We are moving toward a digitally-enabled world, where the lines between real and digital are blurring. As the digital world becomes an increasingly detailed reflection of the physical world, it creates fertile ground for new business models and ecosystems.
To embrace a digitally-enabled world, businesses need to digitally enable and transform every aspect of their operations. And they know this, with 55% of IT decision makers stating they have a year or less to make digital inroads before suffering financially and competitively.
There are a plethora of new technologies to explore, and for enterprises still in the throes of digital transformation it can be difficult to figure out what technology to embrace next.
What are some of these technologies that are ripe for companies to embrace?
1) Augmented and virtual reality.
2) Artificial Intelligence and voice interfaces.
3) Machine to machine interactions.
Each has different benefits for companies with one overarching theme – not every technology is the right fit for every company, and certain considerations must be made before deciding to implement.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
AR and VR are arguably the most complex to implement of these new technologies. Everyone seems to be talking about them, but few companies can currently do anything useful with either. Why? Because they’re very hard to implement at the moment as they require new hardware which is still changing rapidly.
While major companies like Amazon and Microsoft have rolled out development platforms, the industry is still shaking out and establishing standards. Instead of rushing to leverage the newest technology, companies should first assess if it really makes sense for their business – a task that is unfortunately not always easy.
How can companies know they’re ready? There are a few specific use cases that are good guidelines; essentially, AR/VR only makes sense in certain markets currently.
The first are companies that regularly need to visualize 3D objects like architects, construction firms and engineers. AR and VR can help those in the building space easily visualize and create floor and building plans.
In the automotive industry, car body designers can also benefit from this technology as it enables them to easily integrate and see the many small parts needed to create the car design. Simply, AR and VR make moving from the planning to production stage much faster – whether it’s for a car, home or machined component.
Industries that require complex diagnose and repairs – like energy – can benefit greatly from AR as it allows for augmented insights and repairs to very complicated systems with small parts. The one caveat, these must be high value systems to justify the cost of AR technology. Smaller car engine repairs would not justify the cost, but something which is critical to keep operating, such as an expensive and complex piece of manufacturing equipment or a wind turbine, really makes sense.
Another instance where AR and VR are worth the investment is training for scenarios that are difficult to train for real life. In fact, we’ve seen versions of AR being used in flight simulators for quite some time.
The military has also begun using the technology in its training, and some areas of the private sector could learn to do the same. For example, in the medical field doctors could benefit from training for complex procedures with VR that would not otherwise be possible to prepare for.
The main theme among these use cases is that AR and VR currently make sense only in industries that require visualization of plans/designs, high value and complex equipment or hard to train for scenarios. Companies should ask themselves if they fit into any of these areas and then determine if the potential benefits outweigh the costs of this technology.
AI and Voice Interfaces
Although AI is even more complex under the hood than AR and VR, it has a huge benefit in terms of implementation – it can use the input from users’ current devices today!
A specific area we are excited about in AI is the improvement in voice recognition and voice synthesis. These services can be purchased at competitive pricing from most major AI technology providers such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google and IBM. They can also be combined with animated characters to provide visual voice interfaces that companies can benefit from right now.
Digital agents are one of the biggest opportunities for digital transformation this year. This needs to go a step beyond the largely voice only interfaces of Alexa, to providing great visual interfaces that allow users to perform tasks like browsing, selecting and configuring.
While digital agents don’t make sense for every industry and company, they do offer vast opportunities to any company that has customers who interact with a product or service and want to offer an improved 24/7 experience. These include use cases like digital stylists, virtual concierges and digital chefs just to name a few.
Digital agents give companies the ability to provide step by step instructions to customers or employees whether it is a digital chef demonstrating how to prepare a meal or a digital agent training employees on ways to complete internal tasks.
The hospitality industry also has a huge opportunity with digital agents, which act as a virtual concierge for guests – available 24/7 – and can be accessed anywhere by guests. Providing personalized customer service and simplifying the process of using a concierge that may encourage more guests to pay for services at the hotel.
Ecommerce is another industry that can reap the rewards brought by digital agents. They offer a way to compete with Amazon by offering a better and more personalized customer experiences for online shoppers and ease the sometimes frustrating and arduous process of contacting customer service. They also offer an easier way to browse or configure and order complex products – like a customized RV or vacation package.
Essentially, any company whose success is based on customers spending money can benefit from a digital agent as it helps to improve customer experience and encourage more spending thanks to ease of use and personalization. These agents are available 24/7, directly on a personal smartphone.
Interactions between machines is another huge opportunity for companies to digitally transform. When machines can interact and complete tasks with little human intervention using APIs, it streamlines the process and frees up resources for more complex tasks. Like the other technologies, machine-to-machine interactions are most beneficial to certain industries.
One example of machine-to-machine interactions widely used today is shipping. This is a process that has become completely digital for many companies. A company can order goods, and a carrier like DHL ships the package and provides tracking information that is automatically shared throughout a packages journey thanks to automated barcode scanning machines. Once the company receives the goods, they can automatically process the packages without requiring an employee to review the shipment, because they trust the machine-to-machine reports that signal all packages have arrived. Three companies have interacted via API only.
While the shipping example is already widely implemented, there are other machine-to-machine scenarios that companies can utilize. Anytime machines can be connected using the API economy or IoT devices, processes can be sped up and simplified. Human error becomes a thing of the past and the labor force is freed up to complete more complex tasks.
Some considerations when implementing M2M in your business include using Swagger or the Open API Initiative format to share your API. You should certainly implement basic monitoring and analysis to ensure these API’s are being used as intended and not abused.
Another new technology which can be highly beneficial is using a centralized blockchain log for machine-to-machine processes that require external auditing. This means that all parties can download the log and ensure transactions are unaltered, which is a great way to provide for transparency for automated trading or bidding interactions.
Overall, there is a great opportunity for companies to digitally transform using technologies like AR/VR, digital agents and machine-to-machine interaction. With so many new technologies, it can be difficult for companies to determine which are worth the investment and which to pass up. The main consideration to account for are if the use cases for a technology make sense for the company and if the technology is being used successfully by others in the industry already.