Consolidation and integration of efficient back office technologies and business processes is well on its way towards irrevocably changing the way small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) conduct their day-to-day operations. Much of what I’ve witnessed over the past five years has been a massive tech-amalgamation of value added software solutions to assist businesses with payments, CRM, marketing, rewards programs, couponing, payroll, inventory, POS, booking, reservations, ordering, delivery logistics, consumer financing at the register, invoicing, billing, and a myriad of other business management needs. The end game, one could argue – and I will
– being less of a tech-amalgamation, and more of a single, seamless, fully-integrated end-to-end business management solution, where all software applications talk freely to one another, and “melts” into a virtual COO/attendant operations team. Existing platforms will become more efficient and incorporate more numerous and more robust feature sets. Such is the natural evolution of the current SME software technology surge.
As an owner/operator myself, especially one who advises companies in integrated payments and SaaS, and someone who understands industry technology trends now, I can’t afford to become complacent and not ask, “what’s next”? More specifically, what will be the next game changer in the evolution of SME technology? What will be the next disruptive technology to enter the arena – the technology that will set apart the next generation of cutting-edge software platforms from the rest of the “optimize the existing technologies” herd?
Some musings on the future…
I’ve thought quite a bit about crypto. But in the context of SME business management technologies, crypto strikes me as less of a SME management software innovation, and more of a monetary innovation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an unapologetic crypto bull, but crypto currency adoption and usage will constitute a systemic, institutional change in the manner in which money is used and moved. The technology is already here, still evolving of course, but there is and will continue to be a bureaucratic overhang which retards its acceptance. To me, crypto isn’t going to be the next big SME software revolution, as it doesn’t fit into the traditional business management software mold, nor is its mainstream adoption is imminent.
Next, I contemplated data science. I have no doubt that data science will play an important role in the future of SME business management, but there’s one sticking point which precludes it from being the next great thing – it’s already here! Small and medium-sized enterprises have been collecting and storing buyer data for years. And as I sit here writing this article, data mining techniques are working to provide business owners with insightful outputs about their customers, products, sales cycles, …you name it. Thus, the next game changer can’t be data science – we already have it.
So where did I land? Well, the image above is a bit of a giveaway, eh? But yes, I landed on narrow AI, in particular, task-specific machine learning. The thesis is pretty simple. The convergence (tech-amalgamation) of business management software solutions is heading toward seamless interoperability. Every SME will have one of these platforms. The platform, in turn, will initially collect and store prodigious amounts of consumer, industry, sales, inventory, logistical, pricing, product, (fill in the blank) data, and mine it for insights and analytics which can be shared with owner/operators. These insights will provide owners with extremely accurate, real-time information on both internal and external business trends.
…and then we make the leap.
The same data will be used by machine learning optimization algorithms to produce predictive outputs, and those predictive outputs will drive SMEs to never-before-seen levels of operational efficiency. Further, the predictive outputs will feed back into the business management software and execute optimization strategies accordingly. What’s plausibly in the cards here via narrow AI is that businesses, at least operationally, might effectively run themselves.
If the prediction above comes true, one of the likely outcomes will be the otiosity of human involvement in business operations, with machine learning optimizing across-the-board operational efficiencies and growth initiatives. Additionally, with humans “freed” from the hours historically allocated to business operations, one could argue that the difference between future business “winners” and “losers” will no longer be their respective aptitudes for running their businesses efficiently or intelligently, but rather the distinctly human ability to enhance the quality, creativeness, and utility of the product or service they’re selling. Thus, the advent of narrow AI ought not to be just a SME technological revolution, but a historically significant paradigm shift in commerce, and a boon to the consumer by way of creating an effective “arms race” in the innovation of consumer goods and services.
Let the computers do what they do best, and let the humans do the same.
Adam T. Hark is Managing Director of Preston Todd Advisors. With over a decade of consulting in the payments technology, SaaS, and fintech sectors, Adam advises clients on growth, exits, and market positioning strategies. Adam T. Hark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org