SME opportunities abound in the digital disruption landscape

Last week, I wrote about why businesses have to worry about more than just their direct competitors in this age of Uber-inspired category disruption.

The fact is we are seeing incredibly rapid and far-ranging transformations going on throughout all industries because of the convergence of technologies such as robotics, augmented and virtual reality, and the Internet of Things.

If you needed any further proof about this phenomenon, you could read about how automated technology will render obsolete many skilled farm workers; how the integration of augmented reality into apps will drive innovation in industries such as services and entertainment; or how your pet cat or dog is about to be connected to the Internet of Things.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Silicon Valley futurist Martin Ford offered a promising insight into all these changes for SMEs.

“Small business and entrepreneurs will have access to powerful tools out there to leverage their businesses. In the coming years it will be critical to understand something about these technologies, and to have an understanding of them enough to utilise them,” he says.

As Ford says, there will be opportunities amid all this change for small businesses and nimble entrepreneurs. However, the future will be very different to the past. As technologies change the way people behave in their work and leisure, industries will change to meet these new patterns of behaviour, with massive realignment in supply chains and business models.

What that means is that business leaders need to spend less time and effort thinking and analysing what has happened and more time thinking and imagining what could happen. Imagination is the key to future innovation. It will be about unlearning what you know and rethinking your place in the world.

In terms of things like robotics and driverless cars, the popular notion most of us have, being mainly urban dwellers, is of cars whizzing us about the streets while we recline and binge watch TV shows. That’s certainly a possibility, but it’s in areas such as agriculture and large-scale logistical transport that driverless vehicles and drones will make their presence felt first and, economically, to the greatest degree.

A report from IDTechEx estimates the market for robotic and automated agricultural equipment and vehicles will be worth globally about $10 billion by 2022. Obviously, a cost-saving input such as this in food production will have significant knock-on effects in other parts of the economy; most likely in ways we can’t fully conceive of yet.

Recently we had an insight into the coming wave of augmented reality apps as entertainment with the astounding popularity of Pokemon GO. That was just a small taste of things to come, as Juniper Research says augmented reality enhanced apps will make massive inroads into industries such as entertainment, education, lifestyle, health and other service areas, across the consumer and enterprise markets.

As with automation and robotics, the knock-on effects from this will be huge and often hard to predict.

Likewise, we already know the scope and scale of the Internet of Things is set to change such fundamental infrastructure as electricity and water supply, but it’s also going to change things at a far more domesticated level.

One of the biggest growing companies in the pet care space is Tractive, which has just signed a deal with connectivity provider Orange Business Services. The deal will see Tractive’s apps and devices, designed to track and report on the health of domestic pets, hooked up to the global Orange network.

As the pet and animal companion space continues to grow across the world, we’ll see more of these arrangements, with pets becoming just as much a part of the Internet of Things as everyone and everything else.

Smart, agile entrepreneurs and small businesses, switched on to the possibilities of tech, will find opportunities within all this change and disruption. They probably won’t look like what opportunities looked like 10 or 20 years ago. So don’t look back. New opportunities abound — they’re just waiting for your imagination to see it.

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award. 

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