SME owners need to keep on top of the latest technology trends in order to stay ahead of the game.

From transaction speed to customer service, technology has transformed how companies operate over the past two decades.

During that time, SME owners have had to educate themselves quickly and adapt to new challenges almost constantly.

In the year ahead, technologies will continue to dominate and disrupt – and the next stage of the internet seems set to lead the charge.

Connectivity: from laptops to livestock

The internet of things (IoT) refers to an enormous network of connected objects that can send and receive data.

Internet connections are no longer confined to your laptop, tablet or mobile phone; the growing sphere of connectivity includes everything from the kettle in your kitchen to a herd of cattle in a field.

IoT infrastructure is developing rapidly across the world, and it is already proving to have interesting implications for urban infrastructure and global supply chains.

For example, Britain is already one of the top five countries in the world when it comes to “smart cities” – using shared data and digital technology to enhance life in urban areas.

Such data-driven innovation is exactly what makes the IoT concept interesting for SMEs. The ability to collect data, and then share, analyse and act on it, is no longer the domain of big business alone.

IoT technology offers considerable rewards and exciting opportunities for small businesses.

Levelling the playing field for SMEs

Automating simple tasks and minimising administration through IoT innovation can allow SME staff to be more productive, and therefore create important business efficiencies.

Whether it is tracking stock levels or monitoring timesheets, the IoT creates plenty of opportunities for companies to achieve more each day.

For a small team, this could be the difference between developing a new product or never managing to find the time.

Customer relationships can also be enhanced through the IoT. Even small businesses now have the ability to observe consumer behaviour through data, collect and analyse feedback seamlessly, and then act quickly to make improvements.

This is a business benefit in itself – but the ability to ensure customers feel heard also offers the chance to build brand loyalty.

A stress-free way to get started with the IoT

The IoT Data Hub from BT helps businesses and organisations translate data into usable information so that they can make improvements.

The secure platform collects and collates data from lots of sources, then presents it in a way that is easy to understand and use.

This model provides the tools for businesses, citizens and local authorities to solve problems through collaboration.

To demonstrate the potential of this approach, BT has developed the MK:Smart data hub in Milton Keynes.

Taking data from sensors on lampposts, traffic lights, bins and car parks across the town, the hub analyses its findings to help reduce congestion, minimise CO2 emissions and conserve energy.

This enables people and organisations to better utilise existing infrastructure and improve their local environment.

It can be a challenge for businesses to understand the best way to get started with new technologies as they emerge.

But the IoT presents unique commercial opportunities that shouldn’t be ignored. What can your company achieve with more data and greater collaboration?

Originally published by The Telegraph.