Is AI all hype and no hope? Will augmented reality continue to transpose itself onto our everyday lives? With an eye to strategic technology investments and a wealth of experience in the field of data and innovation, Lee Naik discusses the technological trends that really matter to South African businesses. Using a mix of data and extensive research into what major analysts are predicting for 2017, Naik has put together a master list of the innovations that executives should prioritise this year.
I know, I know. It’s well into 2017 and you’ve been bombarded with more trends pieces than you know what to do with. From the many articles covering the CES and Davos to the analyses by the likes of Accenture, McKinsey, Deloitte and other major consultancies, there’s a lot to absorb. And with each of these focusing on a different set of trends, they don’t answer the question of whether it’s time to start investing in these new technologies or wait for them to mature first.
Now that the smoke has cleared and everyone’s had their say, I’d like to apply a more strategic viewpoint. Sound business decisions should not be made on a whim, adopted every time a new, innovative technology claims to be the future of enterprise. To make these decisions easier, I’ve closely researched the predictions of big analysts, cross-referenced it with TransUnion’s extensive bank of data, and put together a shortlist of the innovations that should be at the top of any South African executive’s priority list.
AI becomes part of our everyday lives
Artificial intelligence (AI) came of age in 2016 and will continue to steal the limelight this year. While you may not quite be able to visit an AI-powered theme park just yet, at least you’ll be able to order a pizza while you watch Westworld.
In 2017, Chatbots will dominate headlines, as companies like Starbucks and Domino’s roll out virtual baristas, with retail and banks leading the early adoption charge. Here at home, Mercedes Benz and Absa are just two of the companies that have already bought into this new technology. But before you go all in on chatbots for your organisation, just remember that the technology’s not quite yet at a level to deliver a seamless customer experience by itself.
Less discussed (though hugely significant) will be the enterprise and industry use of AI. Most common will be the use of messaging platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams, incorporating some form of automation and chatbot functionality. And this is just the start: from reporting to research, the automation of knowledge work is already well under way. IBM’s Watson is streamlining cancer diagnosis and treatment, for example.
The Internet of Things comes home (but might bring a nasty surprise)
The advances in machine learning are set to have another big impact – on the mainstream realisation of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the home. The likes of Alexa, Siri and other virtual assistants are nothing new, but we saw a record number of companies at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – from Ford to Whirlpool – bring out compatible products. Smart home devices have always lacked a single unifying platform, but the number of Alexa-compatible devices set to come out this year suggests we might soon have one. The competition is not too far behind either: Google Assistant is already arriving pre-installed on the Google Pixel, and Microsoft’s Cortana is expected to be included in a variety of gadgets released in 2017.
The flipside of the IoT coin will be the challenge of securing intelligent devices from opportunistic cybercriminals. From automation to as-a-service models, hackers have embraced digital innovation as eagerly, if not more so, as legitimate businesses. And the IoT revolution doesn’t just offer a whole new army of hackable devices, but connected business processes that can be exploited as well.
Gartner believes the need for an adaptive security architecture will arise in 2017. What that architecture might look like will be the question that preoccupies many enterprises this year, but it’s likely that it will be powered by machine learning, gathering actionable intelligence in real-time from a variety of sources and adapting as threats evolve. Think next-gen authentication platforms that can tell who you are, simply by analysing behaviour patterns.
Blurring the lines between digital and physical
The PlayStation VR may be the latest virtual reality headset to hit the market, and a sensation at technology trading shows, but experts agree that it’s augmented reality you should be keeping an eye on in 2017. If IDC’s prediction that 3 out of every 10 consumer Fortune 5000 companies will experiment with Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) is anything to go by, it’s clear the greatest innovation will be found at the juncture between physical and digital.
Companies will find new ways to use digital technologies to enhance real-world experiences. Take Carnival Cruises, which is rolling out the same technology behind Disney’s MagicBand onto its cruise liners. Or BMW, who’s partnered with Google to allow buyers to check out any of its cars, even if it isn’t in stock, using a virtual showroom. We’ll also see the rise of enterprise IT, as businesses explore using AR tech to boost operational efficiency. With manufacturers such as Lenovo starting to create devices aimed at the enterprise market, we’ll see more and more businesses make use of AR and VR for scenarios such as training and remote stock-taking, and general collaboration.
Betting money on Africa’s FinTech market
It’s important not to focus so much on the headline-grabbing tech – the darlings of CES and Davos – that we ignore the disruptions outside of the American and European bubbles. McKinsey & Company predicts that up to 3 billion people will connect to the digital world – a large portion of that from emerging markets.
With many in these markets still unbanked, a need has arrived for solutions that can turn them into fully digital consumers. As a result, we’re likely to see a convergence of FinTech aimed at financial inclusion and convenience that could allow emerging markets to leapfrog the West.
Keep an eye out for money transfer, POS, microfinance, and mobile payment services to emerge out of Africa this year. As for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the continent will prove a fertile testing ground for alternatives to paper money. This year sees Senegal launch its own digital currency, for example.
Stop thinking big data, start thinking smart data
For years now, businesses have been acquiring more data than they know what to do with. But even with considerable investments in analytics, companies are failing to realise the true value of their data. And a shortage of data science capabilities means businesses are seeking alternate means of securing and using information.
Cue the rise of systems and partners designed around smarter, value-driven data analytics. More and more, businesses will use platforms like Hadoop and Spark to work around their lack of data science expertise. Business Intelligence applications like Power BI and QuickSight should also gain in popularity. At the same time, we’ll see more resources spent on high-level data strategy, as businesses work out ways to use their information as the basis for new services, experiences and models. In 2017, we will see more businesses partner with specialist service providers and original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in order to accelerate the extraction of value from vast data sets.
The reinvention of corporate culture
With all these new game-changing technologies hitting us, never has the task of digitisation been more urgent. In 2017, businesses must continue to find new ways to challenge their current operational models, or run the risk of lagging behind.
There is, of course, the task of adapting to a service-based economy. Not only are we going to see businesses continue to redefine their existing models, but we’ll also see largescale changes to what we think of as corporate culture. From the gig economy and on-demand enterprise to process automation and as-a-service models, these changes will support more elastic, people-centric cultures. Whatever form these changes take, they will all be centred around one thing: unlocking human potential and creativity to be able to innovate and thrive.