How we work is rapidly changing, and it’s going to change further, and faster in the months and years ahead. Indeed, it can be difficult to keep up with this rate of change. But, as difficult as it can be to keep on top of all the technology innovation being brought into the workplace, it is ultimately for our benefit, as it will help us to work faster – and better – than ever before.
But what are some of the key technological trends that we should stay on top of? Generally speaking, there are six key trends around mobility, data use, and online/ digital services that will account for a great deal of technology investment in the years ahead.
This is technology that is sending the marketers around the world into a frothing frenzy, and it’s easy to understand why. Effectively, using big data to enhance a marketing campaign by deriving deep insights about customers, their preferences, and their shopping habits has been proven to increase sales. For proof, just look at Amazon and how effective that company has become at collecting and making use of customer data. Privacy concerns aside, businesses will want to collect as much data on their customers as possible in order to enhance the experience that that customer has with the business.
Small businesses are going to start to benefit from Big Data and Machine Learning as well. Machine Learning can provide small businesses with AI assistance that can provide customers on the business website with basic customer service, for example. AI chatbots and the like will help to free the already-overworked staff in the SME from answering piles of mundane queries from website visitors.
The Internet of Things – or IoT, is expected to grow into something massive over the next couple of years. Essentially, what the IoT describes is non-computer related devices connected to the Internet; things such as light bulbs, refrigerators, and security systems, and allows these devices to be controlled over the Internet, usually through a mobile application. Gartner predicts that the explosion of interest in these convenient items will result in 8.4 billion IoT devices by the end of 2017.
This technology will help to make the management of businesses easier and more convenient, and there will be no escaping IoT devices down the track; the television in your board room, your building’s air conditioning system, and your car will all be filled with IoT-driven smarts. If you’re shipping products, for example, IoT-enabled chips in the packaging will make it faster to process orders, and easier to track delivery. As an added bonus, the data provided through the IoT chips will help you to refine your logistics operation, so it’s running more efficiently and, therefore, more cheaply.
Manufacturers will benefit from having IoT-enabled monitors on the various pieces of equipment, to help detect and minimise faults. IoT-enabled pens and other devices will help writers, journalists, lawyers, or anyone who needs to take notes organise and store their notes for easy reference. In medicine, IoT-enabled equipment will assist with diagnosis and treatment.
We’re only scratching the surface of what the IoT actually enables, and we’ll have a far better picture of just how comprehensively it will make business easier for professionals as the year wears on. However, all of this does come with a ‘but’. At the same time, this proliferation of technology is a security concern that businesses and professionals alike will need to take very seriously. The more technology that is in something, the greater the security risk it becomes, as was so aptly demonstrated when hackers were able to take control of a person’s car while they were driving it. Businesses will be in real danger of losing their entire business to hackers if they’re not careful about how IoT-enabled devices are rolled out into offices.
There’s already a lot that has been written and said about the use of cloud-based services, but the concept continues to mature, and we’ll see businesses and professionals increasingly take advantage of these offerings. Regardless of what you actually use technology for, there will be subscription services that you can sign up for that take away the upfront cost, and replace it with a monthly subscription bill.
Consumers are already comfortable with this model thanks to services like Netflix, and business professionals will start to use similar services for their web hosting, graphic design, conferencing, email, word processing, and almost any other business process that you would do sitting in front of a computer.
The modern business is becoming more flexible and mobile, with more staff working remotely, and even internationally. Meanwhile, businesses are able to service clients from all around the world much more easily, and this is happening because of access to better online communication tools. Some of the most valuable startup tech companies are designed explicitly around facilitating better collaboration between workers. Services such as Slack or Basecamp are proving remarkably popular because they allow staff to collaborate on documents and discuss projects in real time, while organising the information better than through email (emails often get lost, after all).
Meanwhile, video collaboration tools, from Skype through to Google Hangouts, Zoom, and others, allow rich video conferencing, backed by the ability to share screens with other participants in the video conference, allowing for a virtual meeting room experience. It’s no longer necessary to have everyone travel to the same place for meetings, in other words. This means that businesses can access a greater depth of skills (by looking interstate/abroad), and professionals can spend more time on the road, in meetings with clients, and generally being more productive than when tied to an office.
One of the issues that many businesses will face into the future is the need to allow employees to bring their own technology into the office. People want to use their own mobile phones for work, for example. Many of them would rather use their own laptops and other equipment; especially if they’re more mobile and take their work home with them. The technology that people use in the future will be a greater mix of work and recreation.
This trend, called ‘BYOD’ or Bring-Your-Own-Device is great for businesses on the one hand, as it pushes some of the costs of provisioning equipment onto the employee. At the same time, it is potentially a nightmare from a security point of view. Not only do devices get left on trains or taxis and lost, but unless a person has their operating system, apps, and security up to date, they risk experiencing malware or other nasties that hackers can use to get into the broader business network.
Businesses will need to address this from two angles; firstly, they’ll need to take better care to educate staff on how to safely use the Internet, and how to avoid viruses and other nasties. Secondly, businesses will also need to pay far more attention to rolling our security protocols that will keep a user’s personal use of a device separate from the business applications, and the link back to the business network.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are technologies that are finally being commercialised to the point where they can enter our homes and mainstream use. The question next becomes; just what are businesses going to do with this technology?
At the moment, these technologies are too new to be rolled out with any kind of scale, but there are experiments happening. Real estates, for example, are offering virtual tours of homes so people can research property from interstate or even overseas without having to travel for a walk-through. VR is already proving to be an effective training tool for a huge range of professions, including medicine and aviation, where simulations provide a safe environment to practice potentially dangerous activities.
Meanwhile, retailers are looking at Augmented Reality as a way of providing customers as a way of sharing information with potential consumers. Why give shoppers a static mannequin and a single outfit to look at when you can render an animated model and allow the shopper to choose the fashion to look at?
The rate of technology innovation never slows, and one of the key themes in 2017 will be that businesses discover technologies that hadn’t previously been used in business – such as the IoT and AR/VR, and figure out uses for those technologies in business. These technologies, being new, will come with business and security risks, but ultimately they will help businesses work more efficiently and at lower costs, providing those businesses that are right on top of the technology curve with meaningful competitive advantage.