The rapid pace of evolving technology shows no signs of slowing, leaving business owners to determine what innovations they should invest in for the best returns, and which can be ignored for now. While this often leads to confusion, technological advancements also create new opportunities that, if taken advantage of, can help SMBs in particular become more competitive, according to Chris Hoose, president of IT consulting firm Choose Networks.

“Technology exists today that at one time was available only to large corporations with huge technology budgets,” Hoose said in a press email. “Every year, technology becomes even more accessible to companies of all sizes.”

SEE: Special report: How to implement AI and machine learning (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Businesses of all sizes that want to remain competitive should invest in the following five emerging technologies, according to Hoose:

1. Internet of Things (IoT)

While many IoT devices such as smart thermostats are primarily designed for home use, there are many applications for small businesses, Hoose said. For example, businesses can invest in smart locks that use digital keys and log records of who uses a door; RFID tags on merchandise to prevent theft and automatically update inventory; and mobile card readers to replace cash registers.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI technologies are accessible to both larger and smaller companies, Hoose said. “It’s making inroads into technologies accessible for businesses of all sizes,” he added. “AI can help you offer increasingly personalized experiences to customers by maximizing your time and automating manual tasks, like data entry.”

AI can also help businesses analyze data and improve decision-making, Hoose said.

3. Telecommuting

Nearly half of all employees work from home at least some of the time, past research has found.

“In many cases remote employees use their own equipment, which can eliminate some of the company’s costs with purchasing and maintaining computers, printers and mobile phones,” Hoose said. The rise of stronger video conferencing and workplace collaboration tools have made telecommuting a viable option for many businesses, he added.

4. Customer-relationship management (CRM) software

CRM software includes any application that a business uses to interact with customers, analyze data, or recommend products and services to customers, Hoose said.

“This type of software helps your team manage, control and build customer relationships,” he said. “It can log your team’s touchpoints with prospects, including emails, phone calls, voicemails and in-person meetings. You can have a complete record of your team’s interaction with a prospect that’s easy for anyone to access.”

5. Voice search

Customers frequently use AI assistants like Siri and Alexa for internet voice searches, Hoose said.

“Voice search is changing the way people find information, because these queries are structured differently than when we type terms into a search engine,” Hoose said. “Organizations of all types can benefit from optimizing their content to improve where they fall in a voice search.”

Staying aware of new technologies can help move businesses of all sizes forward, Hoose said. “These technologies will help you expand your customer base, create more efficient in-house processes, and increase engagement from both customers and staff,” he added.

For more, check out Top 5 ways businesses are actually using new technologies on TechRepublic.