If 2013 is to be anything like the last 12 months, small businesses will face a huge variety of information technology problems – leaks, website outages and security threats included.
But with great risk comes great reward. More advances in social media, search engine optimisation and cloud services will give SMEs more power to do their jobs better than ever before.
We’ve compiled a panel of experts to give their thoughts on what’s set to happen in tech in 2013, ranging from telecommunications, to search marketing, to social media.
It’s not going to be easy – there will be data breaches, and some businesses will suffer from being ill-prepared. Don’t get caught in the dark. Read up on the tech challenges you’re likely to face in 2013.
1. Web security
The past two years have been especially bad for data breaches. Some Australian businesses have experienced some nasty consequences, including Distribute.IT in 2011 which was actually sold to Netregistry after a devastating attack.
But AVG security advisor Michael McKinnon says it’s only going to get worse.
“I suspect we’re yet to see the biggest of the data breaches,” he says. “I’d hate to say it, but it feels to me we’re likely to see some data breach that topples everything.”
Back in 2011, large companies including Sony and RSA were hacked, resulting in tens of millions of dollars’ worth of damages. Now hackers are attacking SMEs indiscriminately – McKinnon thinks that won’t stop.
He also says there are likely to be even more threats to mobile platforms, which means users need to make sure they’re keeping their smartphones as secure as possible.
The other main area of interest? Cloud computing. McKinnon says businesses will continue to be weighing up their options this year, but ultimately start moving towards putting services in the cloud.
“The questions we’re looking at are which businesses will get stung in the cloud, and which won’t, and which people end up getting their hands on data that isn’t protected,” he says.
Privacy, he says, will be a big focus, especially as more social networks and websites start gaining access to private data.
“I think privacy is going to be the cornerstone of this year…as well as the role businesses need to play in terms of collecting critical data.”
2. Social media
It’s becoming harder and harder for businesses to ignore social media. Not only are existing platforms like Facebook becoming even more important when it comes to connecting with consumers, but new ways of communicating are appearing all the time. Many businesses wouldn’t know how to use Tumblr, for instance, even though it fits perfectly into what they might be doing.
SR7 founder James Griffin says with the novelty factor wearing thin, 2013 will become a make or break year.
“The opportunities are well understood, however execution and return on investment still remains tricky for a number of industries and organisations.”
One area of interest, Griffin says, will be a closer integration of retail and social media.
“For example, the customer receives a percentage discount at the point of sale for tweeting or Facebook updating about their purchase, making sure they ‘@’ mention the brand.”
“It’s a very simple yet effective way to ensure action on behalf of the customer and they receive immediate gratification in the form of a discount.”
Griffin also says a fear of becoming the next big social media disaster story will keep many businesses in line. Companies like Cotton On and Coles have suffered backlash after ill-timed campaigns, and it can cause damage to a brand if they happen constantly.
“Good judgement along with a simple yet effective crisis management plan is something all companies should look at immediately to kick off 2013.”
3. Online retail
Each year, the proportion of online sales grows larger. The big trend this year, says Telsyte senior research manager Sam Yip, will be the growing dominance of shopping via mobile devices.
“Specifically in mobile, we’re seeing increased payments and opportunities for mobile payments, catalogues and browsing.”
“We’re also seeing a lot of eCommerce sites explore user interfaces for their mobile sites and applications. We’re in the midst of change.”
That presents a number of problems. Yip says a major one will be having to deal with the huge amount of customer data collected online, and then having to figure out how to improve the retail experienced based on that data.
“It’s really time for businesses to use that data to their advantage, and figure out what customers want.”
But the biggest retail trend for 2013? Retailers turning into service providers.
Yip points to the like of Kogan, which moved from selling hardware into selling mobile services. He says this will become only more common as smaller businesses attempt to compete with the larger players, and the larger businesses try to stay relevant.
“We think this is going to happen much more,” he says.
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