“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”
This quote from Niccolò Machiavelli, considered by some to be the father of political science, has profound relevance to emerging technologies.
Innovation continues to occur at a breakneck pace, forcing business leaders to continuously manage change as emerging technologies become more mainstream. While disruption is inevitable, the monumental upheavals of the past 20 years have been incredible. And 2018 will surely bring more.
In 2016, we discussed several tectonic shifts in technology that would disrupt brands, industries, and economies. Some of those leading-edge technologies are well on their way to affecting enterprises, while others are still under development.
Here are four big technology shifts poised to disrupt enterprises that I’m monitoring very closely in 2018:
Computers Get Eyes
Software-driven products now understand the context of our lives and the environments we inhabit. Some examples include the technology behind self-driving cars; the ability for retailers to provide autonomous checkout, drastically altering the shopping experience; and at a personal level, smartphone cameras that help make sense of the world around us (as described below). This will create significant changes in our dependence upon devices, appliances, vehicles, and other products. As the price of cameras, processors, bandwidth and storage continues to fall, the business case for computer vision will continue to become more compelling, and use cases for computer vision will continue to increase.
Augmented Reality in Your Pocket
Augmented Reality (AR) has been around for a while now. The difference is that the hardware and software for rendering AR is increasingly being natively placed inside mobile devices, thereby reaching the inflexion point for rapid take-off of this technology. AR coupled with Computer Vision enables unique use cases. A great example is IKEA’s Place app. Although not yet widely in use, this technology will soon be used by more brands to create unique, engaging, and meaningful experiences for their customers.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also coming to a mobile device near you. To give an example, when you upload a selfie with friends on Facebook, a type of AI helps recognise and tag the faces in that selfie. This does require internet connectivity and all the ‘data crunching’ for identifying faces is done remotely in Facebook’s cloud. What happens if you want to use facial recognition, let’s say, for unlocking a phone, even when there is no internet connectivity? That is where AI-at-the-edge—which is the end point such as a smartphone or any other device—comes into play. FaceID in iPhone X is a great example of delivering an AI based system inside the device itself. As manufacturers continue to embed hardware and software for enabling AI-at-the-edge, and as consumers and businesses go through their device refresh cycles, we will see an exponential growth in use cases based on AI that doesn’t require internet connectivity, and/or that delivers intelligent experiences in milliseconds by balancing the AI workload between the device and the cloud.
Voice Rules the Day
Talking comes naturally to us—swiping on screens or clicking with a mouse does not. Consumers prefer simple interactions. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Today I’m looking forward to filling twenty form fields for ordering my groceries.” Mobile devices, due to their limited screen real-estate, acted as a great catalyst for brands to simplify experiences—voice-enabled UI will force us to reimagine and simplify our approach even further. For example, look at the difference between the experience of Amazon’s Alexa “skill” for Uber users, versus the Uber mobile app engagement. In addition, voice user interface (UI) democratises computing for any user, regardless of whether they are technologically sophisticated, physically challenged, or have a low literacy level. Voice UI brings digital experiences within reach of billions of users better than any of its predecessors.
Taken together, these tectonic shifts provide a potential for once-in-a-generation transformation for consumers as well as brands. The question is, how does a business remain on top of these tectonic shifts?
Despite our awareness of the business implications of emerging technologies, many brands struggle with transforming the organisations around them. In some cases, adopting new technology provides clear value, and investment makes sense. But true transformation requires more than that.
One challenge is the “status-quo” mentality: businesses comfortable with the way they’ve already integrated technology may be resistant to change. As Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen said, “The reason why it is so difficult for existing firms to capitalise on disruptive innovations is that their processes and the business model that make them good at the existing business actually make them bad at competing for the disruption.”
Chasing digital maturity is complicated, because it’s following a moving target. Executives may feel pressured to invest in the next best thing, but paradoxically, the need for customer loyalty often undermines their confidence in those investments. As PriceWaterhouseCoopers found in its 2017 Digital IQ survey, “despite considerable investment in technology and executive commitment to digital transformation, companies are not prepared for what comes next. Confidence in their digital abilities is at an all-time low: Just over half of the 2,200 business and IT leaders surveyed rate their Digital IQ as strong or very strong, down from two-thirds of executives in 2014 and 2015.”
Though many exciting (and anxiety-provoking) technologies are in their infancy, it’s anticipated that digital capabilities, such as artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, and augmented reality (AR), will create significant opportunities for enterprises to improve their competitiveness. Like it or not, executives must prepare for the impact of these digital disruptors and consider investment in suitable options—or risk being left behind.
The pace will not let up in 2018. Certainly, there are other disruptions coming that will challenge business leaders—some minor, some tectonic. The key to success is understanding the tectonic shifts before they become mainstream, experimenting and learning about them, and adapting to them as early as possible, thus setting the tone for your organisation to become a true experience business.