SME owners must get on top of exponential tech to stay alive

Here, Shahzad Ali, managing director of Get Licensed, tells us why businesses should plan for the future of technology to stay alive.

Technology is moving faster than you might think. When we walk from A to B, we take one step, two step, three steps. When technological advancements go from A to B, they take two steps, four steps, 16 steps and so on. The speed technology moves at powers us to the moon and back, and if we don’t understand its speed, it will leave us behind.

As technology grows, it improves by double the capability while its cost halves. This phenomenon is known as Moore’s Law, a term coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. This means that very quickly, the tech solution becomes faster, smaller, and with more capability while remaining cost effective for consumers and businesses. It makes life easier and is not exclusive to the rich or to large conglomerates. In short, our businesses must embrace it or they will die. Those who believe in the sword will be shot.

Many entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t understand much about technology, unless of course, it’s their field of expertise. This lack of understanding leads to the entrepreneur being unable to predict how fast technology will move. In some cases, this has led to the downfall of giant companies, not just small operations.

Referred to as the ‘new Kodak moment’, the major photography firm went from a $22 billion market cap and 140,000 employees in 1999 to bankruptcy in 2012, predominantly due to a lack of understanding of the speed technology moves at. Kodak engineer Steven Sasson developed a .01 megapixel camera the size of a toaster in 1975. He showed it to his employer, who turned it down because of its infantile capabilities. In an interview with the New York Times about it, Steve Sasson said, ‘They were convinced that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a television set.’ They choose instead to focus on their high-resolution film photography.

Unfortunately for Kodak, they were turning down the prototype of one of the first digital cameras, and nearly 40 years later, this was their undoing. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2012, the same year photo sharing and editing behemoth Instagram was sold for $1 billion to Facebook.

Kodak’s mistake was only looking at the short-term goals, rather than where technology could advance in the coming decades. They focused on where they were making money at that time, in selling films and development, rather than what the future of photography would be. Now, there are very few people who use film cameras, and nearly everyone carries a digital camera around with them attached to their phones. If Kodak had got in on the ground floor, they might not have gone bankrupt at all.

Blockbuster Video too, was one of the biggest global companies, that found itself out of business following the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime (formerly LoveFilm). Blockbuster, which at the time made a large percentage of its takings from late fees, was reluctant to move into the market of subscriptions, as this would remove its ability to charge the fees, and was slow to move into streaming because of internet speeds at the time. It was overtaken and, in the end buried, by the more tech-savvy firms.

We see examples of this disruptive technology all the time, changing our lives and sometimes slaying mighty businesses as it goes. Skype and smartphones have killed the landline. Emails have caused the demise of handwritten letters. Contactless pay has rendered cash virtually redundant. Small business owners must take the time to see how technology is moving in order to keep ahead of the disruption, and this will be key to lasting in the long term.

More and more a rise in artificial intelligence and smart robotics will lead to the replacement of humans doing certain jobs. If a machine is programmed to do a job, it will do it correctly every time. Their mistakes are caused by human errors. For example, if you type ‘2+2’ into your calculator, you will always get the answer ‘4’. You could do this 100 times and you would always get the same answer. You would only get a different answer if you accidentally typed a different number in. The computer doesn’t make the mistake, but the human does.

All business owners need to be aware of these advancements, as the tech takeover is not limited to packing boxes in Ocado warehouses and driverless cars. IBM Watson Health offers an AI solution to healthcare in a time when hospital waiting times are long, and in the case of our American friends, expensive. ROSS is a computerised legal researcher, which can search through thousands of documents to find supporting arguments for its human partner’s case.

When we consider our latest innovations, we must appreciate where the tech is going. If we design a case for the latest iPhone, it will be obsolete within a couple of years. Businesses need to not only be aware of what’s happening right now, but also be two steps ahead and to think 40 steps ahead. Whether we like it or not, if we don’t recognise the direction technology is heading, we will end up like the Kodaks and the Blockbuster Videos of the world, rather than the Instagrams or the Netflixes.

Shahzad Ali is managing director of Get Licensed

Further reading on advancing technology

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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