SINGAPORE (March 24): Using technology creatively to manage the business back-end can enable even the smallest start-ups to compete on the regional and even the global stage.

While government assistance can help in easing the costs around technology adoption, business builders need to be proactive in keeping abreast of the latest trends and be more digitally-aware of how they can impact their businesses.

Here are three major trends that will make a big difference in the way entrepreneurs and business builders manage and grow their companies in 2017 and beyond:

Artificial, collective intelligence and data analytics
Artificial intelligence (AI) and collective intelligence technologies are increasingly being developed to help businesses better optimise back office as well as customer facing systems and processes. Smaller businesses need to take advantage of this trend to access and make good use of their data. Enter AI, which can lend a helping hand in the form of a bot, for example, automating the entire process and providing actionable insights to the business.

Collective intelligence takes this a step further by seamlessly integrating machine and human intelligence at a large scale, potentially giving rise to new possibilities in business and for the workforce. This effectively provides the workforce an opportunity to complement AI and its business benefit, rather than compete with it. 

Locally, the government is serious about strengthening Singapore's ability to innovate in a changing world by embracing digitisation and using technology. It recently committed to injecting an additional $500 million to the National Research Fund, as well as an additional $1 billion to the National Productivity Fund.  With this, there is an opportunity for SMEs to leverage on this push, and gain the necessary expertise and tools needed to strengthen their businesses.

Platform-based infrastructure
The benefit of adopting cloud-based platforms is that they give SMEs access to innovative business software solutions and services, without the need for dedicated IT support. These solutions can span areas from accounting, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, finance, and cloud-based mobile applications, all of which are core functions of any business.

Essentially, platform-based infrastructure has democratised access to up-to-date applications and scalable technologies that business builders use in order to be a lot more responsive to business needs.  This can extend to a reduction and spread in costs to scaling up/down their operations to accommodate fluctuations in customer demand and enabling improved data accuracy and easy and instantaneous access to everything from account balances to outstanding invoices, 24/7.

Chatbots and other autonomous interfaces
Chatbots or programmes designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner, would add convenience and simplicity to the user experience by making tasks like processing an invoice or payment as fast as sending a text message. These admin-heavy tasks traditionally require constant monitoring and being expensive to outsource, tend to bog down start-up founders and SMEs.  

When businesses are equipped with convenient and time-saving automated solutions to help take care of the back-end activities, they can then focus their energy and time on sales and strategy.

During his National Day Rally speech last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of the relentless pace of technological change sweeping across many industries. What is key, said Prime Minister Lee, is how Singapore chooses to respond – either close itself off, or embrace the change.

While this might seem daunting to some, there is good news: Businesses can reap the benefits of technology adoption almost instantly with business administration becoming almost invisible, as easy as messaging a friend. With the strides being made in machine learning, administration could even become completely automated.

Government assistance or not, this will empower entrepreneurs to stay focused on building their businesses, driving growth in the economy and contributing to their communities. In the long-term, this will promote productivity and enhance innovation as small businesses take on their larger counterparts on a regional, if not, global scale.

Pieter Bosman is Executive Vice-President, Sage Asia Pacific.