No matter where you are in the world, this time of year is always an opportunity to reflect back on the highs and lows the past year and use these learnings to look forward with fresh eyes into the future. This time around, I’ve had the benefit of leaning on the recent findings of our inaugural Cycle of Progress digital transformation benchmark study to see what 2019 might bring. This global survey examines global business leaders’ hopes and fears about emerging technologies, and reveals which technologies they are actively implementing to drive the digital transformation of their business – versus which ones are yet to live up to the hype.
We’ve seen several game-changing events within the technology industry in the last 12 months, such as the roll-out of GDPR across Europe in May and the crash in Bitcoin value, potentially signalling a bubble-bursting moment for cryptocurrencies. We’ve also seen the lines between technology, politics and society become increasingly tangled, exemplified in Facebook’s ongoing battles against fake news and the continuing fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
In spite of all this, the Cycle of Progress study shows that business leaders remain unwaveringly positive about the impact of technology innovation on their businesses and society as a whole.
Based on our findings, I see several technologies continuing to lead the way in 2019, namely Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain.
The evolution of IoT
More than half (53%) of Cycle of Progress respondents say that they have adopted IoT in some shape or form so far. Already well established in many businesses, IoT applications and services are leading the pack in having the greatest positive impact. It helps businesses gather and analyse real-time data to enable everything from improving the customer experience to streamlining supply chain operations. And the future looks bright, with 48% of decision makers seeing it as having the most significant impact, ranking above any other emerging technology in our study.
While IoT has been consistently on predictions lists in recent years, I see the technology being implemented in a more meaningful way now, as more interesting use cases arise across vertical sectors. I’m particularly excited to see how IoT can support sustainability projects such as creating new ways to battle food waste in the agricultural industry. I believe that IoT – supported by advanced connectivity solutions such as 5G and LoRaWAN – will continue to go from strength to strength especially in emerging markets such as India, where a staggering 69% of Cycle of Progress respondents reported to have adopted the technology.
AI goes mainstream
This brings us to another data-driven elephant in the room: AI and machine learning, which are increasingly being integrated into a variety of services, making the technology far more accessible and digestible than it was just a few years ago. From consumer applications like Alexa Skills, which has been implemented by organisations such as the Lancashire Police in the UK, to the built-in machine learning in the security solutions we use to keep our businesses safe from hackers.
At Tata Communications, we are using AI to sharpen our recruitment processes, for example. Previously, our hiring managers used to skim through job descriptions to shortlist candidates. Now, they save time and effort by using an AI-based automated tool that auto-matches a candidate with best-in-class individuals, with the latter acting as the benchmark.
According to the Cycle of Progress, AI has already been adopted by 46% of global businesses like ours in some way. What’s even more interesting is that – despite the scaremongering around the potential negative impact of AI on people and jobs – just 8% of business leaders who took part in our survey have no plans at all to start using AI. Furthermore, 43% of decision makers see AI as having a positive impact, and only 3% of business leaders think that it will have a negative impact. So, it seems that the fear of sentient robots has abated for now!
Blockchain finds a new lease of life
Perhaps one of the most hyped new technologies of the digital era is blockchain. Shared ledgers like blockchain have the potential to enhance security while also boosting efficiency and speed. Yet, up until recently most people have tended to associate the technology exclusively with cryptocurrencies, which are currently moving from peak to trough – exemplified by the current fluctuations in Bitcoin. However, the potential of blockchain goes way beyond crypto currency, and our survey shows a global implementation rate of 44%.
While the outlook for digital transformation in the coming year is positive, implementing new technologies like blockchain is not without its challenges. In fact, business leaders cited cost as the biggest barrier to integrating new innovations, while security and privacy were also highlighted as major challenges. There is also significant concern over the ever-growing skills gap, with 30% of decision makers stating that the lack of the right skills in their workforce is preventing them from adopting the latest technologies.
A constant cycle
So, what does our study tell us about the way ahead for global businesses’ digital transformation?
It seems that ‘digital transformation’ has become such a widely used term and much-hyped concept – it can be easy to forget what it actually means. I like to think of it as a constant cycle of progress. Businesses use the latest technology advancements to thrive and survive in this constantly evolving environment, often dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
To make a real difference to the bottom line, technology-enabled business transformation must have speed, scope and impact. And, as transformation gains momentum in businesses, new possibilities present themselves. For example, the successful use of AI-enabled tools in customer service can inspire a business to extend the use of AI to increase efficiencies in internal collaboration through more automated processes that shift administrative tasks from humans to machines. So, finally, empowered by transformation like this, businesses aspire to evolve further, completing the cycle and starting it all over again.
While our study shows that there is more work to be done to enable organisations to maximise the potential of the latest technologies, the future is bright. Next-generation innovations like IoT, AI and blockchain are set to have a huge impact in 2019 and beyond, with businesses aspiring to harness these technologies to evolve constantly and gain a competitive edge in the digital economy.
Read more about the findings of Cycle of Progress here.