Predictions. Hmm. A few years back, the authors of the best-selling book Freakonomics produced a podcast with an important warning for people, like me, who regularly are asked to gaze into the future. Let’s put to one side the proposal they uncovered from Romania, which was to fine witches whose predictions turn out to be false, and instead concentrate on the findings of Philip Tetlock, a psychology professor at Wharton Business School. He has tracked the accuracy of 80,000 predictions over the course of 20 years. His conclusion? Let’s say they fared a little bit better than random guessing, but not as much as you might hope.
With that cautionary tale in mind, I’d like to outline three areas of technology where I am confident we are going to see significant change in 2018 and beyond, and why.
Without the right ecosystem, businesses will fall at the first hurdle
Are you a glass-half-full sort of person? I ask because it will affect your choice of language when it comes to the impact of technology on your business. It’s noticeable that the word “disruption”, which I think we can agree carries negative weight, is often applied to the sudden emergence of new, digital companies, causing havoc for established players – think Airbnb and Uber here. But then again, “transformation” – a much more positive word – is often applied to the process of building new digital models. It all depends on where you are standing at the time the digital rubber hits the road.
One of the less explored impacts of digital transformation (yes, I’m a glass half full sort of person) is the potential it creates for radically disparate organizations to start working together. Not just “partners” in some intangible way, but actually integrated to the point where their processes are available within my processes – and vice versa. In an era when the way we operated was manual and offline, this was never going to happen. But add the cloud into the equation, and the potential to link everything to anything becomes a possibility, with consequences that we are only starting to glimpse. The possibilities are not just limited to two organizations – once the net starts to widen, you have created an “ecosystem” – a network of mutually interdependent players – maybe all of them businesses, maybe not. Universities, charities, NGOs, pressure groups – think boldly. Businesses will undoubtedly find their ecosystem widen as new, technology-driven concepts are applied to every single market in the world.
With that change, we will see new demands on business leaders, who will be forced to access a wider landscape and innovate alongside like-minded organizations. Established businesses must now take a bold approach to the challenges faced by working with entrepreneurs, not against them. Building relationships with digitally-inherent organizations will help uncover exciting, unique ideas, and form entirely new services. This method will not only create a culture of inclusiveness but breed an entirely new mentality that lends itself to success.
Businesses will begin to invest in enterprise wearables now more than ever
The spark of consumer-tech as a catalyst for developments in enterprise IT is really gaining traction now. Digital wearables, such as smartwatches, healthcare devices and fitness trackers, were initially introduced as consumer nice-to-haves. People flocked to the technologies to keep track of daily activity, impress themselves with their own fitness regime, and communicate in novel ways. That trend continues, but what is even more exciting is that the move from consumer gadgets to business tools continues to grow; ABI’s research found that wearables are now in higher demand in the enterprise than in the consumer market, with respective CAGRs of 25% and 13%.
Now businesses are taking the hardware, integrating it with powerful monitoring and management software and ultimately creating entirely new business processes. They are also buying in different ways – they want end-to-end managed services, not just the raw tech. It’s no longer about giving someone a wrist band, but more about building a service that alerts the business about any issues, re-routes messages back to a central hub, and enables a reaction. That reaction can be anything from preventing harm to a worker who is in danger of falling asleep at the wheel, to tracking the well-being of your staff to ensure they aren’t overworked or suffering from unnecessary levels of stress.
We are right at the beginning of this trend, and the full range of possibilities has not yet even been imagined. From an oblique perspective, the spread of wearables is an aspect of the IoT revolution, in which IP-enabled sensors permeate our world, allowing us to make more intelligent decisions based on scientific data, rather than a wild hunch. Because wearables provide usable data about what your people are experiencing – comfort or discomfort, relaxation or stress, excitement or boredom – and because they will often be in the same environment as your customers, the potential to understand, respond to, reengineer the customer experience is fascinating.
Enterprise wearables will come of age in 2018 and, in the short term, businesses’ workforces will be the ones to profit most. Thereafter, it’s down to your ability to imagine new possibilities.
Blockchain – crypto-currencies won’t be the biggest application
Given the scale of crypto-mania right now, I’m sticking my neck out. The warnings of central bankers from Seoul to Washington, to London, about the dangers of crypto-currency over-exuberance, have certainly brought the blockchain concept right into the mainstream. Alongside AI and Big Data, it’s one of the technologies that crossed-over into mainstream awareness in 2017, and you might quite easily imagine a casual discussion about the impact of blockchain with someone in a bar, on a plane, or while getting your hair cut; pretty much anywhere.
Let’s take a timeout. To understand blockchain we must first strip it down: it’s simply a standardized way of understanding a change of ownership for something material or ethereal. I know that makes it sound rather less exciting, but, unfortunately, that’s where we have to start in order to get back to where the real long-term potential lies. It’s true that blockchain’s biggest success to date has been in crypto currencies, but it’s highly probable that it will have even more impact outside of financial services.
If that seems unlikely to you, consider that the reason why Bitcoin is valuable: it solves the question of trust in financial transactions – the blockchain transaction ledger cannot be faked. What if we could apply the same level of trust to all transactions? Blockchain 2.0, as it is already being called, uses something called a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) to execute “smart contracts” rather than transactions, and business is basically founded on contracts. These smart contracts execute automatically, with no need for a third party to verify them and can incorporate intelligent processes. For example, if the contract stipulates a price based on volume, quality or time of delivery, as deliveries take place, then payment is made, or refunded, automatically according to the terms of the contract – something that is well beyond the scope of current transaction technology.
Think how complex tasks such as contracting in legal practices, and tracking retailers’ entire supply chains, from farm to supermarket, could be simplified by a blockchain 2.0 ledger. As well as the efficiency gains from automation, the security benefits would be vast, and universal application could see the tech turn its trend status into a tangible business benefit.
As Bill Gates famously said: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” This enterprise use of Blockchain will most probably be a slow-burn, but its potential impact beyond 2018 could be even more dramatic than that of crypto-currencies.