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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 3, read what Ruslan Kogan, Suncorp’s Gerard McDermott and PowerBuy’s Joal Montgomery think.

Gerard McDermott, Executive General Manager, Suncorp

There’s no doubt the SME of the future is going to rely even more heavily on technology to make their ability to operate easier and to reduce costs. The growth of technology is a given. The adaption of e-business technology by SMEs in recent years has been rapid and it’s unlikely to reduce its pace. The technologically-adapt SMEs will, in turn, look to their supply chain and providers to make it easier to do business and pass on any cost reductions made by technology. Just as technology will grow, the demand for the human touch will equally rise. Customers will look to SMEs to provide tailored, individualistic solutions to their needs. This is especially true with the large number of baby-boomer retirees who will expect ‘fee for service’ results from SMEs. A sidebar to the presence of this huge retired demographic is that we will also see a raft of SMEs develop to cater for their needs, particularly in healthcare services.

SMEs, particularly in Australia, have proved remarkably resilient, remaining confident even as the ripples of the Global Financial Crisis hit our shores. SMEs are the backbone of the economy and 20 years from now they still will be.

Ruslan Kogan, founder, Kogan

We live in an age of rapid change and innovation for SMEs so asking someone to predict what the landscape will look like in five years is hard enough – let alone 20 years! One thing that is for certain is the Internet has brought upon us “The Information Age” and this means communicating and finding information will be easier than ever before. We will see a significant reduction in boundaries meaning that products and services will have the same pricing all over the world – there will be one “World Price” for everything. Companies will not be able to hide behind borders anymore – customers will find what they are looking for no matter where it is.

Barriers to entry in nearly every single industry will also be reduced. This will mean we will see less cartel-like massive companies and more smaller and agile companies that will be able to target and service consumer needs and niche markets with extreme precision. For instance, rather than having four Goliath-type banks, there will be thousands of banks you can choose from located in all areas around the world that service specific markets like pensioners, single mums, those that do all their banking online, etc.

In the end, the consumer will keep winning. Increased competition and transparency will mean that products become better and cheaper at a faster pace. Only the companies that listen to their customers and innovate at the same pace will be able to survive.

Peter Mace, general manager, Australian Institute of Export

If we project forward 20 years, we should see a different global landscape for our SME exporters. For a start there will be many more potential customers in Asia, Africa and South America, as the percentage of the population with reasonable incomes will have risen dramatically. This group will be acquiring the consumer goods that we now take for granted, and so the market for today’s goods, perhaps in a more cost-effective and sustainable mode, will persist. Also by 2031, the issue of a carbon footprint, the ‘carbon cost’ of transporting goods around the world, will be a reality and this may tend to make some areas of local production more viable.

Technology will be the big game changer, allowing the consumer to customise their purchase, and perhaps have bidders from around the globe vying for the sale. The tablets and phones of tomorrow will allow everyone to set their personal parameters for purchases (for instance in clothes to see items displayed with your own body size and colouring), to have a house image where the new fridge, lounge or TV unit can be virtually located prior to purchase, and where phone calls will all be video conferences.

In terms of staff skills, sites like Freelancer.com will allow much of the non-core documentation and admin to be outsourced, again to locations perhaps around the globe. Companies will be able to source product components from a global market, assemble at the most effective location, and ship to meet the buyer’s requirements.

The protection of intellectual property in both end product and components will become more critical, and require strong action and Government level support. The world population by 2031 will put pressure on food production, and so Australia’s agribusiness companies have the opportunity for a new golden export era.

Joel Montgomery, Managing Director, Powerbuy

Almost the entire 2030 workforce will have grown up with computers since primary school, and most will not have known life without a PC. They will be conditioned to be “always on” – squeezing the most out of every waking moment. Where they work will be irrelevant and downtime will be unacceptable.

The “cloud” phenomenon that we hear about today has been around for 20 years, and by 2030 you will store all of your data in the “cloud” for easy access, anywhere, anytime. Security and privacy will continue to be big issues, particularly when you won’t be able to “see” where all of your confidential business data is residing.

Content will be king and what you use to access it will be inconsequential. Lost your laptop? Just switch to your tablet and don’t miss a beat. Successful hardware manufacturers will be building products that focus how your employees interact with the device with less and less emphasis on memory and storage. Software manufacturers will be challenged to build products that are super intelligent, almost to the point of reading your mind! Now that I think about it I’ll be glad to be on the verge of retirement by then!

David Simpson, Managing Director, e-Volve Corporate Technology

By 2031 it will be commonplace for SMEs to transact with other businesses through streamlined eBusiness systems. Ordering, invoicing, tracking and customer records will be shared seamlessly online. Collaboration via online tools such as webinars and web conferences will be standard practice. This will no doubt speed up the working day by minimising manual administrative tasks and by reducing the chance for human error.

As Generation Y grows up and occupies tomorrow’s SME workstations they will bring with them a whole new way of interacting with customers and co-workers. They will demand real-time, low-effort techniques for communicating and advanced software programs, heuristics and artificial intelligence to give them shortcuts. By 2031, few people will bother with traditional keyboards as voice and gesture recognition become the most efficient way to interact.

What do you think?

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Lorna Brett

Lorna Brett

Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/dynamicbusiness">Twitter @DynamicBusiness</a>

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