makes them want to get involved. For example, we regularly have employees approaching us with fundraising events they wish to organise for their chosen charity; we empower them to take ownership and we support them in communicating the great work that they’re doing across the business. Happiness is just as infectious as malaise and if you can make sure you are thinking every day, as an employer, how can I make my workforce smile today and then go and do it, you will not only have happy employees, they will also be loyal employees,” she said.

Tightening of customer data retention

If there’s one thing we can take from 2016, it’s that companies risk mammoth levels of embarrassment and possible legal proceedings if the protection of customer data is not taken seriously.

We spoke to Daniel Rowles of Target Internet about the customer data trends we can expect in 2017.

“In 2017, we can expect to see a tightening of customer data usage across the digital marketing industry in particular. According to research carried out this summer by the CIM, 41 percent of digital marketers do not fully understand the laws and best practices surrounding customer data use. This is patently unacceptable, and both regulators and consumers are starting to really take notice. Whether through moral epiphany or sheer pragmatism, large numbers of marketers are going to start cleaning up their act in terms of data usage in 2017,” Rowles said.

Of course, this goes for any business handling sensitive data. A recent survey conducted by Centrify showed that 75 percent of UK customers will gladly cut ties with a company in the event of a data breach. Rightly so, too.

You don’t want to repeat any mistakes made in 2016 – start the year right by locking down your data security.

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