Picture this: you step into your office and the light goes on automatically. You sit down at your desk and your computer recognizes your face, unlocking the screen. You ask your digital assistant what appointments you have, and you get a voice response back. No logging in, no typing.
You get ready to print off four copies of last year’s strategic plan for tomorrow’s team meeting. Then you see the advanced technology in your Canon MAXIFY printer tells you the ink level is low and you’re almost out. But no worries — you’ve already signed up for a subscription to ink supplies and have them on hand. You swap out the depleted cartridge for a full one, and hit “print” — no last minute rush orders.
You check your live chat system and see your automated chatbot “conversed” with a prospective customer while you were out.
Meanwhile, a visitor is in the lobby. You can see from your mobile phone who has arrived, via an interactive security camera app.
All of this technology is available today — and it’s very affordable for small businesses.
Future Office Tech is Already Here
For small and home offices, you can deploy some of the same solutions as those we use in our homes.
Fueled by the growth of connected devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home hubs, forward-thinking consumers are beginning to see the benefits of smart home technology. According to Kagan Research, 15 million U.S. households were smart homes at the end of 2016. That number is projected to grow to encompass 28% of all U.S. households by 2021.
But not all advanced technology is for the smart home or even for buildings. A host of exciting advances are in business software and office hardware.
Three key trends are driving future tech for small offices and home offices:
- Machine learning-enabled software makes processes more efficient and positions businesses to achieve more without adding extra staff or manual processes. Also referred to as artificial intelligence or AI, it sounds complex and futuristic. But you are probably using business software today with AI, whether you realize it or not. It’s already incorporated into a growing number of software applications including some analytics, CRM, email marketing, financial and other software programs.
- Connected cloud-based apps and devices save time and are incredibly convenient. A wireless printer that enables you to print directly from the cloud can make for a much more efficient office, saving time and money. When your data is stored or accessible in the cloud, coupled with “connected” devices, you are untethered and gain freedom.
- Mobility, of course, is a key enabler for small businesses. When you have a small team, you need to get out and about but still be able to conduct business seamlessly. With a tablet or smartphone, you can accomplish most work using cloud applications no matter where you happen to be. Your customer never needs to know whether you’re sitting in an airport or at the beach.
Great Partners are Key
As I talk with small business owners, one of the biggest concerns I hear is how overwhelming today’s technology can feel. So many buzzwords, so much to learn!
But the thing to remember is, much of this advanced technology is being figured out and driven by the product vendors we use. We in small businesses don’t have to build machine-learning algorithms. Nor do we have to become expert in how connected IoT devices are made or maintained.
Instead, as business owners and entrepreneurs, we just have to find great devices and apps from great vendors that support us well.
It starts with being aware of what’s out there, so we can make the best choices from the most advanced technologies to meet our needs.
Replace fear with desire: what do we want technology to achieve for our businesses?
Don’t assume you know what a piece of software or hardware can do, just because that’s traditionally what it’s done. Instead, investigate what companies have to offer and embrace new tech. You may be pleasantly surprised what a simple device or app can do today.
Reliability and Great Service are More Important Than Ever
Here’s what to look for in today’s “future” technology:
Is the product easy to set up? Is it easy to use? Is it intuitive?
What about integrations and interoperability? Does the technology work well with other technology you use? Case in point is Canon’s recent integration with the Concur expense accounting app. According to Mike Duffett, VP & GM, ITCG Printer Marketing, Canon USA, this integration allows “Canon MAXIFY users to scan and save their receipts directly to their Concur account. By simply downloading the app using the MAXIFY printer screen, users can scan their receipts and save them to their Concur expense account all from the MAXIFY screen – no computer needed.”
Being able to send scanned receipts directly to an expense app is a huge productivity enhancer. This is just one of the ways, he says, that Canon products “are streamlining workloads of our small business owners and ultimately supporting their business needs.”
And what about support? Most vendors offer online Help files and email support. That’s fine, as far as it goes. But what about when you’re in a major hurry? Or you’ve tried to figure out the solution from Help pages, but so far no luck? That’s when live support from people by phone is what you need. And sometimes, with hardware products, you may need fast service on the hardware.
Duffett says Canon’s research shows service is very important to small business owners. He adds, “The Canon MAXIFY lineup specifically has a dedicated line for small business owners to call that will route them directly to a team that can support their needs. For a business owner on a deadline — this is the type of make or break support that our brand provides. The customer support team responds with rapid speed to business owners, who will never be re-routed or speak with someone who is not an expert on the product.”
As an extension of its service and support function, Canon is giving small business owners and entrepreneurs direct access to first-hand insights and advice from self-made successes in preparation for Small Business Saturday. On Nov. 14, New York Times bestseller and small business guru Carol Roth will sit down with mother-daughter cofounders of the Shark Tank success, Wicked Good Cupcakes live on Facebook from Canon USA HQ.
As technology continues to evolve at lightspeed and get smarter, your business has the potential to become more efficient and move with more speed toward capturing opportunities. And with smart technology already here today, your people can be freed up to do higher level tasks that add even more value to your business.
Sounds like a winning formula to me.