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REVIEW 2015

Industry gears up for tech's era of democratisation

Businesses not plugged into technology's network are left by the wayside, say company leaders and analysts

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Analysts say in 2016 and beyond, wearable devices will offer a wide range of new opportunities to engage customers and employees, and will create innovative experiences and digital business offerings. But they add wearables will be far more than just smartwatches.

Singapore

AS we pass the halfway mark of the second decade of the new millennium, all organisations, big and small, are grappling with the fact that technology has become the central nervous system of global commerce and communication. Any organisation which is not plugged into this network is brutally left by the wayside. This applied to every company, irrespective of the industry or size, throughout 2015 and would do so for the foreseeable future, according to a slew of company leaders and analysts that The Business Times talked to.

Ajay Advani, a director at Autodesk, which makes design software used in multiple industries, notes that as 2015 ends, every industry is facing disruption and a degree of democratisation. Explaining the "democratisation", Mr Advani adds: "The confluence of hardware, software and materials - with innovation in all three areas happening simultaneously - along with the connectedness of people, changes the rules of the game. Now anybody can take down a titan."

Simon Tate, who is Salesforce's area VP for commercial business - Asia, agrees. He observes that the new year looks set to be one of change, not just in the technology sector but in every industry, with technology embedded in everything we do. Salesforce is one of the world's top cloud computing companies.

"The rise of mobile and social technologies has made end-users more empowered and knowledgeable than ever before. At the same time, organisations of all sizes can leverage the cloud to make faster, more efficient software changes; use social media to connect with customers; deploy predictive analytics to determine what their customers will want and connect and control devices via a central point with the Internet of Things (IoT)," he adds.

Sam Liew, managing director and Asean technology lead at Accenture, a leading global professional services company, observes that we are likely to witness four key technology trends:

  • Increased automation via artificial intelligence (AI), which will help to drive innovation in our daily lives and platforms will start to become "more intelligent";
  • integrated technology platform ecosystems, as the lines between (different) technology platforms blur even further with overlaps between domains;
  • gamification (which is the the application of typical elements of "game playing" in areas such as online marketing) and digital behaviour-shaping tools that engage employees, helping them track progress towards objectives, build new skills and create a portfolio of achievements; and
  • a "liquid" workforce (which is using freelancers, often crowdsourcing for skills, instead of hiring regular full-time employees), which aims to bring together social networks and online portal extensions.

Mr Liew adds that a good example of disruptive technology that is changing the way organisations think and to stay relevant and agile is the "As-a-Service" model.

Accenture research has shown that the "As-a-Service" model offers numerous advantages, including the use of plug-in, scalable, consumption-based services supported by analytics, cloud and automation.

That said, organisations need to be bold in experimenting and implementing new technologies, adds Mr Liew. Organisations need to be more agile and flexible in order for them to adapt new disruptive technologies; it is also critical to learn from mistakes when implementing new technologies, and continue finetuning processes and structures, says Mr Liew.

Salesforce's Mr Tate observes that in order to overcome the challenges of increased competition, companies need to invest in creating personalised customer journeys derived through customer insights, and the answer to this can be found through relationship intelligence.

Relationship intelligence, which refers to information that salespeople and other stakeholders can garner about the history of their company's relationship with a prospective customer, has become a trend among progressive companies in 2015 and will become a significant sales tool in 2016 and beyond.

Mr Tate adds that in 2015, consumers connect with brands through a myriad of ways - be it in store, forums, or on social media, through both official and unofficial channels. Every single brand touch point that the consumer encounters plays a role in shaping their perception of the brand in their decision-making process. As the number of touch points increases and consumer expectations rise, brands often find themselves stretched to fulfil multiple requests concurrently.

"In 2016 those businesses that are able to meet the customer in all those places and exceed their expectations will be the companies that succeed.

"More than ever before, organisations of every size and industry are looking for solutions to transform how they work and engage with customers to drive growth. This year (2015) may have been the year of buzzwords like IoT and wearables - but 2016 looks set to be the year when the discussion moves towards transformational technologies centred on the customer," he adds.

Adding to Mr Tate's observation, Rick Scurfield, the Apac president of data management and cloud solutions provider NetApp, says that 2015 saw a significant increase in the adoption of connected personal devices such as smartphones and "wearables". Fitness monitoring, automotive safety, holiday planning and even lower insurance rates are some of the convenient features that people are anticipating from IoT which is makes the "wearables" ecosystem work. Businesses are using these new technologies to deliver new experiences and value-add offers to customers.

"As the amount and complexity of data that's available at our fingertips grows through IoT's implementation, it becomes important to find a better way to store, manage and retrieve data. IoT is, in effect, artificial intelligence with data as the cardiovascular system that keeps it alive. Therefore, organisations are looking at how they leverage and maximise advancing technologies which help to manage data to become more agile and responsive," Mr Scurfield adds.

Analysts observe that "wearables" became mainstream in 2015, thanks to devices such as the Apple Watch. In 2016 and beyond, wearable devices will offer a wide range of new opportunities to engage customers and employees and will create innovative experiences and digital business offerings, but wearables will be far more than just smartwatches. "The wearable market will evolve very rapidly; organisations developing applications involving wearables must be extremely agile and flexible," says Gartner Research's principle research analyst, Adrian Leow.

Researchers and product developers are working on a vast range of new wearable devices, such as the smart fingernail, the wearable "selfie drone", smart contact lenses, and subcutaneous sensors.

"In the longer term, some wearables will evolve from passive sensing and display functions to more active roles such as sartorial robotics. We also expect wearable technologies to evolve rapidly to enable new types of wearables and deliver improved features in established categories such as smartwatches. Areas of technology evolution include touch-sensitive fabrics, new types of screen technologies, improved batteries and printable electronics," Mr Leow observes.

The Gartner analyst adds that in 2016, the number of enterprise mobile apps will rise dramatically. Those organisations with a clear vision for the digital workplace and a robust mobile strategy will thrive, and those without will struggle.

"Mounting evidence shows how mobile technologies are becoming increasingly ingrained in people's lives and changing human behaviour; this mobile-first expectation will expose lagging organisations . . . the mobile experience - not just functional utility alone - will drive mobile value.

"Consumers make mobility-related decisions in a split second, based on the appeal of an icon, screenshots or a half-star-higher rating; mobile offerings with superior user experiences rise to the top," he adds.

Ryan Goh, VP and GM of Zebra Technologies, a major IoT player, adds that his company is anticipating that Wi-Fi will be one of the most important technologies enabling IoT implementations, as businesses experience greater pressure on their systems due to new devices and services coming online.

A powerful, secure wireless infrastructure will be the basis for seamless connectivity, and the glue that brings together the power of IoT-enabled devices for seamless, simplified operations for the enterprises.

"As Singapore evolves in its Smart Nation journey, organisations will increasingly seek to gain a good handle and full picture of their business operations.

"Having a holistic strategy would enable them to make the most out of their assets and intelligence, so that they can go beyond data capture, to sense, analyse and act on data. 2016 will be an exciting time for our industry to seize opportunities in an IoT-ready landscape," Mr Goh adds.