Small businesses know that their survival hangs on being profitable—or at the very least, breaking even. In a Gartner survey of 699 small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in the U.S., leaders mention that “growing revenue” is their top business goal.
Every small business has different sources of revenue. However, SMBs that generate more revenue are often those that successfully eliminate wasteful processes. According to studies, inefficient business processes “cost many organizations as much as 20% to 30% of their revenue each year.”
In a small business setting, the major cause of inefficiencies are labor-intensive processes, such as using spreadsheets to track tasks, employee hours, and other project management processes. It takes employees hours to do all this in Excel!
One way that SMBs can drastically improve their efficiency is by using the right technologies to automate all manual processes.
A Salesforce survey of nearly 500 small business owners and leaders notes that automation is a growing trend among many SMBs. It says that many growing small businesses are “likely to be using or investigating” technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and connected applications to expand process automation.
Project management is one of the processes that small businesses are automating using new technologies such as AI-powered chatbots, drones, and predictive analytics. This report looks at how SMBs can leverage these three technologies to boost efficiency and increase revenue.
Prediction 1: Conversation UIs (chatbots) will automate team collaboration
Conversation user interfaces (UI) fall into two buckets: voice assistants and chatbots. Both are AI-powered tools that are radically changing how humans interact with computing devices.
A popular example of a voice assistant is Amazon’s Alexa, which can create to-do lists, set task alerts, and even make purchases. Then there’s the thriving “chatbots directory” in Slack’s project collaboration tool that automates tasks as varied as tracking employee attendance and scheduling team lunches.
Benefits for SMBs
Small businesses can leverage conversation user interface (UI) technologies to reduce the time and effort needed to execute different project management tasks.
That said, project management voice assistant technology is still in the nascent stage, and accessible via only Alexa or Google Home-enabled devices.
Not surprisingly then, chatbots are leading project management automation. They help small businesses automate repetitive tasks such as tracking the project status with simple text commands.
Chatbots are suitable for small businesses because they are relatively easy to build, thanks to easily available beginner guides and relatively inexpensive third-party chatbot platforms such as fireflies.ai and stratejos.ai.
Chatbots also offer many benefits such as increasing efficiency, reducing the time required to organize meetings or set up task reminders, deriving insights from data, and tracking top-performing project members.
It’s startling to think about how far conversation UI technologies, especially chatbots, have come in a short time. A Gartner report predicts that “in 2020, more bots and chatbots will be built and deployed across the globe than new mobile apps that year” (content available to Gartner clients).
To put the above prediction into context, a Statista report reveals that 6,140 Android apps were released per day in just Q1 2018. Based on this data, we can estimate that a staggering average of 12,000 chatbots will be built per day by Q1 2020!
Small businesses should definitely jump onto this bandwagon. According to a Software Advice estimate, SMBs will implement conversational UIs by 2021 to enhance the efficiency of their internal and external processes. SMBs should start leveraging this technology, starting with chatbots, to automate tasks and business processes.
Here’s an example of a small marketing agency that uses a Slackbot to reduce the manual effort in promoting content on social media channels:
Prediction 2: Drones will automate construction project management
Drones have found use in various industries, including agriculture, insurance, and even news organizations. One industry that has recently been much in the news for using drones is construction.
A Dronelife.com report talks about the many uses of drones in construction for:
- Jobsite surveying: Mapping a site is now fast and easy as well as more accurate with the help of drones.
- Measuring materials: Estimating the stockpiles of construction materials such as sand and gravel is quicker and more accurate.
- 3D modelling of topography: Converting aerial images of structures and landscapes into 3D models is easy as drone software are integrated with standard designing tools.
Benefits for SMBs
Since 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted many exemptions on the use of personal drones, making them inexpensive and available for commercial purposes.
In a report that covers technologies being used by small businesses, Tirena Dingeldein, content manager at Capterra, stresses that small businesses that sell products and have a supply chain process should start considering drone technology.
With favorable federal regulations, drone technology has come very far in just a few years. The time is right for small construction businesses to leverage this technology and gain immediate business benefits that include:
- Automating information gathering: Using drones, you can quickly capture images of the topography that would otherwise have taken days on foot.
- Detecting jobsite threats: As surveillance systems, drones can survey the construction area and alert the crew and clients about any problems that could result in project delays. For instance, drones can help identify soil contamination caused by industrial or agricultural chemicals.
Explaining why SMBs should use drones, Eileen O’Loughlin, senior content analyst at Software Advice, says that “the blurring of the line between personal drones and commercial purposes puts this technology squarely into the hands of small construction firms, and makes the use of drones in construction a smart investment for SMBs.”
A Software Advice report on the top technology disruptors for SMBs estimates that many businesses will deploy drone variants by 2022 to achieve strategic advantages in their industry. Gartner forecasts that by 2019 (content available to Gartner clients), at least 10% of personal drones will service both personal and commercial needs.
Small construction businesses should definitely consider drone technology because it’s affordable and accessible.
Here’s a case study of how a contractor used drones for volumetric measurement, resulting in huge cost savings:
Prediction 3: Predictive analytics will automate decision making
Predictive analytics help businesses make quick, data-driven decisions to manage resources. It’s done with the use of techniques such as regression analysis and predictive modeling.
For example, businesses can run simulations of “what if” scenarios and forecast outcomes such as, What if a software developer does not make it to work this week? Or What if we outsource a part of the project to a third party?
Besides using “what if” scenarios to understand the impact of a decision on project budgets and timelines, predictive analytics help businesses make faster decisions on resource allocation. It’s done using dashboards that help companies visualize employee skills, roles, and departments.
Benefits for SMBs
Manually tracking resources using Excel sheets is not only cumbersome, but also prone to errors. The inaccurate estimations of resources result in project deadline delays, which can ultimately lead to loss of business. This will prove costly for small businesses that usually have a small clientele.
Using predictive analytics to forecast resource risks that can negatively impact a project helps small businesses better allocate their resources. Project management tools with a built-in or integrated predictive analytics functionality can help SMBs make smart decisions that lead to many benefits, such as:
- Identifying and preparing for project risks with “what-if” scenarios
- Reducing costs that result from employees not being aligned to relevant tasks based on their availability, skills, and experience
- Ensuring timely project delivery by correctly estimating task timelines
- Understanding effective resource utilization with predictive models
A Software Advice report estimates that, “by 2020, predictive analytics will disrupt SMB decision-making across all industries and business functions.” Small businesses that have adopted this technology are already seeing the benefits.
For example, predictive analytics helps small manufacturing companies analyze previous maintenance reports to predict future machine failures. And small marketing agencies are able to identify the right influencers for social advocacy using predictive analytics software.
A Gartner report estimates that “by 2020, predictive and prescriptive analytics will attract 40% of enterprises’ new investment in business intelligence and analytics” (content available to Gartner clients). This shows how much big companies will rely on predictive analytics to help them make strategic business decisions.
Keeping this prediction in mind, small business should start identifying business functions that can be improved using predictive analytics. You can start with improving your resource management for successful project management.
Here’s an example of how predictive analytics helped a business achieve effective resource management:
Learn more about these new technologies
Regardless of the industry your small business operates within, you should be aware of the impact that new project management technologies and industry trends will have on businesses.
To learn more about project management software trends, read our report on the five biggest project management trends shaping 2018.
In addition, check out these resources that will help you understand the use cases and capabilities of different project management software:
INFORMATION ON GARTNER’S TOP TECHNOLOGY TRENDS FOR SMBS SURVEY
Gartner conducted this survey in April and May 2017 among 699 U.S.-based SMBs, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded nonprofit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision-makers or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.
Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.