Four technology trends that will affect Irish business now and in the future
Enhancing relationships, AI and embedding innovation into the DNA of organisations are key trends Accenture has identified in its Technology Vision 2020 report
The Accenture Technology Vision report identifies a number of key trends that companies must address over next three years to reduce the potential for tech-clash. Photograph: Getty Images
Many organisations have invested in digital products and services without fully considering the human, organisational and societal consequences and how consumers would respond to them. This is leading to what David Kirwan, head of technology at Accenture in Ireland, describes as a “tech-clash” – a conflict between business and technology models that are at odds with people’s needs and expectations.
This is one of the key findings of Accenture’s Technology Vision 2020 report which surveyed over 6,000 business and IT executives worldwide, including more than 100 Irish executives and directors, to predict the key technology trends that will redefine businesses over the next three years. Accenture also surveyed 2,000 consumers around the world — 70 per cent of whom expect their relationship with technology to play a more prominent role in their lives over the next three years.
“The research tells us that people love technology and it has become more embedded in their lives,” says Kirwan. “But people are questioning aspects of technology. They are asking if it is being used the way they want it to be. People have concerns about the amount of information companies have about them and how it is being used and secured. Yet people say they intend to use more technology.
“There is a bit of a contradiction there. Companies are the same. They are investing more and more money in technology at the same time as their customers and employees are questioning the technology. There will be a push back if these issues aren’t addressed. That’s where the potential for tech-clash lies.”
That potential has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which has led to people relying on technology more than ever before to connect, work and live, Kirwan adds.
“Covid-19 is the greatest challenge the world has faced in decades and has transformed people’s lives at unprecedented scale. It has impacted every industry. Companies need to innovate, invent and redefine more quickly than ever before,” he continues.
The Accenture Technology Vision report identifies a number of key trends that companies must address over the next three years to reduce the potential for tech-clash, meet people’s changing needs and realise new forms of business value by creating stronger, more trusting relationships with customers and stakeholders.
“These are the things that businesses need to get right to prevent turning customers away from them,” Kirwan explains. “Customers are not going to turn away because of the technology but because of the way companies use it.”
Covid-19 has amplified the importance of technology in many areas. “Technology has been to the forefront of how we managed our way through the crisis in terms of collaboration, working from home, ecommerce and so on,” he adds. “There has been a huge increase in ecommerce spending since the beginning of the crisis. Covid-19 is also likely to accelerate trends in areas where progress may have been a bit slower. The need for physical distancing creates opportunities for a greater use of robots on production lines, for example.”
The first of the trends identified in the Accenture report is termed “The I in Experience”. Three in four Irish business and IT executives surveyed believe that competing successfully in the coming decade will require organisations to change their relationships with customers to partnerships. This will turn passive audiences into active participants by transforming one-way experiences - which can leave people feeling out of control - into true collaborations.
“There are growing questions relating to data usage,” Kirwan notes. “People are wary of companies knowing too much about them. We are seeing some shifts with companies like Facebook allowing people to say that they are not interested in certain types of content. Companies need to get the interaction right and work with people rather than pushing everything at them.
“In the US, McDonald’s is currently rolling out digital ordering kiosks in its drive-throughs, featuring personalised menus based on weather, time of day and trending menu items. It uses live traffic data to identify peak times, and switches the menu recommendations to promote simpler items, easing the burden on employees and restaurant operations.”
He also points to more extreme examples where entertainment companies such as Netflix are creating programmes with multiple outcomes and allowing the audience to decide the ending.
“Another example is the use of virtual and augmented realities in our graduate recruitment process,” says Kirwan. “An individual can make real-time decisions and the environment is personalised for their assessment. That is much different to, and better than, online assessments where everyone gets the same stuff.”
Supplied by Accenture
The next key trend is “AI and Me”. Currently, only 34 per cent of Irish organisations report using inclusive design or human-centric design principles to support human-machine collaboration, yet 66 per cent of Irish executives acknowledge collaboration between humans and machines will be critical to innovation in the future.
“The use of AI has been mainly focused on automating tasks, typically simple repetitive tasks,” he points out. “It should be more collaborative and about augmenting what a person can do. It should not just be focused on automation – the real value is in collaboration.”
We are seeing greater use of AI in supply chain and warehouse modelling as companies have had to react quickly to the crisis
The key here is to get people to understand and trust the technology more. “The technology needs to be made more explainable. If people are interacting with something, they need to understand what it is doing,” Kirwan stresses.
He points to a project carried out by the Accenture research and development team in The Dock, Accenture’s flagship R&D and Global Innovation Centre based in Dublin. “The team partnered with a group of medical coders who worked with some of our healthcare clients,” he explains.
“The coders analysed patients’ medical charts, taking complex information about diagnoses, treatments and medications, validating the diagnostic codes the healthcare providers had applied to the charts. The coders were already consuming output from an AI system that helped them do this work.”
By helping the coders understand the capabilities of the AI system they became more adept at training it. This allowed the AI to take on more of the work. “The people and the machine were able to play to their respective strengths—the machine dealing with relatively simple tasks at high volume and the people focusing on cases that required their clinical knowledge and skills. Turning a team of passive users of an AI system into expert trainers created a feedback loop that enhanced the skills and potential of both the people and the machine.”
There is a Covid-19 slant to this as well. “We are seeing greater use of AI in supply chain and warehouse modelling as companies have had to react quickly to the crisis,” Kirwan notes. “They have to do more with less as fewer people are allowed into manufacturing units, warehouses and stores.”
One of the outcomes of Covid-19 will be an increased likelihood of encountering “Robots in the Wild”, another trend identified in the annual Accenture report. “Robotics is no longer confined to the warehouse or factory floor,” says Kirwan. “Now, as more people stay home, and physical distancing becomes the new normal, robots are moving faster than we could have expected by taking on new responsibilities during the pandemic. There has been an aligning of stars in the robotics space.”
By that he means the confluence of the rollout of the 5G infrastructure required to control robots operating in remote locations and a drop in the cost of the technology. “What would have been prohibitively capital intensive is within reach for many firms now,” he adds.
Innovation needs to be embedded into everything an organisation does
“There will be significant growth in robotics, but it won’t happen overnight,” says Kirwan. “It will be gradual, but robots will become more visible in everyday settings. A good example is Walmart in the US which is using robots for replenishing shelves and cleaning floors to allow staff spend more time interacting with customers. This is very relevant to Ireland. Our retail sector is pretty leading edge and I could imagine the technology being adopted fairly quickly here.”
Another trend highlighted by Kirwan is “Innovation DNA”. “Innovation needs to be embedded into everything an organisation does,” he says. “It can’t be a side-of-desk activity which it may have been in the past.”
It can’t be a purely internal activity either. That means working with partners including customers, suppliers and research-performing organisations. “Two-thirds of Irish executives we surveyed believe that the stakes for innovation have never been higher, so getting it “right” will require new ways of innovating with ecosystem partners and third-party organisations. They have access to a range of disruptive technologies such as distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence, extended reality and quantum computing – also known as DARQ.
“There is a need to collaborate with partners across the innovation ecosystem if they are to make the best use of them. We are seeing clients collaborate with us on a variety of innovative projects such as the use of leading edge technologies to identify potential customers for financial services products.”
That innovation DNA will also be required to keep pace with scientific advancements which are not necessarily directly related to the company’s business. “These advancements will be very important, particularly when viewed through a sustainability lens,” Kirwan explains. “Take the food industry, for example. If someone comes up with a way to manufacture food more sustainably, if you don’t utilise that technology, someone else will.”
Read all the findings for each of the trends from Accenture’s Technology Vision 2020 report here.
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