With the constant expansion of the internet and development of smartphones, the world is being continually transformed by new technology – and small businesses are no exception to this evolution.

Technology has completely redefined customer expectations and how they interact with businesses. For those lagging behind in the digital age, this has can pressure on them to become more digital and step up to deliver the best customer experience possible.

Many businesses are already embracing the digital age but, of course, there are many more changes still to come. These are known as ‘technology disruptors’ – a new industry trend or technology that will affect and change how business success is achieved.

Here are four of the most important upcoming disruptors you should be aware of and some tips on how you can prepare your business.

1. Machine learning computing

Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence that allows systems to automatically learn, act and make decisions without being explicitly programmed. Like a bot!

By 2020, machine learning will become an integral part of internal and customer-facing systems. And it has already been seen utilised in the finance, healthcare and telecommunications industries where companies have very large datasets.

The most common business functions supported by machine learning include:

  • conversational user interface, such as chatbots you see on Facebook
  • user experience (UX) personalisation
  • strategic and financial planning
  • sales
  • risk and fraud compliance
  • product development – improving supply chain efficiency
  • customer service

To prepare your business for machine learning systems you should look to adopt existing technologies such CRM, customer service platforms, or project management tools that can seamlessly help you organise your existing database.

2. Augmented and virtual reality

Over the past few years, the world of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) has been growing rapidly – with the AR and VR global market size estimated to reach $94.4bn by 2023 as more companies adopt these technologies.

Businesses are able to use AR and VR in a variety of ways to enhance the user experience; offering digital-age consumers the ability to interpret real-time information, experience virtual environments and interact with others or objects beyond the confines of a smartphone or computer screen.

For example, property agencies have been seen to work with VR solutions that offer potential buyers the opportunity to ‘walk through’ a property they are interested in and take a look round the entire space without actually leaving their own homes.

In the world of retail, sunglasses and eyeglasses brand Raybans has also introduced a VR solution, this time to let customers digitally ‘try on’ its collection of sunglasses.

To stay ahead of your competitors, you will need to come up with novel ways that AR and VR can enhance the user experience for your customers. It can be a costly venture so it’s important to plan ahead and weigh up the potential gains of investing in AR and VR technology. Applying for small business funding from alternative finance lenders such as Liberis, may help you to achieve your goals, kickstarting the process of communicating with vendors and learning about what is possible for your business.

3. 3D printing

Companies investing in 3D printing have the means to easily turn digital designs into physical products. This has the potential to be a huge technology disruptor not only to small businesses, but to all businesses and consumers around the globe.

 Image source

In the picture above, you can see an incredible 3D-printing project by Rolls Royce, which has in fact created the largest 3D-printed aircraft engine bearing.

Through the introduction of additive manufacturing, the 3D printing process of adding layers upon layers of building material has made it possible for businesses to create all types of products.

We could see 3D printing significantly disrupt the manufacturing industry in the years to come, as businesses begin to invest in 3D printers and produce goods themselves – eventually cutting costs, too!

This technology could also enable companies to customise their products with ease, and enhance their business offerings at the touch of a button. For example, when used in the medical and healthcare industries to produce medical tools or aid patients in receiving prescriptions quickly.

If you are looking to grow your business, it’s important to begin communicating with 3D printer or additive manufacturing suppliers to gain an informed understanding of how you can begin products, parts or tools for your business.

4. Blockchain

Anyone with a smartphone and internet connection will have heard of Bitcoin, following the stir it caused earlier this year with reports of some record-breaking exploits. Though many businesses may not be interested in investing in Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies at this stage, the underlying technology that makes Bitcoin possible, blockchain, has huge potential.

Blockchain is a digital accounting ledger system which maintains a continuously growing record of transactions, or blocks, where each block is linked to a previous block and cannot be altered or reversed once it is added to the chain. It is a secure, transparent and easily authenticated method of holding data.

Though blockchain technology is mainly used for cryptocurrency purchases, there is huge potential for it to enhance many other industries, for example:

  • Hospitals can hold patient records using blockchain technology to keep information secure, accurate, up-to-date and avoid patient data accidentally being altered, should records be moved around.
  • Law firms using blockchain can digitise records and validate their legitimacy without needing a legal intermediary.
  • Companies recruiting new employees can avoid a lengthy process of background checks and contacting previous employers by using blockchain to automatically verify employee information.

Over the years, we are bound to see new ways blockchain technology can be utilised across different industries. It’s important that you keep up with the latest updates in this technology for your industry so you can learn more about the possible benefits blockchain could bring to your business.