Every week I round up the five most important technology stories for small businesses and give an explanation why. This week, I’ve selected the 13 technology stories that stood out for me. Why? Because they’re about technology trends than not only affected small businesses in 2020 but will continue to have an enormous impact in 2021. Here they are.

1 – Small businesses who pivoted to e-commerce saw record sales during Black Friday weekend.

According to information released by Adobe Analytics, small businesses saw a 110 percent average increase in their online sales throughout the 2020 holiday season so far with a big boost coming during Black Friday weekend. (Source: NBC News)

Why this is important for your small business:

Depending on the research you’re reading, e-commerce sales have increased anywhere from 30 to 45 percent this year over last year. Of course this was caused by the pandemic, but it really just accelerated an already existing trend. Small businesses that pivoted online were better able to navigate their way through this year’s unprecedented economic downturn. Those who didn’t suffered more…and they will continue to be at a disadvantage in 2021 unless they do so.

2 – A hacker group donated their ransoms to charities.

So you’re not going to believe this but a ransomware group named Darkside disclosed that it has been donating portions of ransoms received from companies they’ve hacked to various charities. The group —which has been operating since August of this year—typically attacks big corporations, encrypts and steals their data, then demands a large ransom costing companies millions. The group released a statement that they only focus on big, for-profit organizations, and have taken pride in giving a portion of the paid ransom to charities such as Children International to help children in poverty, among several other non-profits. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your small business:

Ransomware is a billion-dollar industry and is so profitable that hacker groups, like this one, is literally paying it forward with money it has stolen from companies that paid it ransom. Ransomware and other security attacks – like the recent SolarWinds attack that impacted the treasury, commerce and other government departments – will continue to wreak devastation on organizations of all sizes in 2021. Backup. Get software. Upgrade your operating systems. But most importantly get training.

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3 – A Microsoft engineer was been sentenced to nine years for stealing $10 million from Microsoft.

Volodymyr Kvashuk— a former Microsoft software engineer—was recently sentenced to a term of nine years in prison after stealing over $10 million from the company’s online store in the form of store credit. Over the course of 2016 through 2018, the engineer was in charge of testing the online ordering process to help monitor and ensure all was operating properly. While the testing software prohibited physical shipments to testers, a loophole allowed for testers to buy gift cards virtually. Through the virtual purchases, Kvashuk stole enough to buy a $1.6 million home and a Tesla which cost $160,000. (Source: ARS Technica)

Why this is important for your small business:

Even the biggest companies with the best technologies can still get duped. Microsoft may not even miss the $10 million but employee theft like this could cripple a small business. This issue will continue to be pervasive in the years to come. I offered a few suggestions for protecting yourself here.

4 – Boeing 747s are still using floppy disks. Yes, floppy disks.

A recent report uncovered that Boeing 747s— a plane that’s been around for decades— continue to use floppy disks to get important software updates. Recently, members of the security research team at Pen Test Partners had the chance to fully examine the entirety of the planes avionics, discovering a disk drive that still used floppy disks. According to the report, the disk drive was utilized to import vital data that guided the planes navigation and required updates once a month that were installed by an engineer who would visit on site. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your small business:

Before you freak out, I actually kind of understand this, mainly because many of my small business clients do the same. Despite all the experts who urge that we always use the latest technologies, there’s a reason to stick with the old stuff: if it works, don’t break it. Perhaps the cost/benefit of changing out these archaic floppy disk systems isn’t worth the effort. That’s a question for Boeing to answer. But countless small business owners use this rationale when they decide where to spend their investment dollars. And in many cases, the decision to stay with older tech makes better sense if the ROI can’t be justified. Replacing older tech with something newer will continue being debated this year.

5 – Twitter announced that employees will be allowed to work from home ‘forever’.

Twitter announced that they will permit their employees to work remotely ‘forever’. The company was one of the pioneers in allowing their employees to work from home when the COVID-19 outbreak first began. While employees who wish to work in the office will still be able to, they will need to wait until restrictions are officially lifted. Individuals who want to work from home instead, will now be able to do so for as often and as long as they’d like as long as their role and circumstances allow it. (Source: The Guardian)

Why this is important for your small business:

Kind of surprised that tech companies like Twitter haven’t been doing this for a while. We all know that cloud technologies are good enough to enable employees to work productivity from home. My expectation is that a lot of companies – including many small businesses – will be expanding their work from home policies. And then after a few years, scaling them back when they realize that face-to-face interactions is what really makes an innovative company grow. But we’ll see…

6 – Microsoft Teams is getting fake coffee shops, breakout rooms, custom layouts, and is launching new Cortana features for business users.

Microsoft also recently announced new features for their Together Mode, which was designed specifically to address COVID-19 remote work meeting woes. While Together Mode is not new to Teams, some of the features — such as virtual conference rooms, auditoriums, and coffee shops — are. (Sources: The Verge, Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for your small business:

Per another report on The Verge back in April, Microsoft claimed 75 million daily active users of Teams, a surge of 70 percent in a month. Google Meet, Zoom and Citrix also claim hundreds of millions of daily meeting participants. These applications are accepted, useful, productive and most of all…work. They were instrumental during the pandemic and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

7 — Netflix raised prices on standard and premium plans.

Netflix raised prices on both their premium and standard plans to $17.99 per month for premium and $13.99 for standard. Previously the standard plan cost $12.99 while the premium plan was $15.99 a month. Customers will see the changes reflected in their upcoming bills in the next two months and will also get an alert one month before the change occurs. The basic Netflix plan will stay at $8.99/month, which remains the same as when the entry-level option was rolled out in 2019. (Source: CNBC)

Why this is important for your small business:

This scares me. Why? Because small businesses are more reliant on the cloud than ever – just check out the stories I’ve already mentioned. But although security is a concern, I have an much bigger concern about the cloud and Netflix personifies it. Because Netflix is a cloud company. It delivers an online service. And – quietly – they just increased their prices without much opposition. What are you going to do? Give up another season of Ozark? Never! But for a business owner the risk is what happens the companies providing our cloud applications do the same thing. We’ve got little means to stop them.

8 — Google now officially support running Chrome OS on old PCs.

This year, Google obtained Neverware, a company that has provided PC users with the ability to turn their machines into Chromebooks or Macs through their CloudReady software. With the acquisition, Google will begin to implement plans in order to make CloudReady available as a formal Chrome OS rollout. With the transition, users will be able to effortlessly update their software and will be provided with Google support for CloudReady, just like Chrome OS users get. According to the announcement, Google will recognize any current licenses that span over several years and there are also no plans to change prices. (Source: Engadget)

Why this is important for your small business:

This is also a potential game changer for small businesses, particularly those on a budget. Think of it: you’ve got an old Windows or Apple machine and instead of tossing it you turn it into a Chromebook. By doing so you’ll be able to realize very similar functionalities for a much lower hardware investment.

9 —Banks are quietly drifting into accounting.

Wells Fargo and accounts payable management platform Bill.com joined forces to create a feature to assist small and medium sized businesses in gaining access to automation for accounts receivable and accounts payable processes. The partnership will help streamline workflow into a digital process while adding additional features such as electronically capturing and tracking invoices, to name a few. Meanwhile, TD bank said that they will be introducing TD Online Accounting, which will serve as a new online accounting and payment feature. The addition will be made to their small business online platform and will allow business owners to pay their electronic payments and credit cards straight from their TD Bank business checking, allowing the process of making payments to run more efficiently. (Source: Pymnts (Wells) and Pymnts (TD))

Why this is important for your small business:

These are just two examples, of many during 2020, where banks are either more fully integrating with small business accounting products or simply offering their own bookkeeping options to their small business customers. My prediction is for more banks to gobble accounting software makers and create more cozy relationships with others in the space. It makes sense.

10 —Customer service chats are coming to Instagram DMs.

Businesses will now be able to provide live customer service agents to assist users posing frequently asked questions through Instagram. With the ability to field questions through Stories and Shops on Instagram, businesses will also be able to merge the social media platform with their CRMs, providing the ability to keep track of order and message history from customers. The most recent version of messenger is currently being tested by big brands such as Adidas, H&M, and Michael Kors—to name a few—and is not yet widely available. (Source: Engadget)

Why this is important for your small business:

Instagram is owned by Facebook and part of Facebook’s strategy – as told to me in this interview by Rich Rao, Facebook’s Vice President of Small Business – is to expand its e-commerce capabilities. Over the next few years small businesses who sell their products on both platforms will be seeing more tools like the ones mentioned above to sell their products and provide customer service. Could Facebook, with its billions of users, be a better platform to generate revenues for your business than Amazon?

11 — Google Translate now lets you transcribe conversations in real time.

Google has announced that they launched a new feature in their Translate Android app that will allow users to transcribe conversations—in real time—into other languages. The new feature will support Thai, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Hindi, German, French, and English. Users will easily be able to touch the new “transcribe” icon from their home screen and select the target languages and source and tap the microphone icon in order to start, stop, pause, or restart their chosen transcription. (Source: CNET)

Why this is important for your small business:

Microsoft and Amazon Alexa now provides similar translation and transcription services. The world is getting closer and that’s going to make it easier for small businesses to do business overseas.

12 —Augmented Reality technologies are growing fast, thanks to the pandemic.

Augmented reality is becoming a key factor in helping companies make sales during the coronavirus pandemic. Brides and bridesmaids can now shop virtually through the David’s Bridal website and their augmented reality feature. Shoppers are able to load mannequins in 3-D on their website, select a dress, allowing them a 360-degree view and chance to inspect the dress closely, getting a good look at the fabric and details of the dress. Similarly Avataar.me — which is an advertising platform driven by AI — is helping companies by transforming 2D pictures into 3D in order to help shoppers get a closer look at things like cars, houses, and furniture. (Source: Retail Wire and Your Story)

Why this is important for your small business:

Thanks to Covid, businesses – both big and small – are looking for new and innovative ways to show their products in a safe and virtual way and because of that Augmented reality applications and uses are expanding at a greater rate. This is a trend that will continue to accelerate in the next few years and if you’re in a business that could benefit – retail, field service, real estate – these technologies are important to consider.

13 — This machine makes 700 pieces of sushi per hour.

California roll, anyone? The Suzomo machine is the newest player in the culinary robot field, with the ability to make perfect sushi rolls in mere seconds. While finding a talented sushi chef at a reasonable wage is proving to be difficult, the machine is able to make approximately 700 pieces of fresh sushi per hour, tasting just like handmade sushi rolls. The company says that the popularity of its machines has grown quickly, allowing restaurants to run efficiently with less staff. (Source: ABC 7)

Why this is important for your small business:

Less staff are the two most important words here. As minimum wage and other benefits drive up compensation costs many smaller restaurants are looking for ways to keep overhead (and employment headaches) to a minimum – and so they’re investing in technology. An automatic sushi maker is only one example of how robotics are speeding up food preparation…with no bathroom breaks needed. Smart financial advisors should be making their restaurant clients aware of this major trend.

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