Emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies are about to ac­cel­er­ate the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion of busi­ness. We dig un­der the hype to dis­cover their prac­ti­cal­i­ties and abil­i­ties.

His­tory is lit­tered with tech­nolo­gies that failed to live up to their mar­ket­ing hype. Think the not-so-pop­u­lar Ford Ed­sel, ‘ New Coke’, or in more re­cent times clunky PDAs, Win­dows Vista and Google Glass. And then there were the spec­tac­u­lar suc­cesses: the orig­i­nal Ap­ple Mac, laser print­ers, World Wide Web, smart­phones, GPS, the Cloud, and so many other tech­nolo­gies that be­came main­stream and con­tinue to an­chor busi­ness pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency to­day. As I write this New Zealand is wrap­ping up Tech­week – an an­nual fes­ti­val of in­no­va­tion, largely di­rected at the busi­ness sec­tor – and it’s ob­vi­ous that the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion of busi­ness is about to en­ter (some will say it has al­ready en­tered) a whole new level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. At both a break­fast event NZBusi­ness at­tended, hosted by Dat­a­com, and a Grow North event held at the new Smales Farm Busi­ness Hive (B:Hive) in Taka­puna, this in­no­va­tion was pre­sented for all to see. AI seems to be the big buzz­word for 2018. Sa­van­nah Peter­son, founder of Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pany Savvy Mil­len­nial un­der­stands why busi­ness peo­ple are wary of AI (ar­ti­fi­cial intelligence) – but she pointed out that we’re all us­ing it right now any­way, in the form of word pro­ces­sors’ ‘auto cor­rect’. “AI is not about to take away your job any­time soon,” she as­sured the au­di­ence. Ad­mit­tedly peo­ple may view AI as the stuff of scary (or cute) ro­bots; but an­other speaker, James Wells, CIO of heavy engi­neer­ing com­pany Vul­can Steel, pointed out that their new truck load­ing safety so­lu­tion in­volv­ing truck mounted cam­eras and the mon­i­tor­ing of the work en­vi­ron­ment be­hind the cab, is also AI-en­abled and comes un­der the head­ing of IoT (In­ter­net of Things). As Wells ex­plained, it’s a real-world AI ap­pli­ca­tion and it in­volves mu­tual trust across all stake­hold­ers – an ex­am­ple of how video-cap­ture and data col­lec­tion solves a real-life busi­ness is­sue. ‘Big Data’ and data cap­ture are key driv­ers of the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion and of higher pro­duc­tiv­ity. At the B:Hive event, Carol Brown from start-up RoleWorks ex­plained how their smart tech­nol­ogy helps busi­nesses de­sign roles that fit both their peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tion. It un­cov­ers hid­den tal­ents in em­ploy­ees, in­ef­fi­cien­cies, im­proves pro­cesses and job sat­is­fac­tion.

Brown’s pre­sen­ta­tion was pre­ceded by Curiat’s Rob Hanks, whose com­pany spe­cialises in aug­mented re­al­ity for ‘vis­ual com­merce’, and fol­lowed later by FaceMe’s Jesse Baker, ex­plain­ing how ‘dig­i­tal as­sis­tants’ (life-like vir­tual agents hosted in the cloud) are chang­ing the world of cus­tomer in­ter­ac­tion. (Yes, it was their ‘avatars’ an­swer­ing bio-se­cu­rity ques­tions at Auck­land Air­port.)

On the sub­ject of dig­i­tal as­sis­tants – you may have seen Google’s AI As­sis­tant (Du­plex) demon­strated on YouTube, call­ing lo­cal busi­nesses to make ap­point­ments. Now there’s a tech trend in the mak­ing – tak­ing speech recog­ni­tion to a whole new level.


To gain a good un­der­stand­ing of in­no­va­tive busi­ness tech­nolo­gies (present and fu­ture) we en­gaged three tech­nol­ogy com­men­ta­tors ‘in the know’.

Busi­ness IT writer and reg­u­lar NZBusi­ness con­trib­u­tor Bill Ben­nett be­lieves it’s the ‘ Deep Learn­ing’ as­pect of AI that’s al­ready mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in busi­ness. “In sim­ple terms it’s a new way of dig­ging through vast amounts of data to get fresh in­sights. It’s al­ready in use for things like Google Search and in smart­phone cam­eras.”

Ben­nett re­minds us that 5G mo­bile will be here in five years, which will en­able wire­less comms just about any­where.

“Mo­bile de­vices will be able to switch be­tween com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies with­out users notic­ing,” he says. “So you might go from the mo­bile net­work to your home Wi-Fi with­out miss­ing a beat. We’ll all be used to fi­bre by then and as a re­sult will use video to com­mu­ni­cate more with cus­tomers, busi­ness part­ners and so on.

“There will be no [In­ter­net] speed lim­its or data caps. We’ll stop think­ing about which com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies we’re us­ing and just get on with it.”

The much-hyped In­ter­net of Things will creep in slowly and re­ally show its value to small com­pa­nies, mak­ing mun­dane tasks eas­ier, he adds.

Ben­nett sees smart speaker de­vices and their off­spring re­plac­ing com­put­ers for many ap­pli­ca­tions. “With speak­ers, tablets and phones most peo­ple will no longer need a work PC.”

‘Edge com­put­ing’, where cloud com­put­ing fa­cil­i­ties are moved closer to where they’re used, will also emerge.

He be­lieves new busi­ness tech­nolo­gies will free em­ploy­ees from the bor­ing, repet­i­tive as­pects of their jobs. Many will have to learn new skills – but that should lead to bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties and pay, he sug­gests.

But forc­ing change on peo­ple won’t work, Ben­nett warns. “Peo­ple can find in­ven­tive ways to make sure a tech­nol­ogy doesn’t de­liver.”

Ste­vie May­hew, CTO at dig­i­tal agency Lit­tle Gi­ant, pre­dicts the cen­tral­i­sa­tion of the ‘dig­i­tal ecosys­tem’ will be the big­gest gamechanger go­ing for­ward – and the key driver will be home au­to­ma­tion.

“A seam­less end-user ex­pe­ri­ence is go­ing to be cen­tral to the idea of hav­ing an au­to­mated home, and a lot of other emerg­ing, or emerged tech­nolo­gies are go­ing to be im­por­tant to this.

“AI, in­tel­li­gent things, im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences and voice pat­tern recog­ni­tion and re­sponse all feed nicely into the idea of a dig­i­tal ecosys­tem and will be growth ar­eas for busi­nesses to be in­volved in.”

May­hew be­lieves you need to give peo­ple the tools to un­der­stand new tech­nolo­gies – and blockchain is a good case in point.

“A lot of busi­nesses hear about the new tech­nol­ogy and think it will solve all their prob­lems, in­stead of un­der­stand­ing the best uses for them. Blockchains are an im­por­tant tool for busi­ness to un­der­stand as they will be able to solve some prob­lems we have with cen­tralised sys­tems; but they aren't the right so­lu­tion for ev­ery prob­lem.”

Train­ing events and dis­cus­sion plat­forms for em­ploy­ees will be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant, he says, as a pro­lif­er­a­tion of tech­nolo­gies en­ter main­stream busi­ness.

Toby Spen­diff, GM of en­ter­prise so­lu­tions at busi­ness so­lu­tions com­pany In­ter­gen, be­lieves there’s a lot of fear sur­round­ing some emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies, as they could ul­ti­mately re­place or sig­nif­i­cantly change jobs. “Em­ployee buy-in is of­ten about tak­ing peo­ple on the jour­ney, help­ing them un­der­stand the ben­e­fits and ul­ti­mately im­prov­ing their work­ing life and over­all suc­cess.

“As usual, a planned ap­proach to adopt­ing and ex­tract­ing the most value out of tech­nolo­gies is the best ap­proach. Pick­ing the right tech­nolo­gies and part­ners for the

“Busi­nesses hear about the new tech­nol­ogy and think it will solve all their prob­lems, in­stead of un­der­stand­ing the best uses for them.”

– Ste­vie May­hew.

right prob­lems, but most of all en­sur­ing needs are well un­der­stood first be­fore get­ting into the tech.”


Spen­diff sees au­to­ma­tion im­pact­ing heav­ily on the way busi­ness is done go­ing for­ward. (Yes, he’s seen Google’s Du­plex in ac­tion too.)

“The rise of AI and as­sis­tance through the use of bots, or sim­i­lar, will likely form the ma­jor­ity of our in­ter­ac­tions with busi­ness and gov­ern­ment. Be­ing able to ac­cess ser­vices in any lan­guage, at any time, or be­ing reached pro-ac­tively by your own per­sonal as­sis­tant will be a big part of our lives,” he says. Fast, ef­fi­cient, and highly per­son­alised is what it’s all about, he adds.

Spen­diff also pre­dicts an in­creas­ing em­pha­sis on pri­vacy. The abil­ity to con­trol ac­cess to our per­sonal in­for­ma­tion will be­come in­creas­ingly per­va­sive across both gov­ern­ment and com­mer­cial sec­tors. For busi­ness this means pro­vid­ing ser­vices which keep cus­tomers and cit­i­zens up to date on their in­for­ma­tion and gives them the abil­ity to con­trol where and how their data is be­ing used.

“A planned ap­proach to adopt­ing and ex­tract­ing the most value out of tech­nolo­gies is the best ap­proach.”

– Toby Spen­diff.

Spen­diff says blockchain will in­creas­ingly be used to track the his­tory of trans­ac­tions sur­round­ing any item, “whether it is the own­er­ship of a used car or track­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of an al­go­rithm through plat­forms such as Ethereum.”

Trans­ac­tions in­creas­ingly re­quire trust and trans­parency, espe­cially in the global mar­ket, he ex­plains. “Blockchain pro­vides that through its dis­trib­uted ledger. Or­gan­i­sa­tions should be look­ing at blockchain tech­nolo­gies as a way to en­sure their prod­ucts and ser­vices pro­vide the lev­els of trust that will be in­creas­ingly ex­pected.”

Spen­diff’s other trend pre­dic­tions for busi­ness tech­nol­ogy in­clude:

• Pre­dic­tive ev­ery­thing. Data will con­tinue to grow ex­po­nen­tially, fu­elling the ca­pa­bil­ity of au­to­mated as­sis­tance but also en­abling AI to ac­cu­rately pre­dict next needs or ac­tions. “Let­ting us know when our cars should be ser­viced, pre­dict­ing our health or iden­ti­fy­ing the next best move in busi­ness or gov­ern­ment will be­come the norm.” Pre­dic­tive mod­el­ling sup­ports au­to­ma­tion and pro­vides high de­grees of per­son­al­i­sa­tion across dig­i­tal chan­nels.

• Aug­mented and vir­tual re­al­ity. AR/VR is yet to pen­e­trate main­stream busi­ness. How­ever, the use of AR, in par­tic­u­lar, to sup­port staff on the job will re­ally start to take off as hard­ware be­comes more pow­er­ful and in­te­grated into things like pro­tec­tive eye­wear. “Imag­ine a sce­nario where a fire­fighter has an AR heads-up dis­play map­ping build­ing plans onto their visor in a dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment.”

• Portable tech. The idea of hav­ing a sin­gle de­vice like a watch act as your fit­ness coach, phone, home and work com­put­ing en­vi­ron­ment makes a lot of sense. There have al­ready been great gains in this space with tech­nolo­gies such as Con­tin­uum – dock­ing a phone to be­come your desk­top en­vi­ron­ment. • Mi­cro-ser­vices. The abil­ity for busi­ness and gov­ern­ment to of­fer small, mi­cro ser­vices that can sup­ple­ment your per­sonal or busi­ness life, and likely tie into your As­sis­tant will be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant. Book­ing travel, or­der­ing food, get­ting re­pairs done, pay­ing an in­voice or ten­der­ing for a project should all be pro­vided as ser­vices that can be in­te­grated and com­bined to pro­vide a larger out­come. Or­gan­i­sa­tions that spe­cialise deeply in par­tic­u­lar ser­vice ar­eas and can in­te­grate with oth­ers will thrive.


Look­ing ahead a decade, Ste­vie May­hew, who has nine years’ ex­pe­ri­ence pro­duc­ing large-scale soft­ware so­lu­tions, thinks peo­ple will be sur­prised by the con­tin­ual im­prove­ment of the sys­tems we use to­day. “If Moore's law con­tin­ues to hold, in 2030 we will have com­put­ing power that is sig­nif­i­cantly above that which we have to­day, al­low­ing us all to do more in­ter­est­ing things, faster.

“The first iPhone was re­leased 11 years ago and look at how far we've come in that time. It’s hard to know what the next 11 years will bring. Ex­pect things to be smaller, faster and hope­fully bet­ter.”

Bill Ben­nett be­lieves al­most all busi­ness tech­nol­ogy will be out of sight on a day-to­day ba­sis. “It’ll be there in the back­ground. Avail­able when you want it, but not dom­i­nat­ing the work­place like it does to­day.”

Per­haps the level of au­to­ma­tion in all as­pects of our lives will be the big­gest sur­prise, sug­gests Toby Spen­diff. “The days of filling in forms, stand­ing in line and slow pro­cesses will be com­ing to an end – at least for the ma­jor­ity of com­mon sce­nar­ios.”

As to whether all com­pa­nies need to go through a dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion to achieve a mod­ern work­place, Spen­diff says ab­so­lutely not.

“Ac­cess to cloud tech­nolo­gies to en­able a mod­ern work­place can be im­ple­mented with min­i­mal im­pact, and grad­u­ally across an or­gan­i­sa­tion – tak­ing one group at a time.

“Very few are look­ing at a ‘big bang’, large trans­for­ma­tional ap­proach.”

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