Technology

The essential tech you need to invest in this end of financial year

Patrick Stafford /

While most businesses are scrounging for receipts and attempting to squeeze as much life as they can out of a possible tax return at the end of the financial year, savvy SMEs should be thinking about something more long-term – investing in technology to become more successful.

This isn’t just about buying new tech for a tax write-off, either. This time of year is perfect for businesses to examine exactly what they’ve been doing in the past, why it might not be working, and what tools they should implement now to get the 2016-17 financial year off to a good start.

Of course, the beginning of the year is a good time for all investments, hiring included. But technology can provide some of the biggest cost-to-benefit ratios, considering the price of advanced tech is consistently dropping.

Plus, if SMEs invest in that tech now, they may see benefits start to form well before the next tax time comes around.

Paul Greenberg, executive chairman of the National Online Retailers Association, says businesses shouldn’t just think about tax when it comes to tech, but adopt a mindset that technology is something that should be constantly looked at, innovated upon, and adopted.

“I actually think technology is a 12-months-of-the-year discussion and engagement,” he says.

“There’s no harm in being tax efficient, but the bigger conversation is about remaining connected with the fast changes in the industry and using tech to your benefit.”

Here are the types of essential tech you should consider implementing now to prepare for the new financial year, so you can stay on top of essential trends, remain competitive, and win.

Mobility

For retailers, the till can be a ball and chain. Allowing staff to roam a store freely with tablets and other devices has freed up customer service to reach a new level of personalisation. Greenberg says this is something businesses should consider.

“It’s kind of the death of the desktop,” he says. Apple has done this for a few years now in its stores, and other retail chains such as Country Road have done the same.

But it’s not just about retail, Greenberg says. Being able to liberate staff from fixed desk positions means they can be more productive anywhere. That can mean providing laptops instead of desktops, or remote login software support so staff can do their job anywhere.

“Everything became mobile first, and now it’s becoming mobile-only,” Greenberg says.

“It’s amazing how quickly that happened.”

Personalisation technology

The days of providing one consistent message on your website are over. For many businesses, investing in back-end website tech has allowed them to create separate, distinct messages for different audience groups.

That means repeat visitors might receive a different message than those who have come for the first time. Or, those people who browse around your site, and then return to the home page, may see a different message based on what they investigated.

“The days of “spray and pray” marketing are over,” says Greenberg.

“This is about communicating with customers, in a personal way, at scale.

“It’s what butchers and bakers used to do 100 years ago. We can do the same in bigger business today.”

This principle and tech applies to more than retailers, too. Services businesses should investigate ways they can provide tailored messages based on visitors’ website behaviour.

Content delivery networks

A content delivery network (CDN) is basically a group of servers, distributed across a range of locations. Their goal is to provide users with access to a website in the fastest way possible – so it directs them to the nearest server rather than routing them halfway across the world.

That’s all well and good, but there’s another reason SMEs should investigate this technology: preventing attacks that can take your website down.

Any SME can suffer a DDoS attack, which attempts to flood your site with traffic to either take it down, or serve as a distraction to steal data. Over 50% of attacks have an associated data breach, and DDoS attacks themselves increased by 125% in the year to the first quarter of 2016, according to the latest Akamai “State of the Internet: Security” report.

Engaging a CDN allows businesses to protect themselves in the event of an attack. It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s a start, and definitely something SMEs should consider – before it’s too late.

“This is another area that’s well worth investing in this day and age,” says Envato co-founder and business intelligence director, Vahid Ta’eed.

Advanced communication tools

Businesses have continued to adopt advanced communication tools, but for some, it may seem like the benefits are too out of reach. But for Ta’eed, adopting tools like messaging app Slack ensures that your staff are able to do their job from anywhere, which increases productivity.

The best part? They’re relatively cheap. Slack even allows users to send files and integrate with existing tools like Dropbox, so functionality isn’t left wanting.

“Google Hangouts, Chromebox or Slack … they allow us to dial in, manage our meeting rooms…just in general, communication tools are very good now and they just allow you to work from home, or anywhere,” Ta’eed says.

Analytics

While there’s a lot of hype surrounding data science in small business, and SMEs should be careful they don’t actually invest in an area which won’t give them any benefit, Ta’eed says it’s wise to think about how business intelligence can improve your existing offerings.

“From the analytics perspective, it’s really about taking that information and then turning it into customer insights,” says Ta’eed.

“There’s so much material out there.”

While salaries for business analysts and data scientists remain high, there are free tools to help. IBM’s Watson is focusing on small business analytics, and Ta’eed says it’s also wise to get staff trained up in the use of tools like Tableau – learning these skills can be done for free.

“Training up staff in that area also means they don’t have to consistently request information from your business intelligence team all the time,” he says.

But overall, Ta’eed says it’s wise to think about how data warehousing and data visualisation can be implemented in your business to spot patterns as soon as they appear. For instance, being able to spot when customers are dropping off a particular product, or noticing a pattern among cancellation rates, are insights that may have taken longer to be noticed before data visualisation.

“This is something that’s becoming fairly fundamental,” he says.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.