We’re about to enter into a new decade. This time 100 years ago, post-war Britain was prosperous - but by the end of the 1920s the country was in a period of decline.
The 2010s have been equally disruptive, in every sense of the word. Starting amid a financial crisis and a global recession, the global political landscape has undergone huge disruption. And the world woke up to the prospect of a global environmental crisis.
In business, technology advancements have completely transformed ways of working. Out with the old legacy systems and in with the new agile cloud-based tools. Smartphones became mainstream, social media became ubiquitous and machine learning became a real thing.
It’s been 10 years of change and our recent research found that nearly half (46 per cent) of SME owners in the UK have genuine concerns about the future. But what do the next 10 years have in store?
Our Business Rewired report explores the trends set to shape the future of small business over the next decade. These include things like being more socially-conscious, relying less on email, or hiring staff who have multiple jobs.
Future technologies like AI will mean 50 per cent of all jobs will be automated, and that AI powered robots will make superior workers. In reality, just 5 per cent of the jobs that exist today can be fully automated, and 85 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.
Rather than worry, business owners should prepare for a future where they are constantly relearning, adapting and innovating in order to thrive. The trends highlighted represent a huge opportunity for those ready to embrace change.
Death of the 9 to 5
In the next 5-7 years, technology will become smart enough to significantly augment human work. It will perform routine tasks that do not require human-only skills. People will then be able to spend more time on what really matters; creativity, fulfilment, happiness and building relationships.
This will boost productivity, and start to unbundle the traditional concept of the job. Working fewer hours and delegating routine work to smart machines will become a real option for many. Especially given that a third (33 per cent) of entrepreneurs say cutting down working hours is already a priority.
Restrictions on bandwidth availability and internet affordability have been holding business back. 28 per cent of SME owners say they’ve been impacted by connectivity issues. But this will soon be a thing of the past. Investment in 5G and the rollout of ubiquitous high-speed internet access is on the horizon and it will allow us to seamlessly communicate and interact with one another.
This will unchain people from their desks and allow businesses to service customers from anywhere in the world. And in the UK, will lead to the creation of more regional business hubs outside major cities.
When cash isn’t flowing properly it’s a matter of life and death. Late payment is an everyday concern for most businesses and on average, small business owners say that they could only survive for about 12 weeks if they had a month or two of poor cash inflows.
As technology evolves, late payments could be a thing of the past with invoicing and payments handled by intelligent software and digital assistants, within new e-invoicing and ‘smart contract’ frameworks. There is a real potential to create a payments environment where all payments are made instantly and at no cost.
The fintech - financial technology industry - has been booming and the UK is very much a market leader. Its rise has already begun to revolutionise the way small businesses operate. Things like how businesses make and receive payments, manage their cash flow, access working capital - and even currency exchange are all being reimagined by fintech businesses.
In 2020, we will continue to see the rise of the ecosystem approach, in creating new propositions and delivering banking and financial services to customers.
From email to FaceTime
Over the next five years, reliance on email will decrease. More than a third (37 per cent) of small businesses already use WhatsApp and tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Slack. But even these instant messaging apps aren’t going far enough. As the technology behind voice, video, AR and VR develops, communication will shift to these forms.
Whilst many small businesses will be glad to see the back of this turbulent year and decade, it’s not all doom and gloom. The small business world is evolving rapidly with some exciting opportunities for those willing to embrace and prepare themselves for change.
Edward Berks, Director of Platform Business, Xero