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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 2, read what Red PR Managing Director Fleur Madden, ServCorp’s Marcus Moufarrige and the Commonwealth Bank’s Matt Comyn predict.

Fleur Madden, managing director, Red PR and blue by Red PR

The fundamental Australian spirit is that we have a go and we work hard. This culture has set a strong foundation for small businesses in Australia and I believe in 20 years the same ethics will prevail.

There is no doubt that embracing technology continues to assist us and allows us to compete with larger companies on a global scale. I believe the way we communicate with customers is continuing to evolve and even in the last 10 years we have seen so many changes with how people like to receive messages – from traditional advertising and press, the rise of PR as an effective tool, social media mania to bloggers becoming the new rock stars and phone applications allowing us to purchase on the go. In 20 years these new forms of communications will be old news, like Atari ST is to us now.

What is right around the corner I don’t know, but I do know it is essential for small businesses, be it now, or in 20 years, to continue to speak to their customers in the way they wish to be communicated to, allow them to feel a part of our community. And it is imperative that we embrace the latest technology to do so, so that we don’t get left behind by the corporate giants.

Marcus Moufarrige, CIO, Servcorp

20 years from now, we’ll be living in the time of the SME. Low set-up costs, improved mobility and easy access to global markets will mean that opportunities for SMEs will be greater than ever before. People will be buying locally to the degree that monopolies will effectively cease to exist. Nimble SMEs will dominate the publishing, retail and software spaces (leaving logistics and large-scale manufacturing to bigger players). We will be driving electric cars. Cash will be a rarity, as will credit cards, and all business transactions and processes will take place in the cloud, possibly in a single, global currency.

Though we won’t call it ‘the cloud’ anymore, interconnection will be the foundation of how we work. This will be an evolution, not a fundamental shift. Despite how good 3D holograms will become, meeting people face-to-face will remain an important part of doing business, as will the physical office. While many people currently dismiss them, 3D printers will become enormously important and widely used in a variety of applications, including the manufacture of simple goods. Design and engineering skills will become highly prized as SMEs seize opportunities to create and manufacture products with relative ease.

Matt Comyn, Executive General Manager, Local Business Banking, Commonwealth Bank

As everyone knows full well, we are operating in rapidly changing world, where uncertainty continues to grip domestic and overseas markets, where the consumer is keeping their wallet firmly in their pocket and as a result, where small businesses in particular are finding times tougher than in previous years. We’re also seeing a shift in the way that consumers purchase items, with the rise of online retailing taking its toll on bricks and mortar operations and people looking to conduct their business in shorter timeframes.

With that in mind, I see the SME of the future as being a constantly evolving entity and one that will operate across multiple channels in order to reach its customer. Mobility will continue to play an increasingly prevalent role in how businesses adapt their operations, meaning we will be likely to see a continued increase in online retailing and also businesses that offer their customers the ability buy on-the-run through a mobile device. From a banking perspective, we would therefore see online, mobile and contactless payment processing becoming much more mainstream as customers and businesses continue to adopt this exciting technology.

Those successful businesses will be the ones that embrace new technologies that adapt to their surroundings and that most importantly, continue to focus on their customers.

Kylie Hargreaves, executive director, International Markets and Trade, New South Wales Trade & Investment

We have SMART Grids, SMART Phones, SMART cars …so why not SMART SMEs? If I may take a bit of creative license I’ll show you what I mean.

Svelte – Traditional overheads will be a thing of the past. Fewer businesses will have a shopfront or a traditional workforce which comes to a common business location. Cloud computing and other inventions will enable businesses to self service their IT, telecommunications, inventory, bookkeeping and other operational needs “virtually”.

Mobile SMEs will be adaptable, flexible, able to utilise multi-channels for their business operations. Whether it’s a text message to buy or sell things and a franchised “pick-up parlour” to take delivery – supply chains will now be “mixed-use”.

Attentive –  A few things will probably stay the same – particularly when it comes to human behaviour. For example, customers will continue to seek a better quality of life and SMEs will continue to try to deliver as personalised a service as they can, while still being profitable. But for SMEs of the future, delivering a personalised service will be a lot easier.

Responsible – It will be legally, as well as morally, mandated, that all businesses will need to report against a triple bottom line. Costs and profits will now be directly linked to a business’ ability to be socially responsible, including of course environmentally responsible.

Technological –  Last but not least, technology will be all-pervasive in the SME of the future; 24/7, 365 days a year, in any language, anywhere in the world. Technology will help reduce costs, manage supply chains, generate sales, manage customer relationships, support new workforce arrangements, facilitate conversations with the SME’s broader community, stimulate new product designs or service innovations, knowledge sharing or problem resolution.

What do you think?

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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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