Eighty-six percent of U.S. small business owners believe technology is important for their company’s success. But despite technology’s importance, many small business owners struggle to stay current with the latest tech. Thirty percent say that keeping up with technology is their toughest IT challenge, an eVoice survey showed.

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These numbers underscore why technology education has become so important for today’s entrepreneur. Here’s a closer look at how technology has assumed such an important role in today’s business world and how technology education is helping give entrepreneurs who embrace it an edge.

The Central Role of Technology in Today’s Business

One reason technology has become so central to business today is the mobile revolution. Over eight in ten small business owners now use their smartphones for business purposes at least once a day, with over one in four checking their smartphones at least once an hour, a Manta survey found. Mobile phone accounted for 40 percent of sales on Black Friday in 2016, generating $771 million in sales and contributing to $3.34 billion in total online sales.

Smartphone Data Usage

Technology runs the heart of today’s business operations. Three-quarters of readers surveyed by TechRadar use Microsoft Office at work. Companies now run a majority of their workloads in the cloud, with 41 percent of companies using the public cloud and 38 percent using private clouds.

Technology also drives sales and marketing. Online marketing will account for 35 percent of all marketing by 2019, and mobile marketing has grown so pervasive that it’s no longer tracked as a separate marketing category. Smartphones now drive 45.1 percent of e-commerce traffic — topping desktop computers — and are on track to take over 60 percent of traffic this year. Sales teams rely on software such as Salesforce for customer relationship management.

Finally, technology products themselves have become sources of revenue for businesses in their own right. The world’s most valuable brands in 2016 were led by tech companies, with Apple, Google and Microsoft taking the top three spots and Facebook, IBM and GE joining them in Forbes’ top ten list. Technology innovations likewise inspire many small business start-ups, such as Statlab Mobile, which won last year’s American Entrepreneurship Award for its innovative mobile medical laboratory.

How Technology Education Helps Small Business

The business world’s shift to technology has helped empower entrepreneurs who invest in technology education. One of the most important bridges between entrepreneurship, education and technology has been the rise of the business incubators and accelerators. Incubators and accelerators can play an important role in introducing entrepreneurs to the latest business technology innovations, while also providing a practical education in business essentials. An important component of this education is working with mentors who can provide both advice and assistance, including securing start-up funding.

Incubators and accelerators have spawned online counterparts which use internet technology to promote technology education and entrepreneurship. For instance, SCORE provides entrepreneurs with free online business training resources, including pairing with experienced mentors. Amway Education guides independent business owners through an 80-course virtual curriculum that covers how to start a business, how to build it leveraging technology tools such as social media and how to develop and apply business leadership skills. This type of online delivery format will become increasingly important for technology and entrepreneurial education in the near future.

Why Technology Education Will Continue to Increase in Importance

Technology education will continue to grow in importance as new technologies come to the fore. The growth of big data analytics and artificial intelligence will make business decisions increasingly dependent on business intelligence tools, with Gartner projecting that BI spending will grow from $18.3 billion this year to $22.8 billion by 2020. A growing amount of BI data will be gathered from devices connected to the Internet of Things, with NPD Group reporting that connected home revenue grew 57 percent in 2016, for example. The North American robotics market surged 32 percent in unit volume in the first quarter of 2017, the Robotic Industries Association reported, reflecting growing business use of robots. Entrepreneurs who are educated in the use of these types of emerging technologies will find themselves positioned ahead of competitors in our increasingly tech-oriented economy.

~ Jiro