From XU Magazine, 
Issue 18

Predictions for small business technology in 2019 from Xero app partners

As apps get smarter, so do their users. Technology does not just revolutionise small business – it guides the way we interact with customers, their data, and influences their decision making…

For those embracing emerging and existing technologies, 2019 will see SMBs ramping up demand and internal capabilities in reporting, cash flow and bundling for app solutions. We spoke to some of our high growth and performing app partners to see what tips, tricks and trends your small business or advisory practice needs to know about in 2019.

Your single source of truth can be anywhere

With reports that the average enterprise uses over 1,900 Cloud services (up from 1,427 in 2016), Bear Douglas, Director of Developer Relations at Slack, predicts we will see an increased demand for easy interoperability between more cloud services.

As Bear describes, put yourself in the marketer’s shoes working with design and data science on a large-scale campaign. Your design team will need to use specialized software to create visual assets, while the data science team has tools they use to build the data pipeline that will measure the effects of your campaign.

“You should not need access to all these tools one-by-one in order to share information among your three teams and work together effectively – and that’s where the integrations and data pipelines come in.”

There is a benefit in this rising demand not only for solution suppliers, but engineers as well – and it’s good news for junior to intermediate developers.

“A growing market in tools like Salesforce’s APEX, Workato and Google’s AppMaker mean these roles can require only intermediate coding skill and live organizationally in the departments they serve. There will be even more people doing engineering who may not have the title ‘engineer’.”

If you want to hear more from Bear, we spoke to her last year on the Xero Developer podcast – listen here: bit.ly/2G12RWX.

Business functions on mobile will take over functions on desktop

Gone are the days where mobile-first companies are ‘market-leaders’ – you are either in the market, or you are not. Daniel Vidal, Head of Business Development at Expensify, says companies can no longer afford to view fully functional mobile apps as just another nice-to-have but an absolute requirement.

The digital workplace is evolving, people now expect to be able to submit expense reports, pay business bills, and close their books at any time, on any device. When Expensify was developed in 2008, it was the original mobile-first expense reporting app. With a decade of handheld interactions under their belt, companies from
a pre-app era are still investing in mobile-first and playing catch up.

Mobile technology and apps are not new, but to date mass adoption has mostly been for consumer use. Now, technology is finally getting to a place where functionality on mobile matches what is available on desktop, and users are becoming accustomed to doing business on-the-go.

The lesson is simple – if your website is not native for on-the-go, get it going before it is time to go!

We also spoke to Expensify on the Xero Developer podcast which you can listen to here: https://bit.ly/2G12RWX.

B2B will embrace adaptive technologies

Marketing Manager at Unleashed Software David Procter notes huge opportunities for enterprise wholesalers to embrace consumer e-commerce software and access better insights, better UX and gain a competitive advantage.

David has found a lot of their customers improve their performance by leveraging more B2B e-commerce. Even in more traditional industries such as manufacturing and distribution, business customers are demanding more convenience in their purchasing, presenting both opportunities and challenges for small to mid-sized businesses.

The granular insights e-commerce platforms provide are more valuable than traditional B2B transactions done over the phone or via email.

The increase is sales can come from leveraging a number of e-commerce platforms and marketplaces, but also from empowering customers. By providing more transparency and information such as, richer product details, order information and stock levels, B2B e-commerce platforms allow customers to conveniently order anytime and anywhere. This also provides a more personalised experience through product catalogues and pricing tailored to their business.

David adds using B2B ecommerce platforms is one way SMEs can leverage automation and reduce their operating costs, as tasks like order confirmation, status updates, shipment tracking and inventory management are all automatable.

This automation reduces the amount of time customer service, sales, and operations staff have to spend on low-value activities, and instead staff can focus on more strategic activities like building relationships with their B2B buyers.

Global standards are highlighting opportunities for all

Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Hubdoc Jamie McDonald believes regulations and legislation will showcase what is possible to those who may not have otherwise explored technology as solutions for SMBs.

Following the UK’s adoption of open banking standards and Making Tax Digital, regulators and SMB ecosystem participants around the world will unlock a wave of innovation built upon the foundation of data accessibility.

As laggards play catch up, innovation will grow when the non-savvy become more digitally native.

Jamie believes that there are new businesses and workflows to be built based on the simple premise of digitizing analog workflows. Payments, compliance and lending workflows can all be dramatically improved as customer bank data becomes available via API.

Accessing and understanding data will be easier than ever

For years businesses of all sizes and functions have known the value of data. Accessing that data and implementing a cohesive strategy around those sometimes unreadable insights has always been the tricky part for SMBs. Forecasting is a growing market in solutions for business, and is a go to solution when looking at how AI is helping all kinds of businesses.

Fluidly is a prime example of interpreting data into digestible morsels, as CEO Caroline Plumb can attest. She she explains how technology is moving from system of records to systems of intelligence.

Before technology eased the data collecting work load, now technology offers recommendations and action plans based on the data processed, due to machine learning.

Various advances in machine learning have enabled businesses to access huge amounts of their own and open data, and now it is not only possible but easy to turn that into reports more valuable than a traditional spreadsheet. Caroline says businesses should start to act on the insights they have – channel the time saved from spreadsheet work into making strategic decisions based on what the data is telling you.

Now businesses have easy and quick access to this sort of data, the question changes from ‘what?’ to ‘so what?’ and ‘now what?’. Caroline also believes we’ll see growth in open banking APIs in 2019 (which Xero launched last year). Caroline believes we will see much tighter relationships between accounting and financial technologies. This might look like easier access to credit for small businesses when they need it, or smart products and services available to them at the right time.

2019 should focus on BI, not AI

Companies should be using business intelligence to improve outcomes before exploring or investing in artificial intelligence according to Spotlight CEO Richard Frances.

Richard worries when businesses try to jump on the ‘next big thing’, they are missing the technology and data opportunities right under their noses.

Businesses should always review their business operations and use their data to do so. What is our future cash flow looking like? How are we performing to budget? Are we using Xero’s online invoicing to improve payment cycles? Are we monitoring our vital signs and taking action? What KPI’s really matter? How can we better leverage the flexibility and power of Cloud apps?

Before jumping into machine learning solutions, crypto-currencies or pivoting with the bandwagon, make sure you can answer those questions.

Be. Adaptive. B-E adaptive

Really, the easiest way for SMBs to perform better is to operate with agility and flexibility. With app advisory becoming a booming market, more accountants, bookkeepers and SMBs are all looking for ways to do better business – and our app marketplace is a window into hundreds of solutions to achieve that.

Finally, do not just adopt a digital-only mindset. As device use grows, human interaction becomes
more powerful, and provides opportunities to stand out from the crowd.

Follow him and the rest of Xero’s ecosystem team on the Xero developer blog where we speak with app partners, talk product updates and discuss all things tech and API

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