Technology is having a transformative impact on the way that we work today. From the gig economy to the lean methodology, to internet connected delivery drivers, the work patterns of 2018 would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. However, we’re set for a great deal more disruption in the coming years.
The Internet of Things will enable every device and piece of machinery to send and receive data, allowing processes to be reviewed and instructions to be sent on the fly. AI will drive the automation of routine tasks from driving to phone support to document review. And augmented reality interfaces come with the potential of supplanting every screen and monitor that we use today.
There’s little doubt that these technologies are on their way – but tech trends will come to the forefront in 2019?
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
The benefits of VR and AR come in two strands: simulating reality and adding to it. VR has obvious training applications (simulating vehicles and workplace environments).
However, AR can do much more. Indeed, it has potentially far greater applications in the workplace, by providing real-time updates for workers via heads-up display and by labelling objects with digital tags.
Applications extend from surgical operations to vehicle repairs to aircraft maintenance (as used respectively at St Mary's Hospital in London, by Porsche and by GE Aviation) – allowing individuals to receive instructions and to track information without having to use their hands. And this can make an enormous difference: Airbus's 'Factory of the Future' manufacturing initiative was responsible for driving a reported 500% increase in productivity. Meanwhile, devices like the HoloLens may soon see virtual monitors – viewed via headset – replacing desktop monitors as well as smartphones.
AI has made a splash in recent years with text and conversational chatbots (from Siri and Alexa to Google’s Duplex), but automation will be a driving force in industry for many years to come. In fact, PwC reports that 20% of the organisations they surveyed plan to launch AI enterprise-wide by the end of 2019.
While IoT will embed the internet in the physical world, AI will mean that technology can directly respond (whether in a factory or field or when overseeing a self-driving taxi), setting processes in motion without the need for human intervention.
In every industry and every department (from accounts and HR to marketing and operations), there is a call for business results to be quantified today via performance metrics: what can be measured can be improved.
At the same time, these systems have given data scientists the power to optimise industrial processes – and the next evolution of the field is for AI to automate forecasting and analytics at scale. What’s more, by tackling problems programmatically, AI will find patterns and connections that would have been invisible to the human eye but could offer critical insights into what is happening at a wider level (for example, identifying unusual activity that may be indicative of a security breach).
As a consequence of this, more and more individuals across the business landscape will need to be able to manipulate AI analytics tools in the future – and the ability to do so will be a key differentiator.
Blockchain may be the engine that drives cryptocurrencies, but it can do much more; and while it has been on the boil for close to a decade, large-scale industrial applications are finally coming to market.
The key feature of a Blockchain deployment is that every party in the network has a shared ledger of events that cannot be changed. Given the ocean of paperwork required in logistics and the potential for confusion (as items and containers are moved from point to point via shipping and deliveries), this can have a potentially enormous impact. Indeed, Blockchain is expected to create some $3.1tr of value to businesses around the world by 2030, according to Gartner. However, change is coming far sooner than that.
In early 2018, IBM and Maersk joined forces to create TradeLens, a platform that combines AI, IoT and Blockchain technology to track cargo; while nine other carriers united to build a competing platform named GSBN.
By reducing losses, minimising delays and accelerating deliveries, digitisation can make the entire process far more efficient – and the impact will be felt all the way from port authorities down to small businesses receiving goods.
The most successful workers of the future will be those who put themselves ahead of the curve. Applying analytics and identifying new opportunities for optimisation can make a crucial difference - whether enabling discounts to help a firm win business or helping a department to boost its margins and profitability.
The importance of business agility runs across the board. While plumbers and carpenters might not imagine that their work can benefit from digital technology, platforms like Okappy can save teams enormous amounts of time and effort by improving and streamlining communications - and they can hence gain a critical competitive advantage.
With an accelerating pace of change to be expected in the years ahead, this is perhaps the most important lesson of all: those who adapt will survive.
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