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What will the SME of the future look like?

As we celebrate 20 years as Australia’s leading magazine for SMEs, we asked a variety of people to predict what the SME will look like in 20 years time, with some interesting views on what 2031 will hold. In Part 1, read what Google’s Kate Conroy, CareerOne’s Michael Harvey, Microsoft’s Oscar Trimboli and ABN’s Suzi Dafnis predict.

Kate Conroy, AdWords Product Specialist, Google Australia & New Zealand

It’s 2031 and Madeline the accountant is going to visit a retired client. Most of her clients are happy to have a video conference these days as the traffic is so congested, but Mrs Davies still likes to meet in person. She tells the car where to drive, then tells her phone to project Mrs Davies’ previous documents on the car’s screen.

Madeline’s job has been both easier and harder since the elimination of cash in 2029. It’s easier to check the wholly electronic accounts, but harder to find loopholes and new strategies for her clients. As Madeline’s car automatically detours around roadwork, her phone chimes. It’s the camera in her front door showing that the deliveryman has arrived with the new vacuuming bot she ordered online this morning. She sets the door to ‘unlock’ for five minutes and asks the delivery guy not to let the dog get out.

Madeline’s car pulls up at her destination, and Mrs Davies appears promptly at the door. ‘I’ve just put the kettle on!’ she says. Madeline smiles – some things don’t change.

Michael Harvey, CEO, CareerOne

Australian SMEs are among the most innovative in the world, but they have been held back by slower internet speeds than other countries have enjoyed for some time. Better technology infrastructure will see a range of startup companies emerging, taking advantage of new market opportunities.

Faster broadband and more sophisticated mobile technology will present new opportunities enabling SMEs to develop innovative solutions to everyday problems. An example of this is the human resources function. We all know the success of a business lies not only in its business plan, but in its people. Most SMEs do not have a dedicated HR manager. Therefore responsibility to attract and retain talented staff remains with the owner. As the sector expands, SMEs will face the same pressure as big business to find the right talent for their business and then to have appropriate HR policies and processes in place.

Over the past 20 years, the SME sector has evolved incrementally. Change over the next 20 years will be faster, more radical and “disruptive”. The past 20 years has been an evolution. The next 20 will be a revolution.

Oscar Trimboli, Director, Information Worker, Microsoft Australia

Cloud computing is shaping the future, changing the way SMEs work by reducing the cost and improving the availability of their IT systems. Pay-as-you-use cloud technology models, which have traditionally only been available to large enterprises, are now accessible to SMEs. Using technology, SMEs can now easily work not only within their own organisations, but also with external partners. SMEs can be more agile and productive, enabling them to respond quickly to changing market conditions.

To be successful in the next decade, SMEs need to connect their technology with that of their customers, accountants, lawyers and other suppliers. Modern workforces expect staff to access their information across their smartphones, PCs and web browsers, through one consistent way of working.

Suzi Dafnis, Community Director, Australian Businesswomen’s Network

Bring on the new age! The SME is in a great position right now. Niches abound and it’s easier than ever to start and grow a business (even while still employed).

The way we interact with customers has changed and transparency and immediacy are the new order. That puts the SME in a strong position to outperform some of the corporations whose size and lack of speed keeps them tied to slow adoptions of new ideas and who still hide behind corporate facades.

The cloud will not only have been adopted but probably superseded. SMEs have been slow to adopt to the cloud for many business applications. But as their knowledge of this way of working grows it’ll be the norm.
The greatest opportunity for SMEs in the future is mobility; the ability to do business from any device at any time, with any market. That is exciting!

Social media will be an old thing. The way we engage has changed and if anything we’ll just have more access to recommendations, products and services that our friends and community like and approve of, recommend. Brands that lack authenticity will be abandoned by those that are relevant. The winners will be the creators and the curators, those SMEs that innovate and provide a unique voice. It’s exciting times.

Jen Bishop

Jen Bishop

Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.

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