Four Tectonic Technology Shifts Every Executive Should Know


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.

Vijayanta Gupta

Posted on 01-23-2018

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