The year 2020 changed everything—from day-to-day business operations to outlooks and forecasts for years down the road. Small businesses are leveraging technology to stay competitive as the world continues to adjust to an ongoing global pandemic.
In many regards, the pandemic accelerated an already growing consumer expectation—to be able to interact with the businesses and services they use online. Technology like machine learning and artificial intelligence stand to add insight that human minds might have overlooked otherwise.
We’ll take a look at small business technology innovations companies are using to weather the pandemic that will have a lasting impact in the post-coronavirus landscape, and how AI will potentially avail entrepreneurs to investors and resources.
Virtual learning disrupts higher education
Historically, crisis breeds adaptation. After the crisis subsides, many of those adaptations remain and influence the way we work moving forward. So how will virtual learning transform higher education after the pandemic? Some experts contend that low-cost online education providers have effectively put four-year residential universities on notice that the system is ripe for disruption.
Higher education has a decades-old financial accessibility problem that puts a degree out of reach for many families. Technology presents a viable solution to that problem. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) gained significant popularity in recent years. As with other open-source-type movements, free access to MOOC content has been favored by people who wish to learn without the typical cost associated with education and training.
However, online learning is not without its own accessibility issues. As we have witnessed in K-12 during the pandemic, the digital divide isolates students who are economically challenged. Virtual school becomes impossible without the right tools to connect to students to teachers and online class materials — whether that’s a Chromebook for class, or a mobile hotspot for a stable internet connection.
Many colleges and universities have undertaken virtual endeavors as the pandemic has shut down campuses in many areas. Leaders in higher education may use this period of experimentation as an opportunity to evolve themselves. Issues related to accreditation will take years to sort out. But the hope for many educators is that universities use this as a lesson to open up education to people who learn differently.
Telehealth in small medical practices
The pandemic is just one factor driving the demand for telehealth services. Medicare reimbursements for remote patient monitoring and connected medical devices pave the way for innovation in healthcare as well. The telehealth industry is undergoing rapid expansion, with an anticipated growth at CAGR close to 30 percent from 2019-2025.
Solo practitioners and small-group medical practices have traditionally been behind the curve for implementing new technology. This is usually due to a lack of resources, a lack of time and attention to devote to telehealth, and prior to the pandemic, perhaps the perceived demand was not present.
Today, the pandemic and federal and state governments have given these healthcare providers incentive to put telehealth measures in place. Across the U.S., there are 14 regional Telehealth Resource Centers that provide location-specific resources for doctors that want to get started. Inquiries at the centers have increased eightfold this year at some of these locations.
Look for an ongoing shift for small medical and dental practices toward offering telehealth services for their clients. For small-group practices looking to roll out new technology, TTAC toolkits can provide guidance for rolling out online video platforms and key features that healthcare providers should consider when conducting online patient visits.
When it comes time to purchase the equipment for modernizing a small medical practice, TTAC recommends partnering with a healthcare focused IT supplier for purchasing and fulfillment.
Brick and mortar retailers move to omnichannel
Brick and mortar retailers have been locked into survival mode navigating shutdowns, limited operations, and dwindling demand as the pandemic lingers. For many, survival meant transitioning into e-commerce, online ordering, and revamping stores to accommodate social distancing. Customers who do come into stores demand a safer in-store experience.
Nearly all retail locations put in place protocols for safe distancing, curbside pickup, and BOPIS – buy online, pickup in store. In moving toward a BOPIS fulfillment model, retailers set up a branded website connecting customers to stores with real-time visibility into available inventory and leveraging this opportunity for offering customers a more personalized shopping experience.
Most retail stores already use enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to connect their inventory to point-of-sale equipment, CRM, and accounting. Nailing BOPIS requires integrating an eCommerce platform to the ERP, and adding operational support to provide a seamless customer experience.
Artificial intelligence in finance and lending
AI is turning up everywhere lately. It’s inside your 4K television scaling up lower resolution video content. It’s your smart home assistant delivering on your random requests. We are witnessing how powerful server computers that can whip a mass of unstructured data into sensible insights become a great all-purpose tool for improving our lives.
Specifically, for small business operators, AI stands to have a real impact on how financial institutions conduct lending practices. The hope is that technology will open access to capital for traditionally underserved markets. Fintech startups are exploring the connections algorithms can make in financial data sets, analyzing millions of different variables at scale to identify new risks and opportunities.
If it all works, investors hope that AI tools can disrupt traditional banking and small business financing by uncovering new viable borrowers and streamlining the lending process. The banking incumbents are not standing pat on old practices, either – many are building their own AI to use in tandem, or purchasing software tools from fintech companies.