Sep 222016
 

This week’s The Future is now – Trends in the Modern Workplace webinar was an opportunity to look at the trends affecting small and micro businesses.

What’s notable is almost all the topics affecting small business are being felt by their corporate cousins. It shouldn’t be surprising the technology and social trends affecting society are equally being felt

Now the webinar is over, I’ve posted the presentation to Slideshare with the commentary below, we cover established trends like the shift to mobile then ponder the future of business with artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

The presentation ties up with the post I published a few days ago that provides the commentary to the slides.

Sep 152016
 

What is changing the modern business? In Flying Solo’s upcoming free webinar, The Future is now – Trends in the Modern Workplace, I’ll be exploring some of the technology trends changing the way we work.

A few of these trends are already here, like the mobile workplace but others such as artificial intelligence, the internet of thing and augmented reality are on the five year horizon and we can expect those technologies to have a major impact on the business in the medium term.

One of the industries we’ll be looking at is the automobile industry that’s facing massive changes as electric vehicles, driverless cars and smartcities change the way we use cars and get goods delivered. This sector is looking at both the immediate effects and the longer term effects of the technological change on their industry.

In preparing the presentation it’s striking how similar todays discussions about AI and and AR are with how we talked about the World Wide Web twenty years ago. At the time we didn’t see how companies like Google and Amazon were going to change they way we work and the way our customers buy from us.

Equally ten years ago we didn’t see how the mobile internet or social media was going to change the ways we did business or how our customers would buy. Today they are important factors.

Mobile has changed business

The recent announcement of the iPhone 7 underscores just how the smartphone has become part of lives. No device has been adopted quicker by the marketplace and its effects on business have been profound and continue to be felt.

In the nine years since the iPhone was released, the mobile internet has boomed. Now almost all our customers are looking for our services through mobile devices – be they smartphones or table computers.

One of the things that ‘s worrying however is how few small operators have mobile friendly websites. This year’s Sensis e-business report found sixty percent of small businesses have websites but only forty percent of those were mobile friendly meaning less than a quarter were suitable for smartphones and tablets.

But it’s not just marketing – the mobile internet, smartphones and cloud computing is changing how workplaces operate. It’s becoming easier for employees to work remotely and for companies to be genuinely distributed and we’re seeing more businesses made up of workers scattered around the world, a good example being the company that created WordPress, Automattic, who are showing how a modern workplace can operate.

Automattic’s experience shows how companies can use the mobile and web based tools to manage a modern workforce. For solo businesses, being able to harness outside skills and participate in larger projects, is one of the great opportunities presented by the mobile world.

Everything is connected is connected

Key to business automation is how things are being networked. Increasingly things are being connected to the internet, whether it’s bees, kettles or tractors. If we can put a chip in something and connect it to the net, then we will.

Also, as anyone who deals with the supermarkets knows, large customers increasingly want suppliers to be connected into their data exchange platforms. That integration into supply chains is only going to increase.

This has a number of issues for organisations, first we need the technology to allow us to connect and the systems to efficiently exchange data with our business partners. We also need to know what is being collected by our devices.

Swimming in data

‘Data is the new oil’ is one of the mantras we hear, however that overlooks that dealing with oil is a complex, often dirty and frequently dangerous business.

While having lots of data is an opportunity to get more understanding of our businesses and the markets they operate in, all of this information also has a number of hazards. Not least in securing it and making sure company’s, its employees and its clients’ data is safe.

The big challenge for businesses, big or small, is managing the data that threatens to overwhelm everyone. Being able to get value from the information flowing into the organisation while protecting the underlying data is going to be one of the big issues facing businesses of all sizes.

Automation and robotics

Much of the work in managing all this data will be done by computers – artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation are all going to be standard features in business.

For service providers, increasingly ‘bread and butter’ tasks are going to be taken over by robots that deprive them of business and cash flow. Other businesses however will see this shift as an opportunity to reduce costs and improve productivity.

Accounting service Xero is a good example where founder and CEO Rod Drury sees these technologies as changing the way we work, “Automation and machine learning are improving traditional services by streamlining compliance processes and creating new business opportunities, many of which are either no-touch or limited-touch.”

Increasingly we’re going to see these technologies built into the software programs we use, not just in accounting packages but also in areas like CRM platforms, email and even word processing,

Visualising the data

One of the most exciting technologies of the moment are Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and, a combination of the both, Mixed Reality. While games like Pokemon Go! are leading the way it’s actually in industries like logistics, resources and public safety that are leading the applications of these technologies.

For smaller businesses technologies like AR and VR promise to help us visualise the data we have to deal with along with opening up a range of applications ranging from virtual meetings to prototyping. Coupled with technologies like 3D printing, VR and AR may open up a whole range of new industries.

Cultural change

This range of new industries means we’re going to need a whole new set of attitudes and business faces a cultural change as technology changes the workplace. Coupled with major skill shortages in most areas, corporations are going to need to find a new pool of diverse, qualified labour. This is great news for solo businesses.

Like everything there is also a catch, and small businesses are also going to have to embrace that diversity in looking for commercial partners, suppliers and customers. Increasingly, thinking outside the box to find people who can effectively use new technology is going to be important.

The good news is that mobile and cloud services coupled with most of the world becoming connected makes it easier for solo operators to find the skills they need. The real barrier lies in ourselves ditching old prejudices and assumptions

A new business environment

In conclusion, we’re about to enter the next phase of the computer revolution. We’ve been through the PC period, we’re now in the middle of the smartphone era and the artificial intelligence age is about to begin.

The ultimate trend though is that business is going to get faster and solo business proprietors are going to face the same challenges as managers and executives in large corporations as a wave of data floods over us all.

One of the advantages for small businesses is we’re not saddled with legacy systems in the way large organisations and with the tools of the new era being affordable, means solo entrepreneurs can grasp opportunities far quicker than their bigger competitors.

The opportunities are there for us to take, we just have to seize them when when they appear.

May 262016
 
cheap robots cleaning computers

Taiwan’s Foxcomm, the world’s biggest electronics manufacturer, has announced it will replace 60,000 Chinese workers with robots.

As the cost of robotics falls and the price of Chinese labour increases, the economics of automating low skilled work increasingly looks attractive.

While automating manual work is process that’s been familiar for three centuries, this automation is now heading into the management suite as artificial intelligence increasingly becomes a viable alternative for lower level supervisory roles.

The workplace of the future is going to look very different to today’s, all of us need to be asking if we have the skills that will be needed by it.

May 142016
 
Future proofing your business free webinar

One of the challenges we face in looking at the economy’s future is going lies in identifying what tomorrow’s industries will be.

I’ve spent the day at the 500Startups pitch day at the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley listening to the startups on the program making their investment spiels and in many ways those businesses are a glimpse of the future economy.

While not all of these businesses will survive, and many will pivot over time, they do indicate directions the economy is taking.

The question though is what sectors will drive jobs growth over the next quarter century and whether those industries will pay enough for workers and their families to survive, let alone keep a consumerist economy ticking along.

Apr 202016
 
the taxi industry is being disrupted by mobile apps

“It has to be disruptive technology,” bleated the consulting firm facilitator at the Future Transport Summit in Sydney earlier this week.

The hapless, but well paid, consultant — a depressingly frequent feature of Australia’s current ‘ideas boom’ — was protesting when one of the participants at his ‘ideation session’ had raised topics such as integrated timetables and changing commuting habits.

Mr Consultant’s running orders for his ‘ideation session’ were to focus on ‘digital disruption’ and his employer;s cluelessness illustrates a danger for business leaders and policy makers.

Selling the snake oil

Digital disruption is real however it’s not just the only factor facing governments and industries. Demographics, economics, politics and climate change will have greater influences on business and society.

Uber, the favourite lovechild of those spruiking digital disruption snake oil, is a very good case in point. While the service certainly has disrupted the taxi and motor vehicle industries, these sectors were facing major challenges as governments enacted policies to reduce carbon emissions, voters became tired of cartel like taxi companies and the Western world’s young and wealthy moved back to the cities and away from owning motor vehicles.

If anything, Uber was the result of GenY entrepreneurs like Travis Kalanick finding existing services didn’t meet their needs rather than the result of technology desperately looking for a problem to solve finding a niche.

Complex changes

While the smartphone was critical in Uber’s success in disrupting the global taxi industry, technology was only one facet of a much more complex set of changes.

The motor industry is a good example of the complexity of change. A hundred years ago it was clear the transport industry was about to be disrupted by the automobile, it was by no means obvious access to affordable personal transport would allow urban sprawl and the suburbanisation of western society.

Coupled with the motor car and truck, the availabilty of mains electricity meant refrigeration also became accessible which lead to the rise of supermarkets after World War II. This disrupted the local corner store in ways shopkeepers could never have foreseen in the interwar years.

Shifting demographics

Now, the opposite is happening as the young and affluent reject long commuting times from distant suburbs and city densities start increasing.

The social and economic factors that drove Uber are affecting public transport usage patterns and it’s no coincidence that the cities where ride sharing services have most successful, such as Sydney, also have underfunded public transport systems that are struggling to meet their population’s demands.

Which brings us back to the foolishness of discussing the future of transport only in relation to technology. Smartphones, apps, big data and the internet of things will all be critical parts of future transportation but the social and economic factors will shape how people use the networks.

Focusing on technology while ignoring the other big influences is a folly that will cost businesses and government dearly. Although one suspects the management consultancies will do well regardless of how well change is managed.

Apr 012016
 

Despite the embarrassment of their foul mouthed racist bot, Microsoft are pressing on with a move into artificial intelligence.

Ahead of this week’s Launch event in San Francisco, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella laid out his vision for the company’s Artificial Intelligence efforts in describing a range of ‘bots’ that carry out small tasks.

Bloomberg tagged Nadella’s vision as ‘the spawn of clippy’, referring to the incredibly irritating help assistant Microsoft included with Office 97.

Tech site The Register parodied Clippy mercilessly in their short lived IT comedy program Salmon Days, as shown in this not safe for work trailer. While The Reg staff were brutal in their language and treatment of Clippy, most Microsoft Office users at the time shared their feelings.

While Clippy may be making a comeback at Microsoft, albeit in a less irritating form, other companies are moving ahead with AI in the workplace.

Robot manufacturer Fanuc showed off their self learning machine a few weeks ago which shows just how deeply AI is embedding itself in industry. Already there are many AI apps in software like Facebook’s algorithm and Google’s search functions with the search engine’s engineers acknowledging they aren’t quite sure what the robots are up to.

For organisations dealing with massive amounts of data, artificial intelligence based programs are going to be essential in dealing with unexpected or fast moving events. Those programs will also affect a lot of occupations we currently think are immune from workplace automation.

 

Jan 222016
 

It turns out Seppukuma is a parody and I fell for it. My apologies.

Continuing the theme of Japanese robotics meet SeppuKuma, the friendly robot bear that might be the last thing you ever see.

When we look at the future of work, health care comes up as one of the fields that is least vulnerable to automation. Seppukuma shows we shouldn’t take that for granted.

Seppukuma is also an interesting example of how technology can subvert laws. Banning assisted suicide means little when a robot can be programmed to it.

As cheap and accessible robotics become commonplace so too do devices like suicide assisting androids which raise a whole range of legal and ethical issues.

Even though Seppukuma is a joke, the technology is feasible. We need to consider the issues and risk these devices will raise.