C-levels, heads-of, managers, supervisors and team leaders play a crucial role in fostering a culture of digital transformation within their organisations.
As adoption of technology increasingly drives innovation and growth, senior staff must take responsibility in three important ways:
Strategic: Ensure that new technology is adopted and incorporated in alignment with the business goals of their organisation, department or team. Will it provide tangible benefits and not just be a box-ticking exercise?
Enablement: Scan the horizon for emerging tools, applications, models and methodologies that will make their teams more efficient, effective and productive and make sure that the necessary skills and infrastructure are in place.
Change management: Implement new technologies in a secure, sustainable and ethical way. This includes developing awareness of every implication of a new technology deployment, from security challenges to ethical implications and the effect it will have on human jobs and organisational culture.
With this in mind, here are 10 of the most important technology trends that every boss or manager should be aware of today.
I have specifically picked technologies that I believe will have applications for just the widest range of organisations in the near future. This means that I’ve omitted a few trends that, while important, may not be a priority for everyone right away. Some examples here are Web3, 3D-printing and quantum computing. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be on your radar – but these are the 10 that I believe are likely to be universally important, no matter what industry you’re in.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the hot tech trend of the moment, but it’s no fad. Over the next 10 years, it will bring many changes to the way we work and do business. Machine learning (ML) is the technical name for the AI used in business today. Essentially, it refers to computer algorithms that become better at tasks as they are exposed to more data. This is as opposed to traditional algorithms, programmed by a human to work in a prescribed way. AI is the engine of digital transformation, powering many innovations including computer vision (machines that see), natural language processing (machines that understand human language), predictive analytics and automation.
The hot topic right now is generative AI. These are applications that can take a simple text prompt and create text or images in ways that appear uncannily human. Other forms of generative AI are appearing that can create music, video, and design blueprints for physical products (a process known as generative design.)
As business and society become increasingly digital, an awareness of cybersecurity has become essential for anyone with responsibility for management or oversight. Across all industries, the cost of cybercrime is predicted to reach $8tn (around £6.3tn) by the end of this year and grow to $10tn in 2025. So, if you have budgets to think about, it’s essential to ensure they aren’t eaten into by ransomware attacks, phishers, downtime and fines for data breaches. This doesn’t necessarily just mean a focus on technical skills, as many attacks and threats use social engineering to trick users of a system into giving access to intruders. Understanding and taking steps to protect organisations, departments and teams from these methods are critical managerial responsibilities today.
The Internet of Things and smart devices
In the old days, the internet was a network of connected computers. When phones became smartphones, they joined the party – and today every type of device, from heavy industrial machinery to cars and kitchen appliances, is connected and talking to each other, generating a constant stream of data. Welcome to the age of the Internet of “things” (IoT). The IoT is made up of smart devices and wearables and covers the network infrastructure from the cloud (remote data centres) to the “edge” devices that analyse and process data at the point it is generated. The stream of data created by this network can inform decision-making, power automation and produce a wealth of predictive insights, making it an important technology trend for managers to be aware of.
Synthetic data refers to any data that’s artificially created rather than being collected from the real world. It’s important because it can be used for testing, training (of humans or machines) and simulation, as well as in various customer-facing functions like marketing. Generally, it’s created by algorithms, perhaps AI or ML, that are trained on real-world data and are therefore able to create their own data that mimics it. Crucially, though, it’s free of privacy or regulatory constraints. This allows businesses, particularly in regulated industries like healthcare or financial services, to test systems and processes with fewer ethical or legal risks. Synthetic customer behavioural data can be used to model the results of marketing initiatives. This might involve monitoring the impact on response rates or other metrics that can be achieved by adjusting frequency of emails, tone of language and style of images used. Synthetic data increasingly has a myriad of uses, and looking for potential use cases should be a priority for today’s decision-makers.
Remote collaboration and teamworking
The Covid-19 pandemic shook up the world of work in many ways, but among the most impactful was the large-scale shift to working from home and remote working. While many companies are gradually returning to on-premises operations, the benefits of flexible working arrangements have become apparent, with workers enjoying an improved work/life balance and businesses finding it an advantage in being less restricted by geography to source and recruit talent. Technology solutions to facilitate remote working and collaboration can often allow even smaller organisations to become more global in their reach and scale. And asynchronous working solutions reduce the need for teams to coordinate in-person, all-hands meetings around client work. This means that understanding the tools and platforms that facilitate these new paradigms should be a priority for managers and supervisors involved in global business.
Many organisations have set ambitious targets on their journey to cutting carbon emissions. The truth is, this isn’t just good for the planet and a necessity for the future of humans. Research indicates that implementing sustainable solutions and adopting green policies leads to faster growth and more profitable business. For example, Walmart has committed to doubling the energy efficiency of its truck fleet by 2025, and forecasts that this will save it $1bn annually. Other benefits are accrued through increased customer loyalty, as research consistently shows that consumers are drawn to businesses that operate sustainably and in an environmentally friendly way. Technological approaches to sustainability can include leveraging AI and advanced analytics to drive efficiencies and reduce costs, as well as the development of clean energy sources such as renewables and green hydrogen.
Robots and co-bots
Robots have been in workplaces since the middle of the last century, most prominently in manufacturing. But advances in robotics as well as AI mean they are increasingly useful across industries that include agriculture, retail logistics and healthcare. The emergence of a new class of robots designed to safely work alongside humans in industrial and office environments has given rise to the term “co-bots” – collaborative robots. Robots-as-a-service providers are lowering the barriers to entry, with companies able to hire sophisticated machines on a subscription basis. An awareness of how this technology could help solve challenges within organisations is certain to be a valuable trait in business leaders in 2023 and beyond.
VR, AR the metaverse and the experiential web
I’ve grouped these because they are closely related, although none of them are synonyms and all can exist quite happily without the others. However, it’s in the convergence of these technologies and concepts that real value is likely to emerge. I am not a huge fan of the word “metaverse” – it’s a vague and overhyped term. The “experiential web” is better, as it describes in more straightforward terms the future digital environments where we will work, play and, most importantly, interact with each other. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are two technologies that will be important in getting us there. Today they are being deployed in healthcare, manufacturing, design, administerial, training and educational use cases and it’s certainly important to understand the opportunities they afford.
The digital twin
A digital twin is a computer simulation of any real-world object, system or process. Building such a thing means it can be played with, experimented on, poked, prodded and beaten into shape to find out the best way to use it. All while keeping the real-world version safe and pristine. A useful tool for any manager.
The most advanced digital twins are modelled using data from the real world, collected via sensors and fed into the simulation in real time. Machine learning can be used to analyse the effects of different variables on the outputs, swiftly running through thousands or millions of configurations to find the optimum parameters. The whole thing can be put into a virtual environment – a metaverse, if you like – so it can be experienced collaboratively through virtual reality. A simple digital twin might be used to model a business’s marketing funnel. More complex digital twins have been used to simulate the environments of entire cities, as well as by Nasa when planning missions using the Mars Rover.
Multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud infrastructure
During the past decade, migrating to the cloud has been a priority for many businesses, eager to build more efficient IT operations and improve customer experience. As businesses scale and infrastructure needs become more sophisticated, there’s often a desire to leverage the features and benefits of more than one cloud provider (multi-cloud). Additionally, it isn’t always possible or appropriate to move all of a business’s tools and data into the cloud, for reasons of security, privacy or compliance. This means systems are spread across private (on-premises) and public (cloud) infrastructure – known as hybrid cloud – to maximise the benefits of both. With responsibility for driving efficiency and improving the digital customer experience, as well as maintaining security, no longer confined to the IT department, managers across all departments and job functions should understand these options and strategies to ensure their businesses remain resilient and scalable in 2023.