The digital era is catalyzing business; it is unleashing technological change that may appear chaotic on the surface, but is resulting in massively powerful systems of intelligence that enable humans and machines to collaborate securely. By opening up newer means of communication with large data exchanges, new, connected ecosystems are changing the way people, devices and organizations exist, work and interact.
As new digital technologies progress, businesses must understand the five key forces that are converging to drive the evolution and construction of a new technological future.
The drive to create AI-powered intelligent systems: Advances in automation are pushing analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to new heights and paving the way for more effective AI solutions to real-world challenges. AI-driven application development and infrastructure modernisation are increasing IT scalability and nimbleness. This will empower organisations to shift further to digital, while also driving business agility, accelerating process digitisation, enabling real-time harnessing of intelligence, and further enhancing efficiency in IT operations.
The genesis of interconnected systems: The rapid progression of Internet of Things (IoT) and the need to collaborate and build complex systems of intelligence have been key factors in the genesis of interconnected systems. IoT, edge computing and digital twins are driving the initial momentum towards the creation and deployment of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS). Swarm intelligence and robotics is the next frontier for CPS, where the power of many combined cyber minds will make the overall system smarter, faster, more insightful and more creative.
The need for more effective human-machine interfaces: Wherever the digital world meets the physical world, human-machine interaction is critical. More immersive experiences are key to ensuring better acceptance of products and services. Enhanced human-machine interfacing is being led by two important technology trends. The first one is immersive experiences driven by AR/VR/holograms that will deliver new virtual and mixed-reality worlds. The second, also known as the internet of touch, will allow enterprises to innovate by extending human touch-based online interactions, thereby opening up endless possibilities across healthcare, manufacturing, education and other industries.
The demand for advanced communication technologies: The need to rapidly transfer large amounts of data across numerous data-generating and data-consuming systems mandates advanced communication technologies. Emerging technologies such as 5G, wireless ad-hoc networks, Vehicular Ad-hoc Network (VANET), and Light Fidelity (Li-Fi or transmitting data over visible light) have great potential to improve network infrastructure and advance communications. They will make it possible to achieve a more intelligent, interconnected world.
The heralding of quantum technologies: Quantum technologies are emerging from the realm of research to drive viable industrial prototypes in a number of areas, such as secure communications and cryptography, biomedicine, genetics, and others. The application of quantum technologies is widespread. Potential applications range from a new generation of optical instruments that can help us visualise dimensions beyond the possibilities of current technologies, to new encryption standards and algorithms in quantum computing.
The challenge of staying ahead
Businesses are always looking to increase productivity and efficiency, deliver better experiences to customers and employees, and remain relevant in the marketplace. The following three key principles can help decision-makers successfully leverage the aforementioned technological forces and trends to realise their business goals.
1: Acknowledge and map uneven distribution. All technologies do not mature at the same rate. For instance, while RFID may now be technologically mature, its widespread adoption has yet to catch up. Similarly, VR is now a mainstream technology for entertainment and gaming concerns, but continues to be considered a fringe technology for banking institutions. Acknowledging and mapping out how unevenly the future of technology will be distributed is, therefore, paramount for companies that want to maintain a strategic focus on the big picture. Clear visibility into this distribution will help businesses prioritise their focus areas.
2: Assess impact of the technologies. Some technologies will impact businesses in the short term, some will impact strategically in the long term, and some others will fundamentally transform the DNA and business model of an organisation. Mapping technologies across these three impact categories will enable organisations to zoom in on key areas of focus and investment, and adopt the right technologies at the right time and place. This will then help companies develop meaningful and executable action plans.
3: Activate programmes to explore and apply new technologies. Businesses must undertake three key programs:
- Research programmes on nascent technologies that have been identified as having transformative and/or strategic impact on the business;
- Pilot programmes suited for adolescent, early mainstream technologies, regardless of their impact on business; and
- Adoption programmes that will help them implement technologies of relevance within their business processes.
These three programs will typically run in parallel, and will be unevenly distributed in terms of both investments made and the technologies selected.
Today’s digital age is delivering unparalleled technological innovations in which AI and IoT are combining to make devices and enterprises intelligent, responsive and ever more connected. Organisations must make sure that they do not deploy emerging technologies too early or too late. To stay ahead, business leaders need to understand when to evaluate and adopt these technologies in order for the required investments to deliver optimal returns and competitive advantage.