By Frank Rizzo, Technology sector leader at KPMG in South Africa
With decision-makers embracing digitalisation, technology has become integrated into every facet of business. And while the likes of cloud computing and data analysis are still important, 2017 brings with it fresh expectations around the trends that will impact the organisation. Below we examine five of these trends.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been steadily gaining momentum, first as a purely machine-to-machine incarnation and now as a device to organisation tool. In its simplest form, IoT relates to devices being connected to the internet. The classic example is your fridge ordering milk when you run out.
But what does this mean for business? By being able to harness the data of devices in the field, an organisation can better understand how effective its operations are in remote areas. In retail, for example, this provides insight into consumer buying patterns that means the difference between ordering the right kind of stock versus sitting with old products that will not be sold.
Plugging the data transmitted from these devices into the organisational back-end provides decision-makers with a wealth of information that can be used to guide strategy in more nuanced ways.
This wealth of data brings us to the next key trend – artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing which takes data analytics to the next level. These systems can predict, infer, and in some ways, think and learn by experience much like humans do. While Apple’s Siri saw the popularisation of AI and cognitive computing, it has evolved considerably in recent years.
Today, many businesses can potentially use cognitive computing to eliminate much of the administration and even customer engagement functions (think chat bots) of employees. This leaves them with the capacity to enhance their own skills and fulfil more strategic and innovative job functions inside the organisation.
As part of this move towards a more connected and intelligent world, is the arrival of the third big trend - digital currencies. With investment in the fintech sector increasing significantly in recent years, businesses are finding new ways for customers to interact with financial products. While expectations are such that digital currencies will disrupt banking and payments over the next few years, the more immediate benefits for Africa are already being felt.
Fintech companies have already launched solutions that cater for the previously unbanked. With mobile penetration in developing markets continuously increasing, digital currencies are a great alternative to more traditional banking solutions.
The arrival of bitcoin and increasing interest in adopting blockchain solutions means companies need to be open for more alternative financial opportunities that were possible previously. This new way of doing business is forcing South African financial institutions into experimenting with similar solutions and offerings as an alternative.
And while it might seem the stuff of science fiction, robotics is also evolving at a rapid rate as the means of enhancing efficiencies in especially manufacturing and mining. For example, industrial robotics has been one of the key industries in Japan with robots being used to replace humans on the factory floor and doing dangerous jobs. So, while AI is driving the acceptance of virtual bots performing customer service engagement activities, robotics linked with data analytics will see the rise of more ‘minimum wage’ focused devices.
Finally, virtual and augmented reality will complete the convergence of online and real-world technology integration.
Sure, the gaming industry has been the most notable beneficiary of these alternate reality systems but consider the impact it can have in business. Now you can walk into your warehouse with special goggles linked to the enterprise resource planning system and see how old stock is. Elsewhere, an engineer can open a diagram of a machine and see which part requires to be serviced next before disaster strikes.
The benefits of embracing these and other trends cannot be ignored. From productivity gains and cost efficiencies, to quicker innovation cycles and increased value, those businesses who will be the most successful will be the ones that can prioritise and monetise emerging technology opportunities.