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How new technologies can help businesses

At a glance

  • SME customers are increasingly using new technology within their businesses
  • Technological advances are creating new opportunities
  • We take a look at three technological developments affecting SME customers in 2016

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By reading this article, and correctly answering the three questions underneath, you will have achieved the following learning outcome: Explain the key efficiency benefits for businesses of AI and robotic process automation.

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From smartphones to contactless payments, technological innovations are rapidly changing the way we live. But what are the most important technological developments influencing your SME customers in 2019?

We explore key technological advances relating to transport, manufacturing and security, which are affecting the UK’s small businesses.

Transport developments

Towns and cities across the UK, from Exeter to Newcastle, are introducing intelligent smart traffic management systems that use centrally controlled traffic signals and sensors to improve traffic flow. Congestion costs the UK economy an estimated £8bn a year, an average of £1,300 per driver, with London being the worst hit area.

Meanwhile, the trials and usage of driverless cars continue to grow. As well as cars, driverless buses are being tested, with trials carrying passengers set to begin in Scotland next year. Whilst still early days, it is estimated that self-driving cars could produce a boost of up to £62bn to the British economy by 2030.

Transport is a major part of London’s Infrastructure Plan 2050, which looks at developments in the capital over the next 31 years. It is expected that £973bn will need to be spent on transport alone during this period to keep up with a rising population and number of people working in London. Proposals include a full 24/7 tube service to support London businesses and kinetic pavements that harvest the energy of pedestrians and turn it into electricity.

Manufacturing developments


2019 has seen the continued growth of 3D printing. As we have previously reported, 3D printers can already be used to make everything from houses to food to medicine.

SMEs are well placed to use 3D printers, with more flexibility at times than larger companies have. As well as manufacturing products themselves, SMEs could also benefit from the increasing number of customers who have 3D printers in their homes.

Other manufacturing developments include:

  • Smart factories – these are places where sensor technology is used to make manufacturing processes far more efficient – e.g. enabling machines to detect when they are at risk of breakdown and automatically shut down. While major corporations are leading the way on smart factories, experts say the declining cost of sensors could soon make smart factories a reality for SMEs too
  • Robotics – increasing demand for automation of tasks is driving advances in robotics. Britain currently lags behind other countries in this area, with only 33 robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees. However, according to analysis from Oxford Economics, up to 20 million manufacturing jobs around the world could be replaced by robots by 2030.

Safety and security developments

Smart security devices include cameras that can learn a user’s normal movements and send notifications to their smartphone if anything out of the ordinary is detected. They can also give the user a live video feed from their premises while they are away, and record such footage as evidence, if for example there is a break-in.

Smart burglar alarms use motion detectors to identify intruders and trigger an alarm, while also automatically calling or texting the user’s phone.

Other technological developments include:

  • Drones – while commercial drones tended to be associated with aerial photography, they can also be used to improve security, for example, by pursuing an intruder or other suspicious person at a safe distance and reporting back to a control room
  • Cloud computing – in today’s digital world, security isn’t just about protecting physical assets. SMEs are also changing the way they store sensitive business and customer data.

What brokers need to know

Your customers may be benefitting from some of the technological developments outlined above, but there will inevitably be risks to consider too. These risks could range from the blurred boundaries surrounding product liability that are associated with 3D printing, to the uncertainty about what might happen to an SME’s business data should its cloud provider close suddenly.

Brokers should discuss with customers what new technologies they may be using, in order to help them understand how and why they might be exposed to new risks.

For more information please speak with your local Zurich contact.

Image © Getty

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