From cloud computing and blockchain to machine learning and the metaverse, sifting through shiny new tech toys is a time-consuming business. How do you decide if an emerging technology is a ‘must have’ for your organisation, and are there benefits to being an early adopter?
Migrating to the cloud took centre stage in the pandemic. For Sue Daley, director for technology and innovation at the trade association techUK, the potential benefits in scalability and agility make it the undisputed building block of any tech transformation.
“Cloud computing is the digital foundation which allows all other techs to converge and, in our view, moving your valuable assets over to the internet should be your number one priority going forward, whatever the size and nature of your business,” Daley says.
When it comes to investigating the plethora of new digital innovations to use in the cloud, it’s important you don’t allow clever new gizmos to become a distraction.
“However appealing the product or service, make sure you know how it will achieve your objectives and fit in with your existing tech infrastructure, because otherwise you may be wasting your money,” Daley adds.
Better use of data and data analytics software is a crucial issue across all industries. It could be well worth investigating edge computing: the ability to capture, store, process and analyse data locally or at the ‘edge’ of the network, rather than at a remote data centre.
It’s highly likely that 5G, biometrics, machine learning and all the other digital tech being created and refined today will eventually be highly relevant for businesses. In the short term, however, investing in a system such as the internet of things (IoT) – the term used for physical devices which connect via the web – may not offer any specific commercial advantages, unless it can be combined with something a business already uses, such as 3D printing.
The much-hyped metaverse – which enables businesses to offer new services or digital equivalents of their physical products – offers a tantalising glimpse of our tech future. For now, however, many businesses are hampered by issues as fundamental as poor mobile connectivity.
For these organisations, getting the basics right is far more important than investing in advanced fingerprint mapping or augmented reality, says Martin McTague, national chairperson of the Federation of Small Businesses.
“One in three small businesses receive download speeds of less than 10 megabits per second and close to half are affected by poor mobile connectivity,” he says. “With the cost of doing business soaring, small businesses should look closely at where new tech can add meaningful value, rather than trying to stay ahead of the curve for the sake of it. There’s no use trying to run before you can walk.”
When it comes to innovations like blockchain, a digital ledger system initially used for cryptocurrency transactions, businesses should look closely at the costs and benefits and be certain that any investment will add value in the short term.
Security must always be a top concern, with the majority of SMEs now viewing ransomware and cyber attacks as an ever-present threat.
“When widening their use of tech, it’s vital that small firms ensure that staff can work safely from home without the threat of network breaches and ensure their customers can receive goods and services remotely without being compromised,” says McTague.
People, processes, technology
With adequate preparation and repeated testing, organisations which opt to trial an emerging new tech at an early stage in the lifecycle can gain a competitive advantage as and when the tech matures.
However, before embarking on a trial it is important to appraise the business’s current skills level and processes. Where possible, organisations should identify an individual or team with the knowledge to guide it through.
Ensuring that the tech will be welcomed by your staff and not resented is another vital part of the preparation stage.
“Being an early adopter can give you knowledge and understanding and if you are satisfied that you have the resources to successfully steer it through a trial, it’s probably worth going ahead,” says Daley. “In order to give the tech a fair chance though, you need to have your data in an appropriate format and a digital framework which can support the newcomer tech and demonstrate its ability to increase efficiency and improve the lives of your staff.”
As world-class innovators such as Tesla founder Elon Musk have amply demonstrated, an early presence in a market attracts the loyalty of customers and employees and garners great publicity. However, the risks of being an early adopter are equally clear. As tech becomes more complex, the dangers of reputational damage caused by gremlins in the machine becomes more likely. The PR enjoyed by a pioneer may quickly turn sour if early users have a negative experience.
“With more users, data, and connections the risk of cyber attacks increases. And as technologies develop, early mover advantage can quickly become a disadvantage when later movers produce new, improved versions of the original product,” says Stephan Hartgers, vice president of digital strategy at the tech consultancy Mobiquity Europe.
Businesses that come late to a technology can also reap the benefits of lower prices once the early glitches have been ironed out, usually at great cost to the early birds.
An organisation’s overall risk appetite and digital maturity should help dictate whether being an early adopter is a smart move. However, punitive barriers to late adoption and internal resistance to change are equally important.
For Hartgers, transforming a negative, technophobe culture into a more positive and pioneering one may be the most vital step of all in effecting a digital transformation.