In the modern business era, technology that was once the stuff of science fiction (hello robots) is now a reality – or, at the very least, a near-future prospect – with massive benefits for organisations that leverage it. It makes one wonder… what will be the next big game changer in business technology?
That’s the question we put to more than 20 entrepreneurs and industry experts, this week, for our exclusive “Let’s Talk…” feature centering on disruption.
This week’s line-up considered the productivity gains and other advantages that businesses could derive from future applications of blockchain, AI, machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT) and automation technologies. One commentator noted that the real game changer won’t be technology, it will be a shift in attitudes towards technology, while another noted their technology agenda is dictated by changing consumer behaviours. One commentator speculated that technology could even render CEOs obsolete; however, another issued a warning that technologies such as automation must complement – not replace entirely – the human elements of a business.
Read on for insights, advice and musings from this week’s “Let’s Talk…” line-up…
What will be next big game changer in business tech?
Greg Taylor, Group VP (APAC), New Relic: Blockchain technology will become an important part of business due to its ability to address many issues facing companies today: cybersecurity, cost-cutting, and due diligence. The efficiency, security, and versatility of blockchain has the potential to optimise the work of entrepreneurs, managers, and marketers worldwide.
It has been fascinating to watch the application of blockchain in Bitcoin. Touted as the currency of the future, if Bitcoin becomes a widely used currency in the business world, it could offer the possibility of taking out the middleman, streamlining processes, and establishing trust. This could also lead to new business models and a lower barrier of entry for accessing capital.
The combination of big data and blockchain represents a huge opportunity for the business community. Organisations can have access to even larger amounts of information to analyse in the future, which will prompt more ways for people to solve business problems.
As more businesses enhance their internal infrastructure with blockchain technology, it will bring more transparency within the business community, and increasing the level of trust and business confidence.
Simran Gambhir, Founder, Ganemo Group: We see two technologies as bringing about the most disruption…
- Blockchain and transparency – transparency through the blockchain will cause a lot of disruption. For example, the coffee you buy says it has come from Fairtrade, but how do you know? Currently you have to have faith as there is no authenticity to look up a chain of events. Blockchain creates a lot of irreversible signing of data as it progresses along a process chain, which cannot be meddled with or reversed. Businesses won’t be able to fake it anymore.
- RPA (Robotic process automation) – automation/RPA is already happening, but it’s going to cause far more disruption – nobody will be spared. Look at the Tesla factory: wherever there is a repetitive task, humans will not be needed. As a local example, Optus is doing RPA work, e.g. you put in an order for a mobile phone, RPA is now doing all the steps, resulting in changes to jobs that they need fulfilled.
Mark Fletcher, CEO, Cohort Go: The proliferation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised to provide a unique opportunity for businesses to delve further into data to understand, communicate and deliver drastically enhanced customer experiences.
With increasingly sophisticated AI, big data analytics will become much easier, democratising the practice of analytics related to the customer for anyone within the organisation. Businesses will be increasingly able to understand what their customers want in real-time and respond appropriately. A growing number of customer requests will be able to be resolved with minimal human intervention while still ensuring they get a swift, consistent and personal service.
As AI continues to evolve, consumer expectations will rise accordingly. Big global companies are already investing in their own AI technology to gain better insights from user data to help improve their customer experience offering as well as ramp up revenue.
The emergence of autonomous vehicles and drones will also completely transform the customer and retail experience, with the likes of Amazon and Dominos already looking to drones for deliveries. This new technology will solve some of the main issues faced by the retail world today, including speed of deliveries and scale of distribution.
Michael Muehlheim, Senior Wealth Advisor, Macquarie Bank & Board Member, Heads Over Heels: Within my profession of private wealth management, disruption through the emergence of ‘Robo Advice’ is a huge opportunity. Robo Advice is financial advice or portfolio management provided online with less human intervention, where advice is based more on mathematical rules or algorithms based on unique data provided by the customer (financial position, goals, risk attitudes etc.) In our experience and from industry feedback, for some customers it could offer the complete solution, and for others where clients want a personal relationship, financial advisers may use Robo Advice technology as an enabler so they provide better advice. As far as what may be game changing in broader industry sectors, it’s hard to go past Machine Learning – the use of software to manipulate data using mathematical rules and algorithms to ensure a business better targets customers, improves processes and is the disruptor.
Stephanie Chung, Success Manager, Girl Geek Academy: The biggest game changer in business tech is intrapreneurship. More corporates are looking inward and want to invest in initiatives to support employee led-innovation. Forward-thinking businesses recognise that enabling all their staff to contribute in building products and technology creates better innovative solutions with real results rather than relying on segregated innovation hubs. Employees are the ones who know (more than anyone) what challenges are facing their customers and how operations could run smoother. We’re seeing an increase in corporate hackathons as a way to bring together employees and nurture intrapreneurship. We had three corporations, including Deloitte, submit teams into our recent #shehacks event and see there’s a definite growing trend. The opportunity to create clear outcomes through intrapreneurship is how corporates will retain the best talent and grow them to become leaders of innovation – that’s where our future is heading.
Mick Spencer, Founder & CEO, ONTHEGO: As automation becomes the norm in businesses across the globe, manpower and cost efficiencies increase… but at what cost? Manufacturers’ middlemen are being cut out, which makes sense, as this helps enable speedier production and delivery; vertically-integrated business models are becoming more and more attractive, controlling the supply chain from the first step to the last. This nimbleness to market has helped thousands of newer companies create high-growth opportunities as they are quicker to adapt than incumbents.
However, if you automate too much, this is where customers can lose out; fewer people on the front line can lead to lower customer happiness as the human element of the transaction disappears. In my mind, one big game changer will be technology that delivers personal, customer-focused experiences. It might be contextual AI (that’s integrated into the business) that truly understands your requirements and can help you write, think, or do, before the thought even enters your mind when you communicate to customers. It might also be an advanced system that fully integrates the customers’ lives into the business so you know how to speak to them, at what specific time period, through which specific medium, enabling the best potential experience. This is a combination of personalisation, technology, big data, and a customer-focused mentality.
Kelvin Kirk, Managing Director, Pureprofile: As the investment in data continues to rise (it is said 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in recent years and we are expecting an increase of 4,300 percent of yearly data production by 2020), we will begin to see businesses begin to use this in more meaningful and strategic ways. Already we’re seeing how data is forming the platform for machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – however, there are other ways companies are using data to maximise its return. This includes organising data to enable more targeted customer segmentation, and creating real-time, living dashboards that capture and graphically depict how their customers (and potential customers) are tracking across a range of indices. Moreover, as the consumer becomes more empowered and informed about the power of their data, technology will enable brands to have two-way conversations with customers to be able to market test ideas and get real world feedback. This will save business a lot of time and money in the future.
Tanya Titman, Founder, Acceler8 & Accountant: Artificial intelligence is the next game changer for small business. Low level, menial tasks are about to become redundant. In the accounting industry, we’ve seen the demise of basic data entry which is now done through cloud based accounting software like Xero. Robo advisors are disrupting the financial planning industry. Small business owners need to skill-up staff to deliver value-add tasks and enhance their communication skills. What technology can’t do is replace personal relationships. Future-focused businesses should be investing in building stronger relationships with their customers.
Mark Armstrong, Vice President & Managing Director, International Operations (APJ & EMEA), Progress: Businesses have never had access to as much data as they have today. But while data has been a massive game changer for some, the next big play will be figuring out how to harness data so that it’s actually delivering value to your business. One of the main barriers small and medium businesses are facing is the high cost of making sense of this data.
The good news is that companies don’t need to hire an army of data scientists to do that. They need to invest in cognitive computing capabilities, which are self-learning systems that empower machines to learn and think as a human would. Without them, Artificial Intelligence and automation technologies wouldn’t exist. Cognitive capabilities can be used for automating processes, improving productivity, personalising your offerings to customers, or finding new sources of revenue.
These capabilities, as well as ensuring you build a cognitive-first mindset, are what will set you apart, and see you compete and grow in the data revolution.
Sreelesh Pillai, General Manager, Freshworks Australia: Today, digital transformation is not just about ‘going paperless’. Businesses now need to cater to the consumer who’s best friend is the mobile device. The always-online consumer and their influence on social media, online reviews and word-of-mouth has increased the accountability for businesses of all sizes to deliver consistent, high-quality customer service. This places an increased demand on a company’s time and resources.
Customer conversations are moving to a more familiar experience – that of modern messaging – which is not too different from the experience offered by Whatsapp or iMessage. Whether it’s on a mobile app or website, customers expect to engage at their convenience, and be notified of responses on the go.
New messaging experiences are becoming the preferred way for customers to engage with businesses, rather than waiting for a phone call or writing an email. Companies need to embrace AI and chatbot engagement to deliver quick, consistent, and high-quality support, in order to transform customer interaction and build strong brand relationships.
Tony Wu, Co-Founder, Weploy: It’s definitely automation. While not a futuristic concept, it’s a big thing that’s happening now at personal, commercial, and industrial levels. Automation of tasks is allowing us to be smarter in what we do and through that, new ideas are going to be created and the questions that we never had time to ask ourselves, we’ll now have more free time to start to solve.
One of the few things in life that you can’t scale is time. You can’t create more time in a day so you need to be more efficient. As Elon Musk once noted, so many people are bogged down in everyday small problems (which take up a chunk of our day and our effort). If we can automate the tedious things that we need to do daily, we can free up time and mind capacity to solve larger problems to help move our industry forward.
Joel Macdonald, CEO, GetSwift: At GetSwift, we don’t completely focus on what could change in the next 5-10 years in tech or our industry. That is much harder to predict compared to simply asking ourselves what we know certainly won’t change.
What we do know is that customers will always want faster delivery speeds, customers will always want cheaper prices, customers will always want more convenience…based on those predictions we then direct our focus, energy and efforts into those areas.
Deliveries will eventually fit right in and around our lifestyles compared to us right now still having to fit in and around delivery wait times. Requesting a delivery to your exact lat/long geolocation on earth within 15 mins will surely become a reality e.g. Mother has run out of nappies, sitting in a cafe and needs instant drone delivery
We’re already starting to see this shift, with some companies offering real-time tracking and text alerts, but there’s still a long way to go.
Jeff McAlister, CEO, Trybooking: Automation is the next biggest shift in business technology. No matter what industry you’re in, there is some element of it that can be automated. Even Alibaba’s CEO, Jack Ma, said that one day, the CEO role could be replaced by AI.
A good example of this in everyday society is the in-store self-checkout kiosks. It’s streamlined the buying process for customers, saving time and removing queues. It’s also allowed stores to increase store efficiency by redistributing displaced staff to include customer-facing ones (to increase customer happiness, e.g. Officeworks and its store greeters answering customer questions and directing them throughout the store), no AI or robot can do this better than a human.
In the ticketing industry, where we operate in, we know customers have a high dissatisfaction of lining up to buy tickets or get scanned into venues. Attendee drop-offs can be very high if people see large queues at the venue. We’re working on several initiatives to solve this pain for our customers and the industry.
Automation is already here and businesses should prepare and embrace it. However, business owners need to have a mindset of having automation complementing the business’ existing service. They should only automate inefficient and repetitive tasks while retaining the human elements of the business.
Adam Schultz, GM & VP Business Development (Australia), Buddy Platform: The internet of things (IoT) is not a buzzword – it’s a new evolution of technology that will enable the deployment of massive numbers of highly distributed, connected devices and sensors. Businesses will be able to measure and monitor a vast array of performance metrics in real time. In doing this, IT becomes “unbound” – it’s no longer confined to a room or datacentre, it’s now everywhere it needs to be.
The IoT class of technology, because of its highly specialised nature and rapid evolution, will extend itself to being provided as a service. These IoT services will be able to alert and correct many issues that previously would have gone unnoticed or only become visible once they have created a major issue.
A great example of this is in energy use. Businesses in Australia and around the world struggle with rising energy costs – but affordable IoT based services (like what we offer) can help manage this. By monitoring usage patterns and adjusting appropriately, energy will only be used where its needed. As the saying goes, the cheapest and greenest energy is the energy you don’t use. Businesses around the world have an amazing opportunity to optimise their energy resources – but that’s only the tip of the iceberg that IoT optimisation will bring.
Itay Glick, CEO, Votiro: “More often than not, the real game changer in business technology isn’t the technology itself, it’s the attitudes towards it.
We work in cybersecurity. Despite constant news coverage of cyberattacks making 2017 the year of ransomware, business is still chronically underinvesting in prevention.
But those perceptions are starting to change. Executives are increasingly aware of the average cost of a cyberattack to an Australian business is $400,000. That kind of awareness is making it easier for decision makers to change their attitudes and act.
Peter Hawkins, Director of Solutions & Industry, Ajilon Australia: There are Several tech game changers on the horizon of mainstream adoption that are set to have a huge impact to business. When we talk about the next big game changer in business tech, the answer will differ across industries. For example, in the land titling and registry sector, the digital land registry is a significant development that is providing powerful benefits across the ecosystem. In mining and other asset intensive industries business analytics platforms are making waves across the sector, offering efficiencies that’s never been seen before.
If we’re looking at a blanket disruptor in business tech, my prediction is intelligence will be a huge game changer in the next few years. This encompasses AI, intelligent applications and analytics, as well as ‘intelligent things’ – that is devices with smart capabilities, such as driverless dump trucks on a mine.
Companies that can effectively leverage and combine these elements of intelligence to solve business problems will most certainly lead the way in the future.
Craig Pendleton-Browne, CTO, OFX: In the era of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, big data and mobile, the next game changer lies in expanding an Agile approach from tech across all business areas, to drive scaled improvements in delivery.
Agile offers a seamless ability to pivot, to approach and solve problems as they occur. It also allows continual assessment and improvement, easy process adaptation, collaboration with team members and a relentless focus on the customer.
Agile is both an offensive and defensive strategy against competitors, as it speeds up the delivery timeframes for new products, services and projects.
Through our adoption of Agile practices, we’ve been able to launch an online seller platform in just a few weeks from initial conception, as well as 50 new website features. That’s all within the last financial year. Through success in tech, we’re now seeing agile adopted by the operations, marketing and sales teams at OFX.
Sam Riley, Co-founder & CEO, Ansarada: AI and machine learning put an end to the age of intuition. Businesses have the technology to radically transform productivity and efficiency by reinventing processes and reforming the advisory supply chain. Ready businesses are going to have an incredible competitive edge over the unprepared.
Over the last decade, I’ve encountered businesses of all shapes and sizes undergoing material events, from M&A to capital raising, and discovering their business is not prepared to deliver the outcome. It’s a cliche, but it’s true – you won’t win a marathon by starting training on the day of the event. The next big game changer in business tech will be platforms that draw on insights from hundreds of thousands of business transactions and sources to ‘automagically’ illuminate a clear path to business readiness and success. The days of not knowing, not being ready for what’s next, are at an end.
Matt Pike, Client Lead, Atomic 212° Group: While mobile device cameras may at face value sound like a novelty item to add to a device, they actually have the potential to unleash infinite opportunities for businesses. Firstly, they can be used to enhance security features on the devices themselves – using whole face recognition rather than a fingerprint or retina. Secondly, and more interesting for advertisers, this also means that companies know, to a higher certainty, who is using the device (and their gender and age, and even the mood they are in) and can therefore orchestrate the experience (& advertising) they get on that device accordingly.
Interestingly, they can also be used in conjunction with AR to virtually put your product in a user’s world. For example, a furniture company giving a user the ability to see what couch would look best in their home – and actually having it fit into the space available rather than making the user have to find that one place where the scale of the item fits the scale of the room. It could also be used by a clothing company to show what a user would look like in their latest range of outfits – pretty much turning the phone into a virtual changing room. This type of immersion allows brands to break down the barriers of the fourth wall and overcome a lack of physical product when trying to lure consumers into a purchase.
Trent Innes, Managing Director of Xero: Cloud technology changed the way small businesses can access technology, innovation and digital connectivity. The next big game changer will be the way the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is used to automate repetitive tasks and highlight insights quicker to provide better control of their businesses.
Many people have already see elements of AI, and its close relation, machine learning, in their daily life. Siri, Google and Slack are good examples of ‘digital personal assistants’, which provide personalised services based on attributes they’ve learned about a person.
Now, it’s also beginning to help small businesses in more practical ways. Consider tasks like bank reconciliation: systems can learn how to completely automate this infuriating job, freeing up small business owner’s time.
In the coming years, we’re going to continue to see more tedious tasks like this become automated, giving time back to businesses and helping eliminate the errors that humans can so easily make.
Ashik Ahmed, CEO/CTO & co-founder, Deputy: Many are looking for the ‘killer gadget’ to deliver a major change to business, but the next big game changer isn’t going to be a smartphone or AR glasses. Instead, it’s more likely to be the rapid increase we’re seeing in the rate of automation of traditionally manual business processes, facilitated by improved machine learning capabilities and the growth in big data.
The trend is already here. We have seen traditional servers replaced by cloud platforms that rapidly increase access and speed of data. As this data becomes more shareable and accessible, machine intelligence expands dramatically, allowing businesses to gain new insights, and automate previously manual processes and decision making, that enhance the consumer experience.
Thanks to big data drawn from devices in the Internet of Things, and machine learning accessible to all, a five-person job suddenly becomes a ‘humanless’ transaction. This, coupled with the increase in traditionally offline or siloed devices coming online and integrating into a single platform for data analysis, provides endless possibilities for businesses to automate processes.
Rafael Niesten, Co-founder, Bricks + Agent: Bots powered by AI and Machine Learning. Bots can be programmed with basic information and responses, they can learn and they can also process data and information in very specific ways. Bots will essentially take a vast array of jobs as they are 24/7 and require no downtime. They can be trained to complete a variety of tasks and learn automatically based on the initial input from the programmers. Each question and response is learnt from and the knowledge can be shared amongst other bots and can be used to create business intelligence, which can further hone these skills.
Neil Joseph, CEO, Mobecom: There are so many new ideas coming into the tech market that it can be hard to predict where businesses will go in the future. But what we have already noticed is changing the way businesses use tech is how they operate their loyalty rewards programs.
Smartphones have provided consumers with more and more access to information that they haven’t had before, and with the advance of convenient mobile payment options (such as mobile wallets and even wearables), it’s becoming more apparent that customers want more simplicity and convenience. Particularly when it comes to millennials, who want instant gratification, want to be recognised as individual customers, and desire greater flexibility when it comes to the earning and redeeming of rewards. By 2020, nearly half of the US. workforce alone will comprise millennials. And their love of technology will continue to define who they are as well as their purchase decisions.
With this as a framework, a differentiated technology platform for loyalty rewards will be a requirement, rather than simply a nice platform to have. Cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies are already becoming the way of the future, but what we’ll see as a game changer in this space is cryptocurrencies that offer more than just dollar values. The dynamics of the loyalty switch will disrupt the market and provide a scaleable solution to liquify rewards, appealing both to the needs to the millennial as well as businesses who are sitting with loyalty liability. Loyalty programs that allow you to not only redeem points for rewards but also redeem points for dollars will become the way of the future.
About “Let’s Talk…”
This exciting new, weekly initiative provides entrepreneurs and industry experts with a forum to share rapid-fire views on a range of issues that matter to start-ups and SMEs. Every Wednesday, we pose a themed question to a line-up of knowledgable industry figures, with a view to picking their brains for valuable insights to share with you, our readers.