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Three big business trends to get ahead of by taking bite-sized steps to action

Emma Koehn /

Business leaders are confronted with a mammoth amount of information on a daily basis, but the trick to making it work for you is to focus on small goals and outcomes, say experts.

From blockchain to big data, three number-crunching professionals looked at how to get beyond headlines and into business results at a recent event at the Commonwealth Bank Pop Up Innovation Hub in Melbourne.

Here are three trends they say SMEs and startups should prepare for. 

1. Understand the use of blockchain, not just how it works

Being able to rattle off how the blockchain operates is one thing, but understanding what it means for businesses is another, says head of blockchain at CBA, Sophie Gilder.

Businesses should be going beyond an understanding of how blockchain operates to consider exactly how they might use it in the future.

“The blockchain can be thought of as a value transfer mechanism and value can be anything … it could be a dollar, or it could be a licence,” said Gilder. 

This means SMEs might not only benefit from up-and-coming systems that facilitate the instant transfer of invoices, titles and licencing, but could also smooth out the hassle of delivering shipments and tracking inventory.

“At the moment, there’s zero link between paperwork and the physical location [of a shipment],” Gilder explains.

The Commonwealth Bank has started work on a number of logistics projects to test how blockchain-enabled technologies could fix this, including using the blockchain to track the transport of cotton.

This process showed blockchain isn’t only useful simply by itself; it can also work with other emerging technologies like the Internet of Things to track items in a way that is simply not possible in global shipping now, Gilder says.  

2. Use numbers to see the future, not the present

If blockchain is the leading buzzword of 2017, big data isn’t far behind. But making use of it goes beyond understanding complicated methods of analysis, say experts. 

“Data is everywhere — and there really isn’t a single thing you cannot learn more about… [But] the problem of getting the insights out, a lot of people struggle with this,” said Lindy Newton, head of CBA client analytics. 

Newton’s unit conducts data analytics for clients in the hope of guiding decision making for the future based on trends. From tracking spending data through EFTPOS terminals to estimating student expenses for universities, Newton says each project has a clear question in mind, and businesses should be just as diligent in deciding what they want to discover from data.

For businesses that track individual sets of data across several parts of their operations, combining this data to answer specific questions can be difficult, but it is vital if you want an honest answer from the numbers, said Newton. 

“A lot of businesses are quite silo-ed. Sometimes, you need to cut through those layers, and you want a single source of truth across those,” she said. 

3. Nudge customers, rather than push them

Once you’ve tracked the trends that could benefit your business, it’s time to optimise your customers’ willingness to act in the way you want them to.

For CBA behavioural economics expert Rafael Batista, this is a “less is more” process — and too many companies fall into the trap of pouring significant resources into solving a problem that might call for a more simple solution.

“The worst part about it is that big solutions don’t always make a big impact — then you’re left with an even bigger problem,” Batista said.

When thinking about how to design your products so that customers are more likely to act in a desirable way, there are two key things for SMEs to consider, he said.

The first is the concept of “nudge”, or “anything in the design of something that will change behaviour”. 

Leadership teams should be reviewing whether the design of their web pages, offers and even the structure of their buildings help to lead customers naturally to one type of behaviour.

The second element is specificity. Batista cited an example from the 2008 US election, in which the Barack Obama campaign managed to secure better voter turnout from Americans when their “reminder to vote” cards included questions at the bottom asking citizens to fill in how, where and when they would vote.

“We’ve seen from a lot of different studies [that show] when you ask people to make a specific plan and ask them more specific details, people are significantly more likely to follow through with their intentions,” Batista says. 

The challenge for SMEs is to take that knowledge and ask how they can use it to ask customers about their own future plans, said Batista, given “small solutions have a big impact”.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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