New technology is exciting, but for many entrepreneurs, the speed at which it evolves and the impact it has on their business, can also be alarming. The savviest, however, see only the competitive edge that next generation tech can bring, and are leading from the front to implement it.
Online commercial office space marketplace Hubble, is set to become the first company in its sector to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help businesses find office space quickly.
The AI office agent will greet new customers on the website and use the work email address that they enter to identify where their current office is based, the size of the company, and any moves that have been made in the last five years. It then automatically starts recommending potential new office space.
CEO and co-founder Tushar Agarwal says: "If you want to have the edge over the competition, embracing new technology is key, and can help optimise your processes and improve your product. We are focusing on using AI to help our clients find office space faster than ever before. We wanted to progress from being 'just another online marketplace' to offering businesses the services of a full-blown artificially intelligent office agent, who can offer much more rapid solutions and deeper insight than a traditional property broker."
AI technology is finding its way into more traditional sectors. Last year Daniel Hegarty, CEO of digital mortgage broker habito, launched the world’s first digital mortgage advisor, an AI chatbot that carries out the same role and offers the same expertise as a traditional mortgage broker, but with a more in-depth view of the market and in much less time.
"Innovation is everything," says Hegarty. "Thanks to cloud-based infrastructure and improved development environments, the cost of building technology and software is falling rapidly, so any head start an existing business has is in danger of being quickly eroded. Companies now have to innovate continually just to maintain their position in the market, which is great for the evolution of products and ecosystems, and ultimately great for the end consumer."
However, he insists that the main things that can make or break a business are not necessarily technology related.
"Ask yourself, do you have clarity of purpose? Can you hire great people? Can you create a compelling narrative around your product that will make people want to buy it?" says Hegarty. "These things are driven by great entrepreneurs and leaders, not just the newest most fashionable tech. Technology is useless without great leadership, and great leadership is useless without innovative technology. If you fear the tech, trust in your leadership skills and find great people to help you innovate in that area."
Even that favourite real-world pastime of shoe shopping is being disrupted by digital technology? Shoe design start-up Solely Original was founded by former City finance professional Iris Anson. It offers an online shoe design service that allows customers to design a bespoke shoe, and uses 3D fitting technology to make a mould of their feet. The 3D foot scanner is used in pop-up stores, and for online shoppers, the 3D fitting sock is posted to customers, capturing measurements and creating a virtual foot on which to base the perfect shoe. Made to measures shoes are then posted to the customer.
Anson says: "It is incredibly important to continue to innovate. If you don't, your competitors will, and you will fall behind sharply. Technology has the power to streamline tasks and increase productivity amongst the workforce. We are able to react faster to customer issues, thanks to the innovative new technologies we have incorporated into the business."
Another area of business that for a long time seems to have resisted the advances of technology is the accounting sector. For many small businesses, accountancy and tax is an expensive headache, but for those trading in the solopreneur economy, the challenge is actually finding an accountant, as many traditional practices deem them too small to be worth bothering with.
TaxGo is a tech start-up solution that has been developed by two well established, award-winning practices d&t and Tayabali Tomlin and aims to remove the cost objection that these smallest of businesses experience in their search for an accountant.
The service offered is very different from that of a traditional accountant; there is no handholding, no human error from the accountant’s adjustments, and no meetings to run through what happened in the business 18 months ago. Instead, the system uses technology, combined with a human review, to make sure that things are done on time and correctly, each and every time.
Carl Reader, director at d&t and author of The Startup Coach said: "In todays world, start-ups are successful when they can revolutionise a poorly served, distributed market via technology, and provide both cost and service benefits."
Yet, in spite of the business advantages of adopting technologies, and the potential risks of not doing so, many business founders and leaders remain wary, even fearful of new technology.
"Tech can be an enabler, not just a disruptor, and in an age where jobs are being replaced by bots, some industries won't have a choice whether to introduce changes or not," says Hubble’s Agarwal. "My advice to other business owners is to identify where technology can help streamline processes or make people's jobs easier, which allows them to focus on higher value work that can potentially help them achieve economies of scale faster.
"Hubble’s AI-enabled searches, for example, will deliver within 30 seconds what a traditional agent would need around three days to research and collate. While this could eventually replace agents, for now it is a fantastic tool to help agents find and communicate with customers more easily and complete rote tasks more quickly. Crucially, this helps workers focus on more enjoyable tasks - usually those that involve more of a human element."