Special Report

Tech tools to boost business

Here are some of the latest tech trends for business

 

So, has your job been taken by a robot yet? Thought not. Does your entire workforce now consist of bleeping, expressionless machines performing tasks at 10 times the speed of humans? Didn’t think so either. Despite the dire warnings that our careers are under threat from a faceless army of AI, the reality is that you still need humans to do business, and the day when we’re called into the office by our new MD, Mr BizBot DX593-Q, is still a reassuringly long way off.

If you’ve seen the current exhibition at the Science Gallery, Humans Need Not Apply, you’ll know that automation and machine learning are moving at a rapid pace, and though robots may not be able to replicate the range of human skills just yet, they can prove very useful when it comes to crunching big data or performing repetitive, otherwise soul-destroying tasks.

When large corporations or small businesses are looking for solutions for creating greater efficiency, they’ll turn to technology to help them achieve the end results they need. Whether it’s using customised invoicing software, or setting up a security network to keep their data safe, companies need to keep up with technological innovations so they can be equipped with the right tools to profitably ply their trade.

So, what’s happening right now in the world of business technology? Here are five key tech trends that will revolutionise the business world over the coming year.

Everything under the cloud

No more will companies wander lonely in the cloud – the rush to the cloud has already become a stampede, as more and more businesses move their software functions online and use cloud computing to handle everything from customer billing, tracking sales to doing their finances. And the outlook is for even more cloud, as businesses get more mobile and less tied down to an office environment, and are looking to store data and archive files on the cloud, back up their systems, and allow their employees to access their network wherever they are. The cloud is a great leveller, allowing small businesses to harness the same computing power as a bigger corporation, and giving them the chance to compete with the big-leaguers, so don’t expect to see the cloud stop rolling in anytime soon.

AI is A-OK

Artificial intelligence has been the stuff of science fiction up until recently, but now you can see AI in action via Amazon’s Alexa and a host of other high-end machine-human interfaces. But AI is also becoming integral to the humdrum of daily business, as companies use AI to improve their customer service, via “chatbots” that can answer online queries or help find a product. The development of machine learning means that AI-customer interaction improves with each encounter. AI is a hungry beast, though: you need to feed it lots of data for it to work at its best, but if you keep your bot on a good data diet, it’ll be worth its weight in gold.

Protect your IoT

When the internet of things became a thing, we couldn’t wait to throw out our toasters, kettles, fridges and washing-machines and install a range of shiny new stuff that could connect to the internet and talk to each other. We forgot one important thing, though: all these connected appliances gave criminals more opportunities to hack into our systems and steal our data. As businesses embrace the internet of things and begin using more connected devices in their offices and stores – everything from alarm systems and surveillance cameras to lighting and thermostats – keeping the cyber-cockroaches from getting into the equipment will become vital to a company’s survival.

Moving to mobile payment

Many small businesses put a lot of energy into marketing their products online, but when it comes time to closing the sale, their technology lets them down. Your customer is dying to give you their money, but you don’t have the right software to allow them to cough up. According to Lorraine Higgins of Retail Excellence Ireland, a huge percentage of Irish retailers are not enabled for online payments, so they’re losing out on a large chunk of the nearly €600 billion being spent online in Europe. The next year will see more businesses working hard to make it easier for their customers to purchase their product. Mobile payments are gaining traction, as people use their phones to pay for goods on the spot using such apps as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. For Irish businesses who can get in on the ground floor of mobile payments, the sky’s the limit.

VR and AR get real

Virtual Reality is still finding its feet in the world, as companies iron out their glitches and adjust their headsets to make them more attractive to consumers. While Oculus Rift was well-received on its release, and Pokemon Go became last summer’s big craze, sales of VR headsets and games haven’t increased exponentially as predicted, and Pokemon Go quickly went off the boil. It seems people are treading carefully into the VR and AR space, wary of getting caught in the hype. The high price of getting into the VR space doesn’t help, as consumers stick with the cheaper options such as Google Daydream or Samsung Gear. But VR and AR are proving useful in such industries as engineering, science, medicine and manufacturing, and businesses are finding VR and AR, if used creatively, can help drive sales. It’s already happening in the entertainment industry. Streaming TV station Hulu has recently joined forces with concert promoter Live Nation to bring virtual reality concerts into people’s homes, and save them having to make the trek down to Croke Park or the 3Arena.

Business Tech gadgets – spring 2017

Ask any hurried, hassled businessperson (if you can get them to stop for a moment), and they’ll tell you their working day is all go, go, go, before rushing off to catch the next train/plane/space shuttle to make yet another urgent meeting or close another deal. They certainly won’t be able to tell you what their office looks like, because they probably haven’t been back to their office in months.

Working life for many business people is now a moveable feast, taking in coffee-shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies, innovation hubs, airport terminals and the inside of their car. These days, if you’re sitting in your office, you’re missing out on the big business opportunities. Everyone’s out there, moving it, grooving it, shaking trees and knocking down doors (not literally, of course – you have an assistant to do that for you). 

Business people on the go need heavyweight tech that’s light and compact, and they need tech that keeps them connected wherever they are. Here are five new gadgets that are perfect for mobile wheeling and dealing.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, starting at €1,619.99

Making its debut at CES 2017 in January, Lenovo’s new ultra-light, ultra-powerful laptop will take anything the working day can throw at it. It’s made of tough-as-nails satellite-grade carbon fibre, but it’s also so thin and light you’ll keep checking your briefcase to make sure it’s still there. It’s got the working power you need, with ultra-fast mobile broadband technology, and a battery life of up to 11 hours – not that you’ll be working that long, thanks to the ThinkPad X1’s fast Intel Core processors and Windows 10 Pro operating system. Don’t leave the office without it. Lenovo.com

Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch, €399

So, your team is scattered around the four corners of the globe – in Hong Kong, Miami, Berlin, Tokyo, halfway up Kilimanjaro or halfway down a ski-slope. How do you keep them all on-message and keep that big deal on track? The Samsung Gear S3 Smartwatch is the perfect tool for keeping everyone within arm’s reach with just a flick of your wrist. Your team members can choose between classic or frontier mode – both classy options. Twist the bezel to take calls, check emails, track your fitness or get progress updates on that vital team task. It’ll be like Mission Impossible without the ridiculous plotlines. The Gear S3 battery can go four days without a charge, and it also has built-in GPS.

Fasetto Link 2TB, $1,149

We all know about uploading our data to the cloud, but imagine if you could condense the cloud into a container the size of a matchbox and carry it around with you. You don’t need to bend the laws of physics – the new Fasetto Link storage device is your own personal cloud, packed into a protective two-inch square case. It’s a hard drive, Bluetooth device and WiFi hotspot all rolled into one shockproof, military-grade casing, allowing you carry around all the data you need, and connect to and update your cloud services from anywhere in the world. It’s also highly secure, protecting your data from hackers, and maintaining your privacy even in countries with lax data protection protocols. Fasetto.com

Samsung Galaxy S8

On March 29th, Theresa May was due to trigger article 50 and start the Brexit process, but all eyes were on South Korea and the launch of Samsung’s much-anticipated new Galaxy S8. After a disastrous 2016, during which the company had to recall and eventually discontinue its Note 7 after many caught fire, and became embroiled in a corruption scandal that brought down the country’s president Park Geun-hye, Samsung need to make a big comeback with the S8. The phone comes in a variety of slick colours, and features Samsung’s new digital voice assistant, Bixby. It also has a revamped home button, ultra-hi-definition display, and all sorts of bells and whistles the company hopes will shift the focus away from its recent troubles. With no word yet on Apple’s anniversary phone, due out later this year, Samsung has a chance to regain lost ground with the new S8.

Aukey PB-T10 Power Bank

Need a portable battery charger? Do yourself a favour – throw away all those dinky little chargers you get as promo items or in pound shops – they’re no use for the real work of keeping your phones, laptops and tablets powered up on the go. Invest in a good portable power source such as the Aukey PB-T10 Power Bank – its high-capacity 20,000 mAh battery pack can quick-charge two items at the same time, and it packs enough power for multiple charges. Some might not like its blocky look, but for me this is a reassuringly solid slab of battery power. aukey.com