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2020 is a time of challenge and opportunity for small businesses who want to prioritize their digital transformation journeys. Fortunately, tools that weren’t seen as feasible for small businesses due to costs and resources are now becoming the norm for SMBs.

While many small businesses already take advantage of solutions like cloud storage and collaboration tools, this is the year when SMBs will start leveraging platforms that integrate their workflows with AI, security, and always-on connectivity.

In this article, the first in a series on Microsoft cloud platforms and small business innovation, I will cover what I believe to be the top 4 trends in small business transformations in 2020. Let’s take a closer look.

Empowering remote workforces

With accessible data and reliable security, businesses are finding more ways to leverage agile, remote workforces. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has kickstarted a spike in demand for remote workers and the tools to support them. In fact, Microsoft recently reported a record-breaking 2.7 billion meeting minutes hosted on Teams in a single day.

New small business technologies are going to focus on empowering remote employees to work productively wherever they are, ideally with access to the same critical apps and capabilities they would have in a central office.

That’s why cloud computing and desktop virtualization will be the trend for remote working throughout 2020. Solutions like Microsoft 365 or Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure show how remote workers can utilize and share files, apps, and resources no matter where they without investing in expensive hardware.

Rapidly adapting business processes with automation and business insight

As small businesses adapt to the challenges of 2020, they are going to need flexible and responsive infrastructures that provide scalability and agility.

The cloud was already bringing some of these smart solutions to the SMB market, but it is increasingly clear that small businesses are going to need machine learning tools to help automate integration with a larger cloud ecosystem. Solutions like PowerApps provide low-code and no-code solutions that empower employees to create their own automated workflows, making your business operations more agile and your developers’ lives easier. That translates to intelligent, streamlined call routing for remote staff or automating behavioral marketing campaigns. It also provides SMBs with growing supply chains to automate things like tracking updates and product ordering.

Staying connected with customers

Small businesses are quickly discovering that the best way to connect is with immediate, transparent, and seamless access to customer data no matter where they make contact. CRMs like Dynamics 365 are innovating customer engagement with customizable platforms that meet specific businesses’ needs by linking automation, tracking, and insight tools in one solution.

Many SMBs are embedding their sales marketing processes in cloud-based CRMs like Dynamics 365 to meet their customers where they are. According to Gartner, Microsoft Dynamics 365 is the 2020 Customer’s Choice for CRM lead management specifically because it made tracking and converting leads easy. The innovation in this sector will rely on data visibility across all sales channels so that customers can enjoy a seamless customer experience.

Security and continuity

As more businesses are moving to the cloud to handle customer data and insights, the demand for proper security and business continuity will only continue to grow in 2020.

It is not enough to trust security to anyone. With the kinds of customer data businesses store and use online, strict security standards and vulnerability management are a must. Cloud platforms have been just as secure, if not more so, than on-prem solutions.

Products like Azure cloud services provide built-in security and threat protection so that data and services on the cloud are safe. Microsoft Security empowers businesses to use cloud technology like Azure or remote working tools like Microsoft 365 with confidence. The Zero Trust model ensures that all internal and external requests for access are verified, every time. Likewise, built-in AI can help automate threat response to protect an entire organization.

Microsoft has been so dedicated to security that in 2019, Microsoft Security was named a leader in five key security areas by Gartner, including Access Management and Endpoint Protection.

Technology that makes your business resilient, flexible, and agile

These four major trends represent an approach to the cloud as a comprehensive solution for business operations. The technological gap between enterprise solutions and SMB tools is growing smaller every day. That’s why I’m confident 2020 is going to be the year where small businesses continue their digital transformation journeys using advanced tools like AI, cloud platforms, and advanced collaboration and CRM software.

In my next blog, I’ll discuss some of the challenges facing small businesses as they migrate to more cloud-focused platforms in their digital transformation.