Most small businesses rely heavily on technology to increase workplace productivity, efficiency and keep everything within budget at the same time. Whether your business makes old-fashioned corn flakes or brand new widgets, technology can play a big role in automating your business processes, streamlining financial records, managing databases, updating mail lists and more. In here, I have compiled a list of a few essential high-tech tools and strategies that you can implement in your workplace to gain yourself a competitive edge in 2017 and beyond. Let’s take a peek at this essential IT checklist without further ado. #1. Cloud computing Cloud computing is not really a fad anymore. It has become a part of the necessity. There are plenty of reasons to support that statement. Many small businesses find it really difficult to take an organized approach to solve a particular problem. Such difficulty arises because of the way they juggle between bundles of papers, spreadsheets and calendars. The result is plain and simple: chaos. You just can’t take an analog approach to solve problems in this digital world; can you? Cloud based services help a lot in keeping things organized in workplaces by keeping everything in a single place and well within reach. Cloud computing aids in: Customer scheduling, Project management, Time tracking and Billing. So take your business to the cloud and see the benefits with your own eyes. #2. Mobile-friendly strategies are an absolute MUST for small businesses Mobile has become a must-have technology. Perhaps no other technology has gained as much prominence as mobile. It has also been reported that approximately 56% of traffic to leading US sits came directly from mobile devices. And that report was made in 2015. So it’s naturally expected to rise in 2017 and more in years to follow. This fact easily confirms the fact that mobile has become an absolute must have technology in 2017. Businesses must develop their marketing strategies on basis of this fact. Their marketing and business strategies must involve three things at the very least such as: A mobile-friendly website – This is almost a no-brainer. With more and more people accessing the mobile internet, it has become almost a necessity to make your site optimized for mobile usage. Otherwise, you are going to miss out on a whole lot of relevant mobile traffic to your target business site. Note: Bing, a major search engine site rewards mobile-friendly site with improved search rankings. A mobile app – Mobile apps are considered more user-friendly than mobile friendly websites especially when Android and iOS smartphone users are concerned. A mobile app also helps to develop your business credibility among prospective customers. More credibility automatically increases more leads. Accepting mobile payments – Mobile payments are on the rise. The rise of virtual wallets has made payments easy and more convenient. You have to see to it that your site accepts mobile payments for the convenience of your customers. Mobile wallet payments will make your customers breeze through online transactions. You can’t find anything more convenient than this. #3. Bring remote personnel together with collaboration software Remote workforce isn’t very uncommon in 2017. Many businesses have personnel who are spread all across the globe. This has made businesses geographically more diverse. Thus, the demand of collaboration software increases significantly to keep everything within one roof. So if you have a significant amount of remote workforce in your company, it’s mighty important for you to opt for collaboration tools to keep things organized and under one roof. Collaboration tools allow members to call, chat, share documents and collaborate on a single platform in real time without any restraints. You surely can’t ask for anything more than this. #4. Do webinars for remote conferences A webinar in short stands for a web-based seminar. It can be a presentation, a workshop, a lecture or a seminar which has to be transmitted over the web through video conferencing software. Through webinars, participants can share documents and audio in real time. Webinars are particularly beneficial in remote conferences. So if you have a huge number of remote employees in your company, consider conferences through webinars. Plenty of free as well as paid tools are available on the internet that you can use to your benefits. Some of these are: Google Hangouts Skype Adobe Connect etc. Webinars are one of the most effective ways of telecommuting. Make sure you have such IT strategies in place for remote conferences or meetings. #5. Automated marketing software can increase efficiency Automated marketing software has made it easier and more convenient for small businesses to manage marketing activities with increased efficiency. This has removed the need to hire devoted professionals for marketing activities thereby saving a whole lot of money in the process. Automated marketing software can perform several activities that include things like: Managing leads Segmenting messages Setting up particular responses on basis of specific actions taken by the customers. Automated marketing software also links seamlessly with customer relationship manager platforms. Thus, it aids a lot in bringing sales and marketing together. #6. Protect and safeguard your company data Protecting and safeguarding company data is mighty important for any company. Backing up important data becomes crucial in case a loss occurs as a result of a computer virus, theft, fire, power surge or any other disaster. Make sure you have a data backup strategy in place to keep things smooth as per plan in case you face a disaster (you cannot predict its occurrence). Backing up company data isn’t too difficult especially with the technology we have these days. From back-up tapes to portable hard disks, everything can come in handy for that purpose of yours. Talking about computer viruses, you must have a strategy in place to prevent your workplace computers from virus infections. Viruses can come in anything ranging from a simple email message to a floppy disk. To minimize your exposure to viruses, hackers and worms ensure that you have the latest system updates and patches done on your PCs. Also implement reliable antivirus software on each working PCs and don’t forget to update them from time to time. #7. Chatbots for customer support A chatbot is a form of service powered by artificial intelligence and rules that you can interact with through a chat interface. The best thing about chatbots is that they can function on major messaging chat interfaces such as the Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Whatsapp, text Messages etc. Chatbots also come with several other benefits. They provide you with an automated customer support. They feel more like humans than bots. A chatbot has a simple interface that makes it easy to use. And the best benefit of all is that they are pretty inexpensive in comparison to live agents. Chatbots have become the new buzz of businesses. Hence, it’s advisable to adapt to this trend ASAP. #8. Have a decent social media strategy to make the most of social media marketing Social media is free to use and has huge marketing potentials. But you must remember that you’ll get the benefits only if you use it the right way. Carefully-planned social media strategies are an absolute must if you want to gain proper exposure on social networking platforms. Plenty of social media management tools are there on the internet. Each of them can serve specific purposes related to your specific social marketing needs. For example: One can help you schedule tweets and then another can aid in optimizing your social media marketing campaigns. Do remember that social media expenditure is not just a cost, it’s an investment. It’s an investment having high ROI (return on investment). It depends only on the ways as to how you use it. So make sure you do it the right way with proper research and dedication. #9. If you are getting a new router, go for one that supports IPv6 IPV6 is next on the horizon. That’s because the internet’s supply of IPv4 addresses are already on the verge of exhaustion. Hence, it’s naturally advisable to move on to IPv6. So if you are getting a new wireless router for your company, it’s sensible to go for one that supports IPv6 connectivity. Or you can also check the fact whether your new router’s going to support IPv6 in future or not through any firmware upgrade. If your next router fulfills any one of these two conditions, it’s worth the money. Accounting software to manage your company finance – Accounting software helps businesses manage their finances in an organized and systematic way. You don’t exactly need an accounting degree to operate these on your PCs. There are a host of options available to you specifically when accounting software is concerned. Some of these even come for free. So you can rest be assured that you’ll never run out of options. A tip: Don’t forget to consider these things before going for accounting software: Is it able to calculate all the requirements of your payroll? (should include things like annual leave, PATE, long service leave etc.) Is it capable of tracking stock, orders, work in progress and other job management requirements? Can it handle more than one bank account? Can it handle foreign currencies? Can it keep customers’ purchase records? Your accounting software should ideally fulfill all these questions highlighted above. If it does, go for it with your eyes closed. So that’s it then. Hope this checklist comes in handy for you. Ciao!