What is on the horizon for your business in 2024?

For example, the federal government announced in its fall economic statement that it will be exploring options for mandating climate disclosure in the private sector. Climate disclosure is the practice of reporting on the risks and opportunities related to climate change that affect a company’s operations, strategy, and financial performance. Mandatory climate disclosure would likely start with the most carbon-intensive sectors and larger businesses but would eventually cover every part of the economy. Some small and medium-sized companies have already started receiving questions from their larger customers about how they are managing climate change and other sustainability issues.

But the biggest risk to entrepreneurs is that they’ll lose their customers if they don’t take action. Three out of five consumers (61%) believe that companies should put more emphasis on the environment and sustainability, 49% believe that companies must reduce their environmental impact, even if it means charging higher prices, and 56% have stopped buying from companies whose business practices they don’t agree with.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is another factor that consumers are increasingly paying attention to when it comes time to make a purchase—especially younger generations. More than half (53%) of Gen Z consumers want proof of how companies are acting on DEI.

Pay equity is one aspect of DEI that’s impacting an increasing number of Canadian businesses. Several provinces including British Columbia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island, as well as the federal government, have recently passed pay transparency legislation that aims to promote pay equity by making salary information more visible to employees and job applicants.

How to start 2024 on the right foot?

  • The first step on your journey is to understand your company’s economic, social and environmental impact. You can do this by completing the B Impact Assessment. Then decide which issues make the most sense for your business to focus on, based on what matters most to your customers, employees, community and bottom line.
  • Visit BDC’s climate action centre for a variety of information on reducing your carbon footprint. The action centre can help you find the right climate actions for your business based on your sector, size, location, and goals.
  • Download our free DEI toolkit for entrepreneurs to better understand principles related to DEI and to implement them in your business.
  • Examine your compensation and benefits offering and define your total rewards strategy. Being proactive will help you prepare for mandatory reporting in the near future. It will also help you compete against larger companies who can afford to pay more by highlighting the unique advantages of working for your smaller business.

AI is going to be used in more and more aspects of the business world

Jonathan Pastrikos, Director of Business Innovation and Technology at BDC and Samuel Easto-Lefebvre, Senior Business Advisor, BDC Advisory Services

For many Canadian businesses, 2023 was marked by rising costs and difficulty finding labour.

Our research shows the best way to offset these challenges is by investing in technology and automation. While some technology replaces people, it can also help reduce repetitive or administrative tasks that take time so your employees can focus on tasks that add value for clients. It can also augment the capabilities, creativity and productivity of your employees.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an example of this. As these technologies mature, become more affordable and as more solutions enter the market, a growing number of businesses will be impacted.

AI can save you time and money by automating and optimizing various tasks and processes, such as:

  • customer service
  • order capture and processing
  • document analysis
  • copywriting
  • marketing
  • quality control
  • scheduling and routing
  • programming

AI can also be used to gather and analyze structured and unstructured data that can help you identify new trends and generate insights to support better decisions, such as understanding your customers and markets, improving your products and services and using your staff more productively.

How will companies adopt AI in the coming year?

1. AI embedded in their existing systems

AI will naturally be introduced into your business as AI technology becomes more widespread and embedded in core business systems. You can expect it to pop up in your existing software and tools. This includes your office productivity tools (e.g. spreadsheets, word processors), accounting software, CRM, ERP and e-commerce systems. The technology has already started to appear in some of the most popular software systems and there will be increasing enhancements in the months to come.

2. Through commercially available, specialized generative AI tools

Many AI applications that are designed for specific purposes or functions are now commercially available. These can be acquired and implemented in a specific area of your business.

In addition, many individuals and companies are experimenting with popular generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. Development of these remarkable tools is ongoing, and with their enhancement of new features and capabilities, their utility will become even greater.

3. Through custom-built, proprietary applications

Some businesses will choose to design and build AI tools and models to address a specific or unique need in their business, to support innovation or to develop a new business model. This will often entail more effort and cost. While the rewards can be great, it should be approached with purpose and planning.

Many companies are already experimenting with AI in their business. To do this they identify some practical-use cases, and assign people to pilot and assess the benefits. All companies should be thinking about how they can use AI in their business and start taking the first steps.