2015 will be the year when forward-thinking businesses begin to use smart IT to their competitive advantage, according to Gartner’s annual Strategic Technology Trends report. The research predicts that across 2015 we’ll see small and medium sized organisations adopt cheaper and more reliable smart technologies. And with these they will redevelop, as well as create, products and services that will change how they work, and how they interact with their customers.
Gartner’s report is a broad-ranging assessment of the current state of business IT, with a healthy helping of practical prognostication on emerging technologies. So, using this report as a base, we’ve taken a look at what we feel are the main points for innovative business leaders to focus on in the coming year.
- Mobile will continue to fuel B2B and B2C services and interactions – but what we consider to be ‘mobile’ will expand in 2015.
- Internet of Things (IoT) - businesses will find practical and innovative uses for IoT, which if properly implemented, will bring unique competitive advantages.
- Smart Machines and Services will become more accessible, and with these companies will be able to identify new solutions and build additional economies into their businesses. This will be transformative for the companies that can leverage them.
- Context is key – each of these technologies – Mobile, IoT, and Smart Tech – will be most transformative when they can interact with their environment, and each other.
Mobile technologies will continue to create change across the entire business spectrum – but retailers and financial institutions will see the greatest disruption (and those willing to lead this disruption will benefit the most). Mobile payment methods, which in 2014 were somewhat fragmented, will settle, thanks to the likes of Apple Pay, Square, and MCX. While the epayments industry hasn’t yet fully settled we will at least see some industry leaders emerge.
Our understanding of what constitutes mobile technologies will significantly change in 2015. We will no longer focus on smartphones, but we will expand our understanding to include wearables and other portable internet-connected devices. We currently think of wearables as consumer devices, but many companies are discovering that bespoke wearables can provide them with rich qualitative and quantitative information on their company’s performance.
Example; Some leading retailers are using wearable technologies to monitor floor staffs’ efficiency. These systems can track staffs’ in-store location, speed, and dwell time – all of which can help find efficiencies in daily performance. But, with that said, companies need to balance employee privacy with compassionate and smart analysis.
When it comes to consumers, Mobile offers retailers opportunities and threats. With many consumers now showrooming (using their mobile devices to check prices in other stores) retailers, banks, and other companies that deal directly with consumers, must be competitive and must focus on the user experience. Consumers may be willing to spend a little more in one retailer if the digital payment journey is simpler and if there is a consistency of service and knowledge between online and offline interactions.
Gartner puts it this way, "Increasingly, it's the overall environment that will need to adapt to the requirements of the mobile user. This will continue to raise significant management challenges for IT organizations as they lose control of user endpoint devices. It will also require increased attention to user experience design."
Internet of Things
The hype-bubble around IoT still hasn’t burst, but throughout 2014 we’ve seen some significant developments in the technology. Commercial applications, which may benefit retailers, health organisations, manufacturing, and financial institutions have been proved – the challenge for 2015 is for companies in these industries to implement these emerging technology to their advantage.
Example: Working with MIT, the Louvre in Paris used bluetooth sensors (beacons) to anonymously track visitors as they progressed through the museum. Using these beacons, MIT and the Louvre discovered that when fewer rooms are open visitors tended to follow the same path, and dwell for similar lengths of time at certain pieces of art. But when more were open museum goers visited fewer rooms and did so in individualistic paths.
Technologies such as these allow retailers, manufacturers, and restaurants to better track the success of their shop-floor layouts and displays. Understanding how customers and staff interact with real environments will provide bricks and mortar establishments an ever greater understanding of customers’ shopping habits and preferences.
From 2015 we’ll see innovative retailers using IoT technologies to broadcast messages to customers’ phones as they pass by and enter establishments. Beacons and Google’s Physical Web technologies will allow high street establishments send offers, discounts, and promotions directly to customers’ devices. Retailers could even use IoT technologies to allow customers to purchase items in store, by scanning a tag, and then having it delivered to their home address. But before that happens we’ll more likely see IoT used to find economies in back-end tasks, like controlling and replenishing inventory, and tracking delivery items.
IoT will take its first major steps with smart city initiatives, where these sensors will track city-wide data, which when analysed, should help city managers find efficiencies in traffic, and resource management.
Smart Machines and Services
Gartner believes that “the smart machines era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT”. This may be true, but in 2015 we’ll only see the start of the smart machine era. By smart machines Gartner means any device or service that is aware of its context, and can make experienced-based decisions without the need for human involvement (e.g. self-driving cars). Nest, Google’s home thermostat, is an early example of this. Nest has the capacity to make educated guesses about your preferences based on your previous activities. This concept can be extended to other home appliances – such as ovens that recognise the food you’re cooking and alter temperature and other settings automatically.
For businesses, we’ll see security systems become the first to employ this machine-learning approach. We’ll see CCTV cameras that can recognise employees, or know when the store has been closed for the night become more common. Retailers will employ smart machines to welcome return visitors (e.g. as we’ve seen, by broadcasting a message to their phones); these systems could also be used to inform staff of regulars’ names, preferences, measurements.
Smart Machines will also find a place in medical care – where patients’ previous medical records will be used to inform current medication and treatments.
Context is key
Each of these technologies will provide the businesses that adopt them with an edge over their competitors, but those that combine these services will reap longer-term benefits. Smart retailers will combine user knowledge with learning machines to provide customers with better, more rewarding, experiences.
By removing barriers between services, physical locations, and technologies retailers can reduce wasteful costs while providing a better service to their customers. These technologies are already here, but they will only start transforming how businesses operate in the coming year.
The first-mover-advantage goes to the companies that are willing to invest the time in incorporating them into their business.
Links for this week cover the risks of smart cities, Spotify's visualisation of 2014 in music, and the phenomenal growth of podcasting.
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Illustration: Patrick Cusack