Digital transformation, a marketing buzzword in recent years, has morphed from a gimmick into a central component of modern business strategy and a means of gaining competitive advantage. Recent research by Forbes revealed that while only 44 per cent of companies see themselves as being advanced in data and analytics, over 90 per cent of those surveyed have already seen revenue increases due to its use.
Enterprises are finally beginning to understand that technology is just not a business enabler but the business itself. Along the same lines, digital transformation is not just about the technology, it is as much about the reshaping of how individuals work and the culture of the organisation themselves. As technologies keep evolving, it is essential for businesses to build capabilities to stay curious and have the courage to experiment and fail.
No doubt more technology will be adopted by businesses and consumers alike in the coming year, revolutionising the way tasks are carried out. In this context, enterprises need to rethink how they identify initiatives to enhance competitive position and consequently win in the marketplace. I believe that the following are the seven most underrated trends of 2017 that need to be on the radar of every digital leader and will facilitate this transformation:
Designed to collect and synthesise transactional, behavioural, location and other data from multiple sources. Data is not seen only as something to be protected, but also as source of competitive advantage to understand customer needs in a far better way. In addition to using data to understand consumer needs, companies are looking to approaches like big data and analytics to get real-time feedback and understand real customer needs and expectations to structure go-to-market initiatives. Data visualisation allows organisation make smarter business decisions and harnesses contextual data to trigger the next best action.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Machines are now able to process vast amounts of data in real time and solve problems on their own. This will eventually give organisations the ability to analyse complex data to predict outcomes, identify profitable opportunities and avoid risk, potentially without any human intervention. Smart virtual assistants, such as Cortana (Microsoft), Alexa (Amazon) and Siri (Apple) are already having an impact and introducing consumers to a form of AI that is at their fingertips. The further development of AI in the workplace is potentially a contentious issue, but also an enormous competitive differentiator in every market.
The rise of robots
Built initially for highly controlled environments, such as assembly lines, robots can now enter uncontrolled environments (such as highways) as a result of machine learning and cheaper computing power. Similar to AI, the increased use of robots has the potential to greatly improve productivity, improve safety and lower operational costs.
3D and 4D printing
Last year, Gartner predicted that it would take another five years for consumer 3D printing to really take off. However, it is already recognised as a game changer in the commercial world having proven itself as a practical option for applications ranging from rapid prototyping and sampling of consumer goods and electronics, to industrial applications. By reducing time-to-market and increasing return on investment, 3D printing has also enhanced growth through workstyle innovation in a number of sectors. Hot on the heels of 3D, developments in 4D printing will mean that objects can reshape themselves or even self-assemble.
Virtual and augmented reality
Innovations in displays and wireless bandwidth allowed VR and AR headsets went from fanciful to practical in 2016. This technology will only become more affordable and accessible in 2017. AR opens doors to remote support, customer service, training and collaboration, while VR creates even more opportunities in gaming and entertainment, plus immersive experiences in tourism, retail and hospitality.
Unlike 3D movies or AR/VR, where the brain is tricked into believing it can see three dimensions, new volumetric displays actually show three dimensional images. These displays hold huge potential for interpersonal communication (such as holoportation), medical imaging, mathematics, oil exploration, product design and more.
Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), almost every device in the home that uses electricity can be put on a network to communicate with each other – and with you. Recent CES shows have seen the launch of a plethora of in-home gadgets ranging from alarm clocks, refrigerators, washing machines, smoke alarms and even house-bound robots, all primed to make the home a smarter place. These innovations create opportunities for consumer manufacturers and service providers to transform the home, but they also pose a threat to traditional businesses that don’t keep up.
It is clear from the innovations mentioned above that digital transformation is no longer a buzzword, but a reality. However, for businesses to fully take advantage of its benefits, it needs to be understood that technology alone will not facilitate this revolution. People are equally significant contributors to the success of digital transformation, as long as they are encouraged to invest in the technology, it can be harnessed for the benefit of everyone.
Krishnakumar Natarajan is the co-founder and executive chairman at Mindtree.