Investing in technology pays off for companies of all sizes. But the adoption process is often trial and error, and many small businesses don’t have the luxury of making mistakes when it comes to these investments, particularly in today’s uncertain business environment.

That may explain why some small businesses have been slow in adopting mobile solutions that have transformed larger workplaces. Smartphones have increased productivity in ways unparalleled since the introduction of the PC. A Frost & Sullivan study revealed that, thanks to using a smartphone, respondents gained an average of 58 minutes of work and personal time each day, and their productivity increased by 34 percent.

As small businesses look to make productivity gains, they should consider the following three investment areas, which balance security, cost and efficiency.

1. Get your head in the clouds

Cloud computing has been around for many years, but the cost of operating a business from the cloud has dropped significantly. Moving your data and business processes to the cloud allows for greater collaboration and allows employees to perform tasks without being tied to their desks.

Cloud-based platforms bring a ton of benefits for small businesses: tremendous scalability, high reliability, increased security and greatly reduced management costs. Small businesses should take a hard look at existing IT and ask themselves, “Is this strategic?” If the answer is no, it’s time to outsource.

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The most basic example of this is email. Many small businesses still run their own Exchange servers, but that’s no longer a wise choice for most. Pushing email to the cloud, regardless of the provider you choose, lets you quickly scale an ultra-reliable service and removes limits associated with running your own data center.

More importantly, you have the opportunity to redirect your limited resources to support strategic goals. Rather than paying an IT manager to keep your Exchange server running, you can have that same professional — who has deep knowledge of how your business works and what IT services you need — focus on finding the technology services and products that give you a strategic advantage over the competition.

2. Go mobile

Mobility has been a buzzword since the 1990s, but the focus used to be on laptops and making the best of internet connections. Now, with enterprise-class smartphones as fast as many laptops and 4G/LTE — and increasingly 5G — data services covering huge swaths of the globe, the last few years of technology advances have made mobile-only workflows feasible. Even in the absence of true work mobility, providing support for staff to use their mobile devices for work through a BYOD or CYOD program is a smart investment.

But you can go a lot further by making the devices key to day-to-day workflow. Smartphones and tablets are ideal for consuming information and for basic data entry tasks, and they do so at a fractional cost of managing Windows desktops or laptops. Mobile workers already have smartphones, whether they’re personal devices or company-provided. High-performance hardware only reaches its full potential when it’s used in conjunction with the right software. For businesses, that increasingly comes in the form of cloud-based apps. Enabling employees with the right apps can help boost productivity by creating an intuitive workflow that makes it easier for employees to do their jobs.

Small businesses should evaluate their applications and processes, looking for ways to help employees be more efficient when they’re on the move.

3. Adopt AI, analytics and machine learning

These buzzwords may sound unobtainable for a small business investment. Developing custom AI applications may be beyond the reach of the small business, but there’s an important exception: New technologies that let you do more with your own data are being built into off-the-shelf software offerings.

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With analytics, for example, you can monitor business performance, customer preferences and market trends. Real-time feedback can help you gain better insights to make more informed decisions. As for machine learning, companies like Netflix and Amazon use this technology to make personalized suggestions for what to watch or buy next. Your business may be able to use similar applications to automate processes and help employees prioritize, while filtering out irrelevant information.

Investing in the future

The key for small businesses is to identify which software and software as a service (SaaS) vendors are moving in this direction and then hitch their wagon to the fastest train. That may mean switching your customer relationship management (CRM) software supplier or picking a different project management tool, but the power of these new technologies makes these shifts worthwhile.

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Many small businesses have a difficult time committing to technology evolution. But as more advanced tools develop, perform an environmental scan of your more important applications to see what you may be missing — or if there’s a feature you haven’t explored yet that could help.

Small businesses may not have the resources to make big IT investments, but they should still leverage the tools and products available to companies of all sizes. Of all the tech trends in the marketplace, cloud, mobility and AI-powered software are the best fit for small businesses to improve their bottom line and increase their competitiveness.

Visit Samsung’s AppStack marketplace for discounts on best-in-class business software to help you go digital, from project management and CRM platforms to billing and eSignature. Not sure where to start with business smartphones for yourself and your employees? This free guide can help.

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Joel Snyder

Joel Snyder, Ph.D., is a senior IT consultant with 30 years of practice. An internationally recognized expert in the areas of security, messaging and networks, Snyder is a popular speaker and author and is known for his unbiased and comprehensive tests of security and networking products. His clients include major organizations on six continents.

View more posts by Joel Snyder