As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you may not be at the forefront of developing technology, but tech still plays a vital role in your business’s growth and efficiency. Given how much things have changed in the past year, small business technology trends will only become more important throughout 2023.
While new infrastructure like 5G will continue to gain traction, established markets such as employee monitoring software will also have a greater impact on small businesses.
Almost three years after the first COVID-19 lockdowns were introduced, companies worldwide are still struggling to establish a new normal. Tech can play a crucial role in rebalancing, reconstructing and reinvigorating small and midsize businesses.
In addition to investigating the latest tech trends among small companies, we asked some leading tech experts and small business owners for their thoughts. Here are 11 small business tech trends for 2023 and beyond.
In many ways, this year is set to further trends that had begun at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as investments into these tech trends begin to bear fruit, the pace of adoption of many of the following technologies is set to quicken.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning have been hot tech topics for years. For example, AI is reshaping the insurance industry by improving insurer pain points and creating a better user experience.
AI will also benefit from reaching the point of operator profitability. For instance, technology company NVIDIA found AI deployments in retail stores caught 98 percent of instances of theft, fraud or human error, which led to a quick return on investment. With return on investment in mind, IBM found 35 percent of companies are currently using AI with another 42 percent exploring AI use cases.
This could mean a wide range of implementation scenarios this year, such as voice assistants, personalized customer experiences and e-commerce chatbot services. In fact, artificial intelligence business trends already include more AI in cybersecurity, CRM systems and market research.
Meredith Schmidt, executive vice president and general manager of small business and essentials at Salesforce, said that although artificial intelligence may sound like something only large enterprises use, it will become more widely adopted by small businesses.
“AI will help small businesses offer more personalized experiences to their customers by maximizing their time and automating manual tasks,” Schmidt said. “If you are spending almost a quarter of your day on manual tasks like inputting data, as our research showed, AI and automation can be a huge asset.”
The business implications of 5G are significant. The adoption of 5G technology began in 2019, but the pandemic significantly delayed rollout domestically and internationally. Still, the benefits of adopting the fifth generation of cellular capability include significantly faster data transmission speeds than 4G networks can provide. According to cell phone manufacturer Huawei, 5G also promises little or no latency, or delay in data transfer.
Effectively eliminating latency will be a significant step forward in developing the Internet of Things (IoT), as 5G networks are more capable of supporting the influx of interconnected smart devices than 4G or Wi-Fi. As IoT ramps up, more IoT career opportunities will open up for IT pros. For example, Ericsson Mobile estimates that the number of IoT devices deployed using cellular 5G connections will almost double from the end of 2022 to 2028.
Hybrid and remote teams are here to stay, which means employee monitoring software is too. Although many businesses have already adopted these tools, expect more to join their ranks as the realities of managing remote workers set in.
“The shift to remote work has changed businesses in terms of productivity, engagement, culture, two-way communication and employee development, and has highlighted the need for effective technology to help navigate these challenges,” said Rhiannon Staples, former chief marketing officer of Hibob. “As such, centralized HR information systems have become mission-critical.”
Demand for employee monitoring software has continued to trend upward since the start of the pandemic and a widespread shift to work-from-home arrangements. According to research by Top10VPN, global demand for such software was 58 percent higher from March 2020 to September 2022 than it was in 2019. Interest in this software has only continued to climb. There is no indication these trends will reverse or slow in 2023.
The best employee monitoring software can be used to gain granular oversight of remote workers and their productivity. When choosing employee monitoring software, look for features like mobile device coverage and the ability to spot ineffective working practices.
As more businesses embrace the hybrid working model (and the potential savings that stem from shedding office space and freeing up employee commuting time for additional work), they will rely more on technology to handle a successful onboarding process for remote employees.
Onboarding is integral to hiring new employees as you get them up to speed with their responsibilities and the company culture. Without the ability to connect in person, either because of the pandemic or their location, companies are turning to software for onboarding.
“Technology that ensures every step of the onboarding experience is planned and orchestrated professionally will help companies make sure their new team members feel welcome,” said Staples. “Companies will invest more in technology that helps people understand who’s who in the company [and] familiarize themselves with the relevant connections they need to make outside of their immediate team.”
In a bid to cut costs and boost profitability, major retailers have been accelerating their rollout of mobile and social media shopping to create a contactless shopping experience. Small businesses will begin to follow suit as the price point on some of these technologies becomes more manageable.
Mobile payments have grown to include QR codes, mobile terminals and mobile wallets. Shoppers are increasingly comfortable with these ways to shop and pay, making them viable investments for small businesses with limited staff.
“Mobile payments used to be a nice-to-have that brought the convenience of avoiding long checkout lines to shoppers in crowded stores,” Staples said. “But now … they’re almost a baseline requirement for most retailers.”
Gartner predicts that 2023 will usher in the start of widespread development and use of what it dubs superapps. These apps will allow for the combination and unification of disparate app services into one easy to use interface. Small businesses can benefit from using these apps to better streamline operations for employees and vendors.
Additionally, we’re seeing increasing adoption of third-party software integrations. Today, a company might use Slack to connect teams, Outlook to send important documents, Salesforce to manage customers, Monday.com to plan projects, and Google Drive to store company information. Data silos are a significant threat that unification helps to mitigate and minimize.
“Connecting software to work with other software is hard,” said Roy Mann, CEO and co-founder of Monday.com. “There is going to be a breakthrough with integration platforms that will allow any software to connect well with any other software.”
He predicts that such connections will link multiple platforms and allow seamless communication. For example, he said, customer information will change simultaneously across platforms if it’s adjusted in one platform. This unification saves businesses time.
The shift to new working practices has spawned new forms of fraud, with malware evolving in response to greater virtual communication and the rising domestic use of workplace hardware.
However, this sense of risk hasn’t trickled down to businesses. According to research from BullGuard, nearly 60 percent of small businesses think it’s unlikely they will be targeted in a cyberattack. However, cybersecurity company Check Point found global cyberattacks in the third quarter of 2022 were 28 percent higher than in the same period in 2021. Year over year, North America saw a 47 percent increase in total attack volume. Small businesses are not immune to cyber attacks either, as cloud security company Barracuda found small businesses were three times more likely to be targeted in phishing attacks than enterprise-sized businesses.
Jim Lippie, CEO of SaaS Alerts, said SMBs should start viewing security through the lens of enterprise businesses.
“SMBs, like their large enterprise counterparts, will lock down on a comprehensive backup-and-disaster-recovery solution to keep protected, and also form new standardized blocking and tackling game plans to keep the business even more safe.”
Despite fears of a recession, business leaders seem prepared to continue to put money into technologies with a proven return on investment. According to Nash Squared’s Digital Leadership Report, which surveyed over 1,800 digital leaders, two-thirds of surveyed respondents believe that big data and analytics will “deliver a competitive advantage over the next year.”
A full 64 percent of those surveyed believed that the use of big data gave their companies a competitive advantage in the field. Almost a quarter of respondents also saw actual revenue from their use of data. As big data technologies and techniques continue to develop, small businesses can help use further refined best practices and knowledge to improve their own market positioning.
Automation has long been a buzzword in small business circles, but Omri Traub, founder of Popcart, said business owners are now looking seriously at workplace automation as a way to save money and cover problem areas. [Read next: The Benefits of Workplace Automation Software]
“With continued shortages of workers within select domains, automation investments will continue to increase,” Traub said. “Examples for small business include online pricing automation to balance profitability and revenue growth, as well as inventory management systems to ensure the perfect amount of inventory is on hand.”
Looking forward, Traub said he believes there will be a “new wave of companies” looking to create these automated solutions. By providing that service, he said, numerous companies will leverage the cloud to help ensure that the push toward automation heats up.
Automation may face some headwinds, depending upon how the economic environment for 2023 pans out. Research and advisory company Forrester predicts that data-driven automation will continue to be red-hot throughout 2023. However, skill shortages may slow some other forms of automation adoption. For businesses with the right skill sets, however, automation will continue to pay dividends.
Influencer marketing appears to be poised for strong, continued growth. Statista’s research team projects that the influencer marketing industry will be worth $22.2 billion in 2025, up from $9.7 billion in 2020. This growth is reinforced by changes in consumer shopping habits, particularly among Gen Z shoppers, who increasingly use apps like TikTok for search and discovery purposes.
Social media influencers and personalized marketing are becoming viable avenues for connecting with customers and showcasing products. Gone are the days of driving sales through traditional print advertising. Nowadays, a business must have a dynamic, strategic marketing plan, which increasingly means working with influencers.
“Consumers want more authenticity in their advertisements, often in the form of a recommendation from someone they trust, like an influencer,” said Alex Shvarts, CEO of FundKite.
Social media marketing can help you connect with your customers and develop a niche within your industry. Working with genuine influencers (as opposed to influencer marketing fraud scams) means understanding your business’s needs and doing your research on who’s influential within the industry.
Small businesses are continuing to adopt social media advertising in 2023. According to The Future of Social Marketing report from Hootsuite, 83 percent of marketers expressed at least some confidence in the return on investment (ROI) for social media advertising. This was up from 68 percent of marketers the year before, demonstrating the continued and demonstrated value add social media advertising can add to a business when done properly.
“As more businesses start micro, social advertising will continue to grow as a cost-effective and efficient way to target specific audiences,” said Matt Rosenberg, head of communications at Helbiz. “The ability to create unique and differentiating content that engages customers through social media channels is paramount in today’s growing digital landscape.”
This trend is paying off. According to Rosenberg, three-quarters of U.S. consumers have purchased a product they saw in a brand’s social media post. If you’re not already active on social media, it’s time to start showcasing your brand.
Tech trends can shift rapidly based on a multitude of factors, including the state of the economy, the availability of skilled labor and user response to the deployment of technologies. With that in mind, be aware that the outlined technologies are likely to continue to grow throughout the year and into the coming years based on their increasing adoption, return on investment, and consumer behavior. While most tech trends will be spearheaded by larger, enterprise organizations, small businesses can benefit as technology becomes more widespread and, ultimately, cheaper to implement.
Jeremy Bender, Andrew Martins and Matt D’Angelo contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.