In an era where increasingly affordable technology innovations are helping small businesses compete on a nearly level playing field with large enterprises, the business owners who will be most successful will be those who can accurately predict the future in their industry and develop a vision of their place in that future.
However, with both technology and business evolving at an unprecedented pace, it can be challenging to clearly understand not only the trends affecting the business but how to approach them, according to Andrew Laurie, entrepreneur, CEO and elite business coach.
At a recent business growth summit held in France, business owners discussed the current and emerging trends that they believe are affecting business, along with the six key questions business owners need to answer to position themselves to benefit from these trends.
These business owners identified seven key trends affecting Australian businesses:
1. Workplace of the future is now
Greater workplace flexibility is a given in the age of smartphones and ubiquitous mobile connectivity. Businesses that haven’t yet facilitated flexible working options must do so to attract and retain the best talent. These options should include the ability to work productively from anywhere as well as opportunities for team members to work flexible hours, have flexible roles, and work in flexible teams. For many businesses, doing so will help enhance their employee value proposition.
2. Data will become a prerequisite
Big data is no longer the sole domain of large enterprises. Every business has the potential to collect, analyse, and extract value from data, whether it comes from systems, people, training, or management. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and its subset, machine learning, can help organisations gain a competitive edge from their data. It’s time for business owners to recognise data as an asset and leverage it to expand revenue streams and compete more strategically.
3. Communications are evolving
While email was an exciting new business tool just 20 years ago, today businesses are seeing a shift away from email and even voice-based communications. Instead, workers expect to use apps and other software to communicate and collaborate. This could fundamentally change the way people interact and relate to each other, which can create management and culture challenges and opportunities.
4. Transportation may no longer be a barrier
In a geographically-dispersed country like Australia, travelling between capital cities alone is a lengthy and often expensive venture. Businesses operating like this or with markets in rural and regional Australia are disadvantaged by the tyranny of distance. However, the increasing speed and declining cost of transportation, such as a potential fast rail network, could make travel easier and more cost-effective. This can help businesses reach wider markets more effectively.
5. Ageing population could provide opportunities
Aged care is one of the fastest-growing industries in Australia as the population continues to age. For some businesses, this ageing population can provide opportunities for new revenue streams. Even in businesses not currently related to aged care, it’s important to consider what these opportunities could mean.
6. Augmented reality will become commonplace
Currently, not many businesses are even contemplating the use of augmented reality, despite its many applications and use cases. Opportunities exist to apply augmented reality for training and to support engineering-type work. Having an experienced technician or engineer ‘accompany’ a less-experienced team member to work sites via augmented reality can provide cost savings and efficiencies for organisations.
7. Managing the environment will be a key business imperative
Climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions are key concerns for younger Australians. This creates an opportunity for businesses to make a difference either through direct investment in clean water and clean air initiatives or by simply managing greater compliance requirements as part of business as usual.
Andrew Laurie said, “Understanding that these trends exist is just the first step. Business owners then need to think carefully about how these trends affect their business and how to get ahead of the curve to make the most of the opportunities they present.”
Laurie has identified six questions business owners must answer to do this:
1. What is the trend? Define it as clearly and succinctly as possible.
2. What will it look like in 10 years?
3. What would that imply for the business as it stands now?
4. What opportunities would that present?
5. How would the business and staff need to change?
6. Does the business have the courage to pursue this opportunity?
Laurie said, “Business owners can be forgiven for finding this kind of future-thinking overwhelming or even irrelevant for their business or in their industry. However, it’s only by projecting into the future and thinking strategically about change that a business will be able to withstand the inevitable onslaught of competition and disruption. It is also the only way a business will be able to identify and pursue the biggest opportunities, thus positioning the business for greatest success.”