Business Technology

5 digital trends that will transform the way you run your business

12 min read

15 February 2013

Here are five fascinating trends that are about to turn the way we do business on its head.

Technology enthusiast Kevin Kelly compared technology to a biological organism: a complex, evolving organism, that moves so fast it’s often hard for us humans to keep up. There are plenty of fascinating movements in the digital space happening at any given moment. Today, we’re looking a little closer at some of the trends in technology that will have an enormous effect on the way business works.

1. The internet of everything

The term “the internet of things” has been floating around the world since 1999, when technologist Kevin Ashton suggested that soon computers would be capable of generating and collecting data without human supervision. Back then, the idea of WiFi controlled toasters and milk ordering fridges was met with disbelief. Today, technologies have matured enough that the internet of things has burst into the mainstream.

Over 50 per cent of internet connections are things: there are about 15bn “things” on the web, with 50bn plus intermittent connections. By 2020, this number will have risen to over 30bn connected things, with over 200bn with intermittent connections, according to Gartner.

Key technologies here include embedded sensors, and image recognition. The former has been widely adopted, for example, to monitor everyday sports performance and health. Gadgets like the Fibit are designed to become as much a part of your life as the smartphone, and measure your every movement, from steps you take to how well you sleep – largely without any human interaction. The data is sent to a central server which you can access and analyse.

There are plenty of other examples. Various cities have kitted out their transport networks with sensors that broadcast the position of buses, trams and trains and make this data available to the public. Australian start-up Ninja Blocks is developing the technology that allows anybody to monitor and control their homes remotely over the internet. Also in Australia, biologists have begun to use a wireless sensor network that monitors plant plots of different types of grain all over the country. To see which grow best in a wide variety of conditions, the data is sent back to the High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre in Canberra which runs the experiments to measure environmental conditions and the rate of growth of the plants. The widespread adoption of this technology will revolutionise this kind of testing.

Now, entrepreneurs are ready to take the potential of the internet of things and push it further and further. Californian start-up electric imp is building a business on opening up a world of endless opportunities of connectivity, by providing powerful little hardware modules that work through the cloud to allow customisable device management. In other words, imp allows developers – and consequently manufacturers – to easily add WiFi to anything.

The internet of “everything” is fast on its way to change how we think about products. Technology the kind of electric imp’s hardware modules will do much more in the near future than just allow us to turn the light on and off via our smartphone. We are slowly getting used to expecting a degree of interactivity from new products, and the firms that sell them.

2. Collaborative finance

At the heart of the sharing economy movement is the empowerment of people to thrive regardless of economic climate. Collaborative consumption creates a solution away independently of governments or corporations, by people taking action to meet their own needs – with each other’s help.

Collaborative finance was enabled by social networks and peer-to-peer platforms. You might have noticed that this is currently completely rebooting the business world; this is a movement inspired by the public’s anger at the Wall Street, bank bonuses and interest rates, and it has enabled a new channel for business growth. Now, crowdfunding lets you generate funding, build customer feedback, market and improve your product, all in one, without any significant upfront investment. Even a small team can take new products to market in an entirely new way, without stretching their budget.

The collaborative environment is based on – refreshingly so – transparency, openness, and sharing. Collaborative finance is characterised by highly personalised loan transactions entailing peer-to-peer dealings with borrowers and flexibility in respect of loan purpose, interest rates, collateral requirements, maturity periods and debt rescheduling. It is non-profit motivated, and has strong organisational structures. It’s also a widely customisable playing field; opportunities for wikinomics-style collaborations are abound, and will develop rapidly over the next few years.

3. The real era of mobile

In 2013, mobile devices will finally pass PCs to be the most common web access tools, predicts Gartner. Indeed, smartphones have developed to a point where they eclipse the desktop experience.

This trend isn’t “up and coming” anymore – it has long arrived. We know that smartphones are already ubiquitous, and will, by 2015, be over 80 per cent of all handsets in mature markets. By 2015, tablet shipments will be 50 per cent of laptop shipments. Consumerisation is driving tablets into the enterprise, too, which businesses need to be aware of, as they are watching the “bring your own device” trend accelerate. The hardware is here – now it’s becoming all about the software, not the device.

The mobile internet era means that barriers to market are quickly shrinking. You don’t need to spend thousands of pounds on a fancy agency design for your smartphone app. There are dozens of services that will let you build, host and monetise your app at low or zero cost. And you better use them, because ignoring a business mobile presence is simply not acceptable anymore.

As mobile internet is becoming the internet, the use of today’s desktop browsers declines. Mobile devices, though already equipped with very capable browsers, will always have less screen space than traditional desktops, and lack the fine control of a mouse and keyboard. That means for websites to be successful on a mobile-centric internet, they will have to move towards app-like layouts: present less information at once, tap into user preferences and profiles to customise the information they present, and embrace sharing as a social norm.

4. The culture of immediacy

Fast-growing, successful businesses such as Shutl are all about one thing: enabling people to get what they want, when they want it. Shutl is an on-demand delivery business, which allows consumers to skip the wait between online shopping and delivery. The social impact of this is potentially massive; it’s a service that empowers consumers in need of a critical product and unlocks new business opportunities for entrepreneurs. It also improves accessibility, letting disabled people or people less able to make it to the high street, shop with the ease and convenience of an able bodied person.

In our culture of immediacy we are used to having everything we want at our fingertips. Music to download, movies to stream, e-books to read, new information, education, gambling, pornography. We are used to getting what we want on demand. If you are on a web page that takes more than 20 seconds to load, don’t you move on? If you have to wait in a line, don’t you tap your foot and huff and puff because things are just taking too long?

We are, today, allowed instant gratification for almost any urge. Now that we are living in a culture of inescapable immediacy, we expect businesses to adapt. The demand for immediate delivery, immediate response to complaints, immediate customer service etc., will inevitably have a deep impact on the way businesses are run, more and more so in the years to come.

5. Your team is everywhere

Imagine you could tap into the brightest brains on the planet to solve any given problem in your organisation. Well, actually, you can.

New technologies are making collaboration, problem solving, and hiring, a lot different. Talent as a Service is a market that will by 2020 affect approximately one out of three professionals worldwide, with vast economic and social consequences. It enables businesses to work with the talent they need, regardless of geographical boundaries. You don’t even need the office space to accommodate a new hire, as you stay connected with your team through the web. With the skills-gap in the UK widening, this opens up invaluable opportunities to find talent in any part of the world.

None of your team members have to be in an office every day anymore. Flexible working opens up opportunities across a very wide spectrum. Sure, it enables us to save time wasted on commuting, and allows working parents to juggle all parts of their lives more easily. But it also accommodates people’s personalities, as they are able to work wherever and whenever it allows them to be in their productivity sweet spot. Individuals who are “introvert” on the Myers-Briggs indicator are known to have a difficult time working in open office environments. Being exposed to the constant noise and gaze of co-workers can decrease people’s productivity significantly if the environment doesn’t suit their personality. Introverts can rise to their full potential, now that work can be done quietly, from outside the office.

As Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy once said, “There are always more smart people outside your company than within it.”