Disruption ahead? Five digital trends that could change how you do business

You’ve probably seen articles about the power of technology to “disrupt” entire industries, whether it’s Uber upending the taxi business or Facebook changing how people communicate. News stories about business disruption focus on dramatic tales of companies that grew to hundreds of millions in revenue almost overnight.

But disruption can happen on a smaller scale, too. And you don’t necessarily have to invent the technology to take advantage of it in a way that lets you positively disrupt how business is done in your industry. For any size of company, using digital technologies to disrupt your business requires strategic thinking, smart investment and a commitment to long-term success. Let’s take a look at a few disruptive small business trends and technologies that could transform how you do business.

Mobile internet

Just about everybody has affordable, fast mobile Internet these days. Mobile business technology is a rich source of competitive advantage for companies who really exploit it. To start with, make sure your website, ads and e-commerce store are mobile-ready. The mobile Internet is great for employees, too. It empowers them to get work done anywhere using tools such as the mobile versions of Microsoft Office applications, available through Office 365.

The Internet of Things

Networks of low-cost sensors communicating and collecting data 24/7? Now that sounds disruptive. It also sounds like something only big companies are considering. But increasingly, Internet-connected equipment and devices are available across a range of industries. With these connected devices, you can monitor performance, perform maintenance, collect data and control functions remotely. The key is to consider how such investments can accelerate your business and not just buy them for the “wow” factor. If you are pursuing an Internet of Things strategy, take a look at Microsoft Azure. It offers completely managed services that take a lot of work out of connecting devices together and capturing information from them.

Automation and machine learning

We’ve seen manufacturing become increasingly automated. Now, the average office worker is facing much the same scenario. For example, at one time almost every loan application was scrutinised by an individual human underwriter. Now, banks use sophisticated software to make decisions based on data. In a small or mid-size business, where there never seems to be enough time to get everything done, these kinds of tools can be invaluable. A simple example is voice recognition — a powerful technology too few people take advantage of. Take Cortana in Windows 10 or Siri in Apple's Mac and iDevice products. With Cortana, you can write and search for information very efficiently just by speaking, which can save you time and keep you focused on adding value.

Cloud Technology

The cloud—the ability to access IT infrastructure, applications, and services over the Internet—has been a focus of business innovators for many years now, but the opportunities to disrupt your business keep on growing. And it’s especially relevant for small and mid-size businesses, who now have affordable access to computing power previously accessible only to the largest enterprises. The easiest way to start with cloud technology is adopting software as a service, such as switching from traditional Microsoft Office to Office 365. You don’t have to run servers or worry about security because it’s all taken care of behind the scenes, and your software is always up to date with the latest (dare we say disruptive?) features.

Big Data

It’s an increasingly data-driven world, and every business needs to be looking at how they can use information to make better decisions, connect with customers and find new opportunities. And, you don’t have to be talking terabytes to get value from data. The first step is to make sure you’re collecting and storing data somewhere you can access it. Do an inventory of the types of data your business collects and the types of data it could collect, and make some decisions about what’s truly valuable. Then, you need tools that help you explore and make sense of the data. Excel is the go-to classic for Office users, and you can get the latest with Office 365. If you want to take things a step further, try PowerBI, which provides easy-to-use tools for asking and answering questions from your data.

Most of all, remember: business disruption is relative, and it doesn’t always have to make headlines. If your competitors aren’t following the small business trends and making the most of technology innovation, maybe it’s time to do a little disrupting of your own.