How Digital Transformation Is Impacting Small and Medium Businesses

digital transformation impacting SMBs

The digital revolution is disrupting the traditional business model for small and medium businesses (SMBs).

On one hand it makes it possible for them to compete with much larger companies, but on the other the investment required can be daunting.

Before setting out to create a digital strategy, it helps to work through what digital transformation actually means and how that affects SMBs.

Changing the Pace of Business

Digital transformation is just that- a total restructuring of operations to function more efficiently in the digital era.

Its effects reach into every area of business.

Here are a few of the core components involved in a successful transformation:

Mobile presence: SMBs used to be fine with a regular website, but now consumers expect a fast, fluid mobile experience.

This is doubly urgent for small businesses.

40% of all mobile searches are for local businesses, and 88% of people who search for a local business will visit either it or a competitor within 24 hours.

60% won’t visit or recommend a business after having trouble with a poorly designed mobile site.

Optimizing for mobile is obviously important- yet 47% of SMBs still don’t have a mobile-friendly website or app.

Enterprise apps: Enterprise apps rework everyday functions- ordering, reporting, marketing, planning- into streamlined processes that can be managed via user-friendly apps.

They cut down on internal confusion since everyone has the most up-to-date information in the palms of their hands.

Implementing enterprise apps at the operational level eliminate redundant operations, increase efficiency, and improves employee morale.

A study by Adobe found that investing in enterprise apps netted companies a 35% ROI on average.

Chatbots: Chatbots are the answer to a major customer dilemma: how can a company provide twenty-four hour customer service at scale without the expense of hiring and training humans agents?

Natural language processing technology has advanced enough that chatbots can handle the majority of routine customer queries.

Technology experts predict that customers will conduct 85% of their brand interactions without speaking to a human at all!

Automation: Digital revolution creates a lot of work, but fortunately much of it can be automated.

Automation involves creating a list of processes that trigger other actions or processes without needing to check with a human first.

One example would be generating order confirmation emails after a customer completes a purchase online.

Automation can also walk a customer through basic troubleshooting after an error is reported.

It’s often confused with artificial intelligence, though automation uses set rules to complete its tasks instead of analytical reasoning.

AI-powered customer management: There’s a marketing adage that 80% of business comes from 20% of customers.

With artificial intelligence, that’s changing forever.

Intelligent profiles formed by automatic customer classification and segmentation help companies identify their best customers.

These profiles also help provide the kind of personalized experience that keeps customers happy and loyal.

Data science and analytics: In many ways, data science is the cornerstone of digital revolution.

Data has been called the new oil, and for good reason.

Increasing data utilization is one of the fastest ways to grow a company, resulting in lower operating expenses and higher revenue.

For more about data science and its impact on the business world, read our white paper: “How Businesses Can Use Data Science and AI to Gain a Competitive Edge.”

The Looming Threat to SMBs

When unchallenged, large companies who refine their digital strategy can satisfy needs once available only through a SMB.

The traditional advantages of small businesses over corporations are personalized service and an inventory of niche products tailored to their local market.

Techniques like intelligent customer profiling give companies that would ordinarily be too large to customize their offerings the insight to do so.

If SMBs aren’t pushing digital transformation themselves, these large companies could steal their client base and push them out of a local market.

The problem is the investment in time and resources required for traditional digital solutions.

Getting maximum efficiency from daily operations like reporting, inventory, or accounting is easy to do with modern software.

However, the type of programs used by corporations aren’t practical for SMBs.

They’re complicated to operate, needing trained staff to maintain their databases, and the typical SMB will only use a fraction of their capabilities.

To complicate the issue, large-scale software is expensive enough that recouping an investment would take too long to merit the expense.

SMB managers often make do by stretching the capabilities of programs like Excel, but that can cause more problems than it solves.

Analytics software inspires a similar dilemma since the rewards of data science and analytics for SMBs are hard to see.

Unsure how to translate their data into actionable results, owners hesitate to invest the time and money to join the digital revolution.

They worry that the potential damages from project failure are much higher for smaller businesses that can’t absorb losses like huge companies.

The Path to Digital Adoption

Fortunately, software developers are beginning to cater to the digital transformation needs of SMBs.

Solutions aimed at SMBs are more widely available.

Owners no longer have to buy management software meant for global corporations in order to digitize their operational needs.

Instead they can choose software with only the features they will use.

For example, a landscaping company can have a unified dispatch and reporting app built that lets managers assign jobs and receive completion reports.

The app costs less than a solution meant for larger companies and meets the company’s requirements more closely.

Analytics is easier now, too.

Rather than hiring an in-house data science team, SMBs can take advantage of off the shelf enterprise analytics software.

This is a popular option among SMB owners.

Last year SMBs used an average of 4.8 apps to manage their operations, up from 3.8 in 2015.

46% are tracking their social media metrics through analytics programs, and 47% use some level of business intelligence software.

SMBs do run into trouble with premade software that doesn’t quite meet their needs.

Some solve the problem by stringing together a collection of apps that each solve a different problem.

The resulting technological complexity can give the impression that data science is too complicated for SMBs, but there are good alternatives to the “patchwork app” system.

Custom programming on an SMB level is surprisingly affordable.

Instead of using a handful of apps to manage outcall scheduling and reporting, for example, a customized business app could combine those functions in one easy to navigate place.

Cloud technologies are making many of the same analytics favored by large companies available to SMBs, too.

By tracking and predicting customer needs, SMBs can implement smart inventory systems that make the most of limited shelf space.

Targeted marketing is another convenient tool for reducing operating costs.

It lowers the price of customer acquisition while raising the value of individual clients through repeat business.

Speaking of lowering costs, data science can reduce overhead in general.

Artificial intelligence and automation takes tedious or repetitive tasks out of human hands, leaving employees free for more skilled projects.

The boost in efficiency makes up for SMB’s comparatively smaller staffs.

Leveling the Playing Field

In a very real sense, SMBs are better positioned to benefit from digital transformation than large companies.

41% of SMBs feel their size is an advantage when overcoming institutional resistance to adopting new technology.

They have less bureaucracy surrounding the decision to change, and they have more to gain by going digital.

When they do commit to digitization, their efforts have a high success rate.

Three quarters of SMBs feel that gains from investing in data science technology met or exceeded their original expectations.

Despite the challenges, digital strategy should be a priority for SMBs.

It’s a game-changer.

Half of industry leaders believe that technology levels the playing field between small businesses and large corporations.

Digital transformation is the most reliable path to maximizing an SMB’s resources to gain an edge against their bigger competitors.

How has the digital revolution affected your business? For advice on fine-tuning your digital strategy or to explore how to begin, get your free consultation with a Concepta expert today.

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Best Software Development Trends of 2017

software development trends

Developers have been pushing two goals this year: efficiency and customization.

The most popular trends have been those that either streamline the development cycle or offer features tailored to the changing needs of end users.

Mobile technology is beginning to take center stage for developers (you can read about our top mobile trends here) but there are some exciting trends brewing in the general software community, as well.

Here’s a closer look at the ones drawing the most attention:

Chatbots

Consumers have heavy expectations of customer service.

When contacting a company via the in-site messaging service or social media, nearly half expect a response within an hour.

A third want a reply in thirty minutes.

Rather than maintain a twenty-four-hour customer service staff, companies are adopting chatbots and chatbot-enhanced technology to keep customers happy after hours.

Chatbots employ Natural Language Processing (NLP) to let programs understand free form questions and reply in natural speech patterns.

Gartner predicts that by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their brand interactions without speaking to a human.

Macy’s has programmed their On Call feature to provide some more custom services: personalized product recommendations, directions to items within a store, and responses to common shopping questions.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS is a cloud-based solution for developing, operating, and managing applications.

PaaS providers supply both hardware and software services to developers, who can log in via a web browser and begin building with a minimum of setup.

Some experts predicted it would fizzle out due to concerns over security risks and lack of developer control, but it’s been enjoying a resurgence in popularity in 2017.

Open Source

Open source databases like MySQL and MongoDB have long been popular because of the lower price point.

Now software built on other open source technologies is increasingly in demand for other reasons: scalability and innovation.

The exploding collection of available plug-ins lets companies create software that meets their exact needs.

Agile

With technology changing at such a rapid pace, agile methodologies are more important than ever.

Agile emphasizes responding to change on an ongoing basis, listening to client feedback, and delivering many small portions of a project as they’re finished rather than holding everything until the end.

This year Agile is being praised for one byproduct of iterative development: security.

Bugs which might cause vulnerabilities in the finished software can be fixed after every mini-deliverable instead of waiting for the end.

Doing so keeps the development timeline short while improving the quality of the final product.

Automation

Automation has been edging onto the development scene for a while.

Automated actions are often confused for intelligent software, though unlike AI programs automation doesn’t use past experience to refine its algorithms.

It involves maintaining a list of processes which are triggered by specific conditions.

Some common processes are spam filtering, offering to resolve an error message rather than simply alert to the error, sorting new customers, and sending follow-up emails after a comment or complaint.

Though it lacks the responsive nature of a chatbot, automation does give end users an additional suite of partially customizable features.

Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning

With cloud computing and storage becoming widely affordable, experimenting with artificial intelligence has never been easier.

This year the focus is on using AI to improve the customer experience.

Consumers want personal service around the clock, and AI is a cost-effective way to provide that service regardless of time zone.

Look for AI and ML-powered customer-facing features like online assistants, website design tools, facial recognition, and recommendation engines.

Data science

Data is being created at a faster rate than ever before, and companies are looking for solutions to make sense of their data.

Those solutions may be custom software, embedded analytics, testing procedures, or simple process changes.

Whatever the form, data science is becoming an essential part of software development.

Experts predict the drive for customization will continue through the end of the year and beyond, so we can expect more emphasis on features like chatbots, intelligent programs, and automation in the coming months.

Read about more industry trends from our blog. Here are the best web development trends and best mobile app development trends of 2017.

Can these trends help modernize your digital presence? Drop us a line to ask about your own software development needs.

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5 Best Platforms to Build a Chatbot

Do you have time for a chat? Chatbots always do. That’s why customer-centric businesses
need chatbots.

That’s also why Microsoft is betting its future on “conversation as a service.” Meanwhile, Facebook has said that chatbots are the key to monetizing Messenger, announcing, “We’re going to build AI to help automate responses (for businesses).” There’s no reason why Facebook can’t share some of that chatbot revenue with you.

It would be a smart move to put your money on the future of chatbots, but you don’t have pay a lot of money to build one. Here are five of the best chatbot platforms that let you get started without a big investment. A few require development experience, while others are built for non-techies.

Get out ahead of the curve and immortalize yourself (or any other personality) inside a practical, profitable AI.

1. ChatScript

This is the platform that produced Chatbot Rose, the winner of the 2015 Loebner Prize. This prize is awarded to the AI program best able to pass a simplified Turing Test and convince judges that there is a human intelligence behind the scenes.

One of the judges said that Chatbot Rose kept them guessing for three months. They also have a support forum at chatbots.org as well as a debugger and foreign language dictionaries.

2. Personality Forge

If you need to do a bit of benchmarking before you launch your chatbot project, start here. Interact with a host of chatbots recently built on the platform by other users.

You can also search through more than 17,000 examples broken down into categories such as Award Winners and Advanced. This is really entry-level bot building, so it makes a great experimentation space. Don’t be put off by the user interface.

3. Pandorabots

This is where you should go if you want to bring in developers with serious practical experience. The developers on this platform have built more than 285,000 chatbots so far.

With a massive library of APIs, they can integrate your new chatbot into all kinds of online systems. The platform is best known for Alicebot, another Loebner Prize winner. Alicebot was also the inspiration for the emotional operating system named Samantha in the film “Her.”

4. Api.ai

If your goal is for users to speak to the bot using natural language, this platform is the leader in the field. It’s the one behind Speaktoit, the Android phone version of Siri.

Developers can access ready-built modules with semantic learning. You will also find support for 13 languages when you are ready to expand.

5. Rebot.me

This is your platform when time to market and simplicity are your top concerns. Anyone can put together a serviceable chatbot in minutes and have it embedded on a website immediately. On top of the functional framework, just add questions, answers and what it should say when it gets confused. You can make it as intelligent as you want it to be by continuing to improve it after it goes live.

Want more options? Take the time to research BotLibre!, Chatbot4U, Howdy botkit, Second Ego and Zabaware.

Remember, your goal is not to beat Siri or Cortana. Start with a chatbot that can make relevant suggestions or direct customers to more information. Expand your chatbot’s capabilities based on customer expectations. Soon, real-time translation will catch up with AI development, and your next chatbot could go global.

For more information contact us today, or visit our website.