Six months out from a new decade, and with exciting new technologies seeking attention in an increasingly competitive business landscape, NZBusiness went to the market to identify where the risks, opportunities and efficiencies lie for business owners.
It would be useful to have a crystal ball to accurately predict how business technologies will pan-out over the next decade – fortunes would be made and disasters averted.
But what we do know is that there are business-changing technologies already well established that are strong predictors of where things are heading.
Professionals within the technology sector whom we spoke to for this story are in no doubt as to the magnitude of the technology transformation that lies ahead for businesses.
Vanessa Sorenson, enterprise director at Microsoft New Zealand likens it to an industrial revolution. We’re already in the middle of it and the adoption of new technologies is going to accelerate “like we have never seen before”, she says.
It’s all about better connection. Sorenson believes quantum computing, mobile apps and AI are poised to create a simplified world where everything and everyone is connected.
“Already businesses are no longer afraid to embrace cloud platforms, and quantum computing will take the data we capture in the cloud to the next level,” she says.
“Because it’s able to rapidly compute vast amounts of data and draw intelligent insights, businesses will be more responsive and will invest more in innovation rather than just keeping the lights on.
“Coupled with greater networking power like 5G, we’ll see businesses, employees and customers more connected than ever,” she says.
Smart tech companies have been leading the charge, Sorenson continues, citing the likes of Airbnb and Uber.
“This kind of mobility will be standard operating procedure in the future, so more investment will go into simplifying our home and working lives. AI will not only reorder the milk and eggs when stocks in the fridge are getting low, but enable us to videoconference via our fridge door.”
Drew Broadley, executive director of Wellington-based Data Ventures, also sees quantum computing as a game-changer – and points out that, like many so-called ‘new technologies’, it has origins in the 1980s.
He bases many of his technology predictions on the developments of recent history – crypto-currencies in the 80s, blockchain in 1991.
“Watching Short Circuit 2 the other night, AI was a buzz then – in 1988,” he says.
A lot of these technologies had their genesis in university-led research, but were held back by a lack of processing power. Today, that power is in abundance, he says.
Of course, no technology prediction would be complete without considering cyber-security – after all, cyber attacks are continuing to increase in frequency, sophistication and severity.
Manual cybersecurity measures are no longer good enough, says Steve Manley, regional vice president Australia/New Zealand, for Palo Alto Networks. “The true game-changer will be automation. This will be driven by the need to avoid being weighed down by the sheer cost of fending off constant attacks, both in terms of money and time.”
Blockchain makes fraudulent activity harder to get away with, he says. “It automates authentication processes, overcoming the weak link that passwords present. It helps protect data by making it impossible to tamper with, and it can help prevent distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks by decentralising the domain name system (DNS), making it impossible to hack.”
Machine learning is already being used in many organisations to identify malicious activity without needing humans to manually review suspicious events, adds Manley. “It can identify patterns and anomalies, flagging only the most important for human intervention. Minor incursions and events can be automatically dealt with by the artificial intelligence.”
Manley’s concerns going forward for business security are centred around cloud security (particularly as more mission-critical apps sit with third parties); supply chains; IoT (Internet of Things) devices (each one is an endpoint that offers an opportunity for hackers to connect to business networks); compliances with data protection legislation; compromised email; and critical infrastructure threats.
Past lessons, future plans
Businesses weighing up new technology options should consider lessons from the past.
Looking forward, Microsoft’s Sorenson believes the big multi-million dollar ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) projects will become a thing of the past.
“Businesses just won’t take the risk on a promise that’s years away, and may see competitors take over. We’ve seen too many large, legacy projects go off the rails when companies have invested millions to get from A to B. Today it’s more about making a fast start, using Agilei to test how technology can solve business problems on the go.
“The key thing to avoid is being locked into old legacy systems or contracts with providers who can only provide one kind of software, for example. The best way to future-proof your business is to look for flexible solutions – like cloud vendors who will partner with others to provide a tailored service that changes and scales up or down as and when you need it.”
Drew Broadley’s advice for businesses is to invest in the most basic technology they can – because it means access to talent is wider, your investment is less, and your complexity is simpler.
“I’ve personally compromised one of my past businesses by trying to be too complicated, too soon,” he says. “I still get grief about my early decision!
“Follow the stories of any company – success or failure – and if you see a trend around technology it’s that they always end up rebuilding their infrastructure. So make sure you budget for that,” says Broadley.
Threats and risks
As 2020 approaches, it’s Sorenson’s view that the biggest risk for SMEs is falling behind your competitors on technology, without knowing who to trust with key decisions.
“Your ability to make business decisions shouldn’t be determined by the size of your IT team. Having at least one key person on the team with a strong growth mindset who can challenge the status quo is critical.
“Build a plan, communicate this with your executive team and board if you have one and execute quickly using an Agile approach,” she says.
“The number one risk I see is executives putting their heads in the sand and not having a clear plan on how they can leverage technology to enable the business to move faster.”
For both Broadley and Manley, the biggest technology concerns going forward are based around security. For Broadley it’s specifically a lack of investment in information security. “It’s not if you will receive an attack, it’s when, and then you hopefully know about it.
For Steve Manley, the biggest security threat remains human error. “Often cybercriminals know SMEs don’t have the security resources that larger enterprises do, which means they could be an easier target. This makes many cybercriminals even more likely to target SMEs,” he says.
“To mitigate the risk, it’s absolutely essential for organisations to incorporate education into their security measures. It costs nothing apart from time but could be the difference between the company falling victim to an attack or not.
“Educating employees to spot fraudulent emails, to avoid clicking on links in emails, to keep passwords strong and secure, and to incorporate a security mindset into all of their activities is crucial.”
Within the next decade Manley believes automation will be the key to successful cybersecurity, driven by artificial intelligence. Specifically, behavioural analytics will help organisations automate attack detection and streamline responses.
The future office
So what will a typical business environment look like at the end of the next decade?
Offices will no longer be all open plan, says Broadley. There will be a mix of both open and private areas.
He sees virtual reality (VR) playing a huge part in what’s called ‘sensory deprivation’ in the workplace. The process of actively removing stimulus from your environment.
“VR could be a way to immerse yourself away from the open plan work environment,” he says, adding that while the long term psychological effects could be negative, there are already negative effects to workers being exposed to a wide range of stimuli, all day, every day.
Meanwhile Vanessa Sorenson’s crystal ball for 2029 reveals many more females and diversity at senior leadership and board levels – unlocking more potential.
Beyond business, the medical industry is focused on early detection and preventing epidemics using data, and acting as a more holistic wellness industry.
“Healthcare has become more accessible worldwide, with technology such as Hololens (a VR headset) enabling surgeons to operate on someone thousands of miles away.
“Wearables and chips within our bodies will help us predict our overall wellbeing and alertness,” she adds. Technology will therefore impact on how the working day is structured to make employees more productive, as well as help prevent stress, burnout and medical leave issues.
“(By 2029) manufacturers, retailers and logistics firms will have seen significant cost and environmental benefits from driverless electric cars and robotics becoming increasingly mainstream.
“The automation we were just starting to see in 2019, such as the automated straddles at Ports of Auckland, the smart shipping logistics software of Kotahi or Oscar the chatbot at Air New Zealand, has already transformed the business landscape, with humans adding more value in strategic roles (as opposed to) manual ones.”
Many of the major businesses operating in 2029 will not have even been thought of ten years earlier, says Sorenson, and the rate of technological change will still be increasing.
Meantime to get that ‘edge’, today’s employers must focus on providing modern working environments where their people are mobile, have safe access to business information and can work from anywhere.
“Leverage the power of data and AI to see what you can learn every day about your customers, competition and areas you need to improve on,” Sorenson says. “Use technology to free up your teams so they have more time with customers, and get on-time, useful insights that empower them to build your business with confidence.
“It is a time to embrace, lead and encourage innovation through technology.”
iA term used to describe approaches to software development emphasising incremental delivery, team collaboration, continual planning, and continual learning.
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