By, Jonathon Clark, business and technology manager, Activate

With upwards of five million SMEs in the UK, competition is ripe. The businesses staying ahead of the curve are the ones implementing emerging technology quickly and effectively to serve new markets and nurture growth. So, it’s no surprise that introducing new and advanced technologies is the number one action business leaders are taking to transform the way they work.

Whether it’s using augmented reality (AR) to advance business processes or machine learning (ML) to improve customer experience, understanding the value of innovation cannot be underestimated when it comes to running and growing an SME. However, there are reluctanciesaround deploying these technologies and shifting focus to make them work. Here, we discuss some of the key developments in emerging tech and how SMEs can benefit.

Immersive technology

What was once only within reach of big technology players like Apple and Google, the accessibility of immersive technology is changing. Driven by rising customer expectations and falling technology prices, it is now entirely possible for SMEs to introduce immersive tech to improve everyday processes.

Expected to be worth $547 billion by 2024, virtual reality, AR and mixed reality (MR) are dominating and SMEs around the world are reaping the reward from embracing the technology.

CASE STUDY EXAMPLE: In the Liverpool City Region alone, we have seen a long list of successful AR deployment by SMEs. AR Independent for example, worked with Activate – a part ERDF-funded business support programme for the digital and creative sector – to develop a customised AR dining smart phone app for its client, Dockside Dining Club.

Using the “Aug-It!” app, customers can access information about food and drinks offers, their serving staff, special offers, and they can share their experience directly to social media. The benefits of this include improved customer experience leading to better loyalty, increased presence on social media and, ultimately, higher sales.

Virtual manufacturing

Manufacturing SMEs are amongst those seeing the most benefits from AR and VR technology. Within this market, the technologies can be deployed as a simple, cost-effect way to help personal and factory floor staff with a number of manual everyday tasks.

For example, VR can be used to help workers interact with a model before anything is physically built to test for and fix issues at pre-production stage, thereby increasing efficiency, reducing costs and downtime.

Of course, this isn’t the only sector benefiting. If the right investments are made in a smart way that complements your business offering, immersive technology can give customers the chance to experience your product before purchasing.

Making Tax Digital

Scheduled for national roll-out in April, the Government’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) initiative will modernise the way businesses submit their tax records and promises to mark the end of the tax return. For VAT registered SMEs with a turnover above £85,000, you have until 1st April 2019 to arrange a way to electronically submit your VAT return to HMRC.

While the pilot has the potential to make the process for SMEs easier in the long-run, there is still the job of selecting the right tools and software to suit your business. This should be treated as introducing any other technology into a company. Ask yourself, does it need to be cloud-based? Do you need to support mobile devices? Many vendors will provide free demos or trials of software before purchase, so do your research and diligence before making a commitment.

Training and education

Implementing new emerging technology is one thing, but making it work for your business, culture and processes is no mean feat. For many SMEs, the venture toward this new tech may be the first step in the digital transformation journey, so it needs to be both a top-down and bottom-up approach. Education is key here – making sure all staff are fulling trained and comfortable handling it, while the executives and sales team understand what it can and cannot do.

New technologies also play a huge part in employment. In fact, staying up to date with emerging technology remains a priority for hiring and retaining the best employees, so it’s no surprise some education providers in America are now offering degrees in AR and VR.

While there could be an element of hiring new expertise to get the best out the technology, in most cases, upskilling existing staff is the answer. Many workers, especially those who have handled legacy systems for some years, will need bringing up to speed in order to get the most out of its capability while future-proofing the SME’s expertise.

Business support

Picture this – you have an idea of how emerging technology could entirely transform your business and help you reach the next phase of growth, but you lack the resource or knowledge to get there. It’s important to remember there are business support programmes out there with access to everything you need to make it a reality. At Activate for example, we provide support and funding for digital and creative businesses in the Liverpool City Region with the aim of helping them introduce new technologies and grow by doing so.

For SMEs in the digital and creative sector, the initiative can provide expertise around potential uses, business cases and the technical feasibility of implementing technology into existing processes, products and services. It can also help businesses identify the practicality of developing immersive tools themselves.

You can view the original article here.