We all follow and study trends this time of year because it gives us a glimpse into the future. Here are seven trends that include insights from the leading experts in technology, office management and IT services.
Data security is promoted to the C-suite
This year, office managers and IT directors must answer to the owner and the executive committee as data security becomes a business sustainability issue for leaders in every type of business. This means better metrics, elevated organizational response to threats, more employee involvement and increased investment. The flip side of office managers not seeking help is loss of jobs for upper management - just look at Equifax CEO Richard Smith for proof.
Growth of the IT budget
With topline sales growth anticipated for 2018, most experts project that companies will invest more
in innovation and technology. IT budgets will increase this year at more than 57 percent of small and mid-sized businesses. Mid-size and small firms will mostly invest in hardware and managed IT services while holding the line on software. From a hardware perspective, this business grouping will invest in more powerful workstations, mobile devices and multiple monitors, while investment in network devices and servers will decline.
Cloud computing impacts small business "¦ finally
This might be the year we remember we stopped talking about the cloud as a trend and it just became part of our lives. This year might be a turning-point year. Small businesses will move back-up services and line-of-business applications almost exclusively to the cloud. Midsize businesses will collaborate better with each other, using cloud apps for communication and enterprise resource planning.
Subscription economy is now very, very real
Your razor blades and your business software will have something in common soon "¦ a monthly bill. The per-user subscription model will become more and more common for hardware, software, services and even consumer products. Even though the trend is unavoidable, the advantage for small business is that it's scalable. Costs are predictable, linear, and per employee. You can now add or subtract one person from your business payroll immediately knowing the financial impact of your decision due to the all-in costs being managed in real-time.
Access to your data everywhere on anything
Workers expect to be able to work in coffee shops, home offices and airplanes today, and they almost already can. They expect to use mobile phones, iPads, tablets, and home/office computers. Any device, anywhere, is the expectation. But it still needs to be secure! IT departments will make tough choices in 2018 to deliver this expectation. Bring-your-own-device to work will be trendy this year. Most in charge of IT will struggle with this trend. New services, products, and software will be required to maintain the proper level of security and access.
Innovation in the "˜rearview mirror'
All cars have the same message on the passenger side mirror - "Objects are closer than they appear." Augmented reality, conversational platforms and the internet of things have been tech trends for years, and larger organizations have been considering their impact on customers, employees, and productivity. The time it takes for small businesses to begin to leverage such technology, once limited to larger corporations, is shortening. You can begin to look for augmented reality, voice-commanded computers and smart devices to contribute in the small business sector. This year, watch for artificial intelligence to make its way into the smaller sector for customer-facing applications and routine tasks.
Automation of everything begins
Productivity will be important this year as business demand grows and owners seek to increase production. While the cautious owner grows the workforce slowly, innovative leaders will turn to robots, artificial intelligence, smart processes and sensors to automate everything at a faster pace. Millennials will accelerate this process as they seek to avoid human interaction where possible. State-of-the-art tools, subscription or cloud-hosted software, and managed services will make it possible for small businesses to take advantage of this very real and upcoming technological trend.
Rich Kenney is vice president of Tech Solutions, which provides skilled technology services to small and midsized businesses.