There were probably a fair few businesses that failed to cotton on to the true transformative power of the personal computer when it first began to appear on the scene in the last few decades.
Stubbornly stuck in their ways, these businesses would have watched in horror as the companies that quickly adopted this new technology experienced rapid efficiency gains and were able to expand at a greater rate.
Those companies who were slow on the uptake now face a choice. Either they could admit defeat and belatedly jump on the bandwagon in the hopes that they still had time to catch up, or they could proudly and defiantly go down with the sinking ship.
Business is not just about what you do, but how you go about doing it. A large part of what separates one successful company from the two or three similar ones that fall by the wayside is how they utilise technology to increase their effectiveness as an organisation.
Not only can technology shoulder some of the burden, but due to the continuous, evolutionary way in which advancements are made, there is always a possibility that those with shrewdness and foresight can jump ahead of the pack.
So is it possible to pick out some technological trends occurring in the business world that might be the perfect way for you to get ahead and expand your business?
The increasingly multi-device future
Any business that is in any way receptive to the world going on around it will be aware that the way that people are accessing the internet, and therefore interacting with companies, is undergoing rapid changes.
2012 saw average global smartphone usage grow by around 81% with 56% of American adults owning a smartphone and 35% owning a tablet as of May 2013. This is not a trend that is going to diminish, with tablet shipments estimated to overtake those of new PCs in 2013.
These changes are having a number of diverse effects on the way that consumers do business with companies. It has been estimated that over 90% of people move between different devices when trying to accomplish a task, 48% of all emails sent are now open and read on mobile devices and 77% of people who watch TV now do so with another device.
This all means that any business should be aware that they need to make sure that they can accommodate this change in internet consumption. Increasingly, it is going to be things like allowing consumers to download programmes and applications to multiple devices at once for one fee and simplifying your buying process so that it is as simple and as uniform across devices as it can be that are going to set companies apart.
This trend is also going to mean that more and more companies are going to be turning their attention to producing their own customer and enterprise facing apps that are smaller and more targeted. The incoming trend here is likely to involve the creation of an app-based user experience, where user intent is inferred through their interactions with the software and which the feeds back into the user experience.
The machines are only going to get smarter
Our next tentative step towards having intelligent robot slaves to take care of all our business needs for us, the increased advent of smart machinery in the next decade has been called the most disruptive period in the history of IT. The jury is still out as to whether this means the end of the long standing employer-employee paradigm with machines replacing millions of middle class jobs or whether analysts have been watching and reading too much sci-fi.
Smart machines are going to be those that feature self-learning systems that are specialised to certain tasks, such as being personal assistants, financial advisors, global industrial coordinators and autonomous vehicles. The Gartner piece above talks in detail about how many CEOs are simply not aware of the vast changes that are beginning to sweep in, which highlights the opportunities that are going to present themselves to those companies that keep a close eye on this particular set of developments.
An early example of the transformative potential of smart machines is the Watson computer created by IBM. Watson is a computer system that is artificially intelligent enough to be able to answer questions posed to it in certain languages. The system famously won the US game show Jeopardy when it was entered in 2011. Watson is able to store a huge amount of data (over 200 million pages of structured content and over 4 terabytes of unstructured data) which it can use to form its answers.
In 2013 it was announced that the Watson system was going to be used to make decisions on the appropriateness, need and efficiency of lung cancer treatments. IBM have subsequently reported that over 90% of the nurses who use the system now regularly follow its guidance.
Customer service will never be the same again
Perhaps the key insight that businesses need to keep in the forefront of their minds in the coming years is that technology is likely to fundamentally alter the way they interact with their customers and clients. There are a number of exciting ways in which these kind of changes are already beginning to feed into the practices of businesses on the cutting edge.
Cloud computing is beginning to revolutionise that most groan-inducing and head-poundingly frustrating of customer service institutions: the call centre. Cloud call centres are beginning to help companies to improve their customer service and efficiency when it comes to dealing with the people that purchase their products. When a company is freed of the need to constantly pay for the upgrades and maintenance of hardware means that they can begin to push their resources into improving the things that are important for their customers.
An important trend in the world of customer service is going to be an increasing orientation towards customer self-service. Customers increasingly want to have the resources made available so that they can find the answers to their queries or try and solve their problems themselves. The supposed impending commercial take-off of 3D printing is also going to dramatically change the way that companies interact with their customers. It is very possible that customers will soon be able to print their own products out at home instead of waiting for the company to send it them.
These changes in customer service show one important thing for businesses in the future. There is going to need to be a definite shift away from simply being the company that takes your customers orders to one that is a trusted advisor. As consumers become increasingly independent in their decision making process, you are going to have to be the one that provides them with the tools they need to do what they want to do.
This is just a brief selection of the vast and sweeping technological changes that are going to begin to have tectonic effects on the business world in the near future. In order to give yourself the chance to leap ahead of your competition, you are going to need to identify the key changes occurring in the areas that are relevant to your business and begin to come up with potential ways that you can utilise the technological advances that are going to be coming down the pipeline.
What do you think the most important trend in business technology in the coming decades is going to be?