Technology is clearly changing the way we do just about everything, including business. Massive numbers of businesses are experiencing changes in how they operate based upon the availability and demand for new technologies. If you’ve been a small business owner for very long, it’s likely that new, disruptive technologies have changed how you do business somewhere along the way. Here, we’ll discuss what disruptive technologies are and some of the most common examples that small businesses have had to adapt to in recent years.
What Are Disruptive Technologies?
Knowing what these technologies are is the first step to adapting to them. A disruptive technology is one which replaces or entirely changes the way existing operations function. This is the opposite of a sustainable technology, which is implemented and operates with the existing technology already in place.
Disruptive technologies typically arise to further the advancement in ease of use, function, human interaction, and overall improvement of existing technology. For example, the cellular phone rapidly replaced landlines once its ease of use was well established. We’ll discuss more on this below.
Disruptive Technologies Affecting Small Business
Some of these aren’t exactly new, but as they become more integrated into mainstream use, we’re seeing their impact on small businesses more readily. Here are some of the technologies small business owners say have most affected how they do business in recent years:
Radio Frequency Identification Tags
One of the foremost technologies that continues to disrupt small and large companies alike are radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. Some form of the technology has been around since radio frequencies were used to track troop positions in World War II, but wasn’t patented by Charles Walton until 1983. These tiny chips, some now the size of a grain of rice, can be attached or embedded in a variety of objects to help businesses automatically identify and track them.
RFID technology has greatly improved since it was first introduced, and now more and more businesses are adopting it. Back in 2014, roughly $738 million was spent on RFID readers. It is projected that by 2020 this number will grow to approximately $5.4 billion. How are small businesses implementing these tiny tags? In a recent article by Inc., VP of sales at RFID company Rush Tracking Systems (now TotalTrax, Inc. – on Facebook & LinkedIn), Chuck Thompson says there are myriad ways to use these little gems. Here are just a few:
- Tracking IT equipment such as tablets, computers, and servers
- To track rental equipment
- For use in tracking inventory: tires, books, clothing…you name it
- Tracking the custody of important legal and medical documents
- For tracking high value items and equipment
If you deal in the tangible, RFID tags may be the next investment to help grow your business.
Landlines were clunky and inconvenient, forcing users to be at home or in their office in order to make or receive phone calls. The arrival of the cell phone made it possible for anyone to make or receive a call from practically anywhere. Smart phones have taken the idea of mobile cell phones to an entirely new level; now users can text, email, or browse the web with a device that fits in the palm of their hand.
For many small business owners, the invention of cell phones was bitter sweet. Cell phones mean that you don’t have to be on site all the time, but they’ve also made us slaves to the job, since anyone can be reached at any time. Now instead of fostering productivity, some argue that they are a huge distraction. For one small business, Apple Austin movers (find on Facebook & Yelp), cell phones have been a mixed bag. Rudimentary cell phones were already on the market when the moving company opened shop in 1991, but it wasn’t until a decade later that nearly every employee owned one. They’ve made life easier for the owner, who can now keep up with his office staff and movers no matter where he is, but they’ve also caused some headaches. Now it’s really difficult to separate personal life from work life, since he has the same phone on him at all times. Additionally, like many companies, there is frustration over wasted time when employees make personal use of their phones during business hours. This goes to show that not all disruptive technologies are all good.
Emerging Beacon Technology
According to Business Insider, beacons are small hardware devices that use Bluetooth connections to transmit messages directly to a phone or tablet while the user is within close range. This makes for a more interactive and informative shopping experience for the customer. For example, Alex & Ani (Facebook & Instagram), a chain of jewelry stores based in Rhode Island used the technology to engage customers in enhancing its store layouts. Many other companies use beacon technology to push out coupons, discounts, loyalty programs and in-store events while customers are nearby. In addition to use by businesses, beacon technology also has applications in healthcare, event planning, educational institutions, and even at home.
If you own a retail shop or restaurant, using beacons could really bolster your business. And the best news? These small devices aren’t that expensive.
These are just a sampling of the technologies that are currently disrupting business. They may not all be applicable to all companies or industries, but you may want to consider the impact the could have on your small business.