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MYOB country manager Ingrid Conin-Knight on while everything changes, fundamentals remain the same

When MYOB asked more than one thousand local small and medium-sized business operators which of the big technology trends were likely to impact their industry in the coming years, nearly a quarter (23 percent) were pinning their hopes on a better internet connection. The next largest group – over 20 percent – predicted their industry would remain unaffected by any kind of technological change. Here's MYOB country manager Ingrid Conin-Knight on why despite increasing change, fundamentals remain the same in business.

For most local businesses, the big technology changes that are already beginning to transform industries around the world, from automation, robotics and machine learning, to drones, autonomous vehicles and the internet of things, were fairly low on the register.

In reality, though, their effects are already being felt in New Zealand, and according to MYOB country manager Ingrid Cronin-Knight, businesses will see fundamental change in the next two decades.

“In ten to twenty years’ time, the basics of business will be the same. A business will still be designed to serve a customer, you’ll need to balance the books to ensure you have enough cashflow to cover expenses, and keep records of what you do.

Everything else – how you find and interact with that customer, the products and services you sell them, how you transact and even the nature of money – will all change.

Even with significant change so close, it’s not surprising most business operators aren’t spending a lot of time keeping up with the latest technology.

With so much to be across when you’re running a business, unless it's a real passion or they depend on it for their business, the majority of business operators don’t devote a lot of time to monitoring the trends that will affect them, even in the next two or three years’ time.

However, a number of really transformative technologies are probably already changing the way they do business – it’s just that they are largely happening ‘under the hood’.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), in its current sense, is a good example. As a technology provider, MYOB’s focus has been to introduce more automation in business management and accounting software – to remove the boring bits and improve the overall experience.

What that’s done is given business better insights to enable them to make smarter decisions, including near real-time feedback into the fundamentals of their business such as cashflow and key cost centres like payroll.

But that’s just the start of what AI will be able to achieve for business, which despite some of the common misapprehensions, could make businesses ‘more human’.

When you look at the algorithms of machine learning and AI together, what you are going to see is AI playing a massive role in the customer experience. From how you target your customers and build an understanding of what they need – even how they are feeling at any particular point in time – to how you communicate with your customers, using chatbots or virtual assistants, your business will be more responsive, more efficient and more directly connected to individual customers’ preferences.

That doesn’t mean humans are ripe for replacement. In fact, based on current trends, the opposite is likely to be the case.

Take the accounting industry for example. MYOB has spent the last two decades streamlining and automating tasks routinely performed by accountants and bookkeepers. But while many tasks have been automated, demands for creative, advisory and decision-making skills have grown.

In fact, jobs have never been more secure. According to research conducted by AlphaBeta, the rate of involuntary job loss 20 years ago sat at about 4.2 percent. Now it’s 2.6 percent.

What it shows is that transformative technology is not only creating new jobs, it’s also fundamentally changing the nature of existing roles. So, we need to ensure that we train our people to make an impact in those areas. Whilst there’s fear and uncertainty for many people, it’s really about re-flavouring the current roles to be focused on the things that make people happier and removing the drudgery from what they do.

Managing the change and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to flourish in the new environment will take real leadership, and an awareness of the impact technology can have on the way people work.

As anyone with a smartphone knows, more technology doesn’t necessarily lead to better wellbeing.

The complexity that’s going on in the workplace is going far beyond anything experienced before – and that’s stretching our abilities, particularly for business leaders. We need to invest in the training of our leaders – how they manage flexible work forces, how they adapt to technology and still get the best out of their people.

That complexity is only increased by growing diversity – particularly generational – in the workforce.

We currently have four generations working together, with different styles, expectations and familiarity with technology.

At MYOB, we’re strong champions of diversity. Having differing voices in the room means better, more inclusive decision-making, and it means you are more likely to be able to recognise the needs of a diverse range of customers. But more viewpoints can make it harder to make the right decision for your business – and providing the tools to make that decision may be something technology helps with as well.

As the MYOB Business Monitor survey highlighted, understanding which technologies may affect your business, and in particular where your industry may be ripe for disruption, can be a confusing, even daunting task for business operators.

MYOB’s own approach is to use trajectory-based planning – to look at where trends are likely to go and ensure the business invests in resources and competencies to meet the stages on those paths. However, for smaller businesses, trying to stay across every trend is impossible.

My advice is to pick the one or two technologies that will help your business the most. There’s so much choice, but not every technology offering is suitable for your business.

It will also pay to remain focused on the fundamentals, such as keeping the customer at the heart of all that you do, which will continue to drive businesses in the decades to come.

We are social beings, so we will still want to interact with each other – we’ll want to have experiences, enjoy great service, share and interact, probably still face-to-face. So many of the things that are the hallmarks of great businesses today will not change, they’ll just be underpinned, made easier or better by transformative technology.”

For further research insights or to find out how MYOB can help your business succeed, visit www.myob.com/nz.

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