BUSINESS TIME FOR EMERGING TECH
MANY EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES ARE ABOUT TO ACCELERATE THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF BUSINESS. TIME TO DIG UNDER THE HYPE TO DISCOVER THEIR PRACTICALITIES AND ABILITIES, AND TO PREDICT WHAT THE NEXT DECADE HOLDS.
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.
IN THE YEAR 2030
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.”