The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was last month in Las Vegas, and the “life-changing” hyperbole reached epidemic, perhaps even pandemic, levels. Industry analysts and technology pundits alike are babbling about yet another season of smart cars, smart homes, televisions as big as walls, data that is, well, big, and the perennial alphabet soup of favorites like AI, AR, and VR. Rarely do the technologies of CES meet the realities of business, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. So we thought we’d dig into CES and find the technologies that will have the biggest impact on business in this upcoming year.

To be more specific, business process automation. A new breed of business process automation tools, driven by the ability to move data between previously isolated applications based on triggers, is making automation accessible to small businesses. Using tools like ZapierIFTTT, and Microsoft’s Flow, business owners can automate repetitive tasks. Something as complex as logging a customer service request received via email into SalesForce and notifying the customer service team via a Slack channel can be automated, no coding required.

Conversational Chat Bots
Having a functional conversation with your computer may seem to be the stuff of the far future, but building a natural language conversation chatbot to provide services for your customers or employees is easy to do thanks to frameworks from Amazon, Microsoft, BotEngine, and others. The most obvious business case for chatbots is providing customer service, but there is plenty of opportunities to use chatbots to make your company more productive. An HR chatbot can guide employees through a process of determining if a type of medical procedure requires pre-authorization. A chatbot can guide a facilities inspector through an inspection process. Chatbots can also walk salespeople through the process of taking post-meeting notes. In these cases, the chatbot automates the data entry process and ensures standardized data.

Cloud computing
“The Cloud” may seem like old news, but cloud-based business applications continue to improve and deliver business value. In addition to making it possible to get to your business apps anytime, anywhere, on any device, software companies are now rolling out new tools at a rapid pace. Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 suite of tools includes business process automation, project management, and document sharing/collaboration tools in addition to the standard fare of Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint. SalesForce continues to build on their CRM platform, including a Slack-like chat and marketing automation tools. And with tools like Zapier and Flow connecting cloud apps from different vendors, the risk that data will get locked in a silo is low. You can now select the best tools for your specific needs instead of using a one-tool-does-all platform.

Technology insiders have a reputation for inflating the benefits of the latest gadgets and and services. But this year, some newer technologies can deliver real business value. 2018 may well be the year small and medium-sized businesses become more effective and efficient by using automation, bots, and embracing The Cloud.

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