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From wearable technologies that are forecast to disrupt conventional business practices to Industry 4.0, the global code name for a movement that promotes the computerisation of traditional industries, all developments suggest that the world is on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution. Asha Speckman has compiled technology insights that are likely to have an impact on enterprises and consumers.
When Google presented its wearable computer Google Glass two years ago, the world gasped at the notion.
Now, global consulting firm Deloitte has listed wearable technology – and the impact it could have on how work gets done, how decisions are made and how companies engage with employees, customers and partners – as one of the top 10 technology trends for 2014.
The trends have the ability to affect South African businesses across industries over the next 18 to 24 months. Deloitte’s fifth Technology Trends report was launched in Johannesburg on Friday.
Kamal Ramsingh, the Africa technology leader for Deloitte, said: “This year, we look at how technological forces offer chief information officers (CIOs) the opportunity to shape tomorrow, to inspire, to create and to transform business as usual.”
Advancements in materials science, have enabled the creation of miniature technology and battery improvements and led to appealing forms of wearables such as glasses, watches, bracelets and smart badges, or ingested in the body, or surgically implanted.
The value of wearable technology is applicable where safety, logistics or etiquette have previously constrained conventional technology solutions, according to Deloitte.
But Jacques Barkhuizen, the CIO for Deloitte SA, said it was difficult for CIOs to identify the business benefits of wearable technology. Nothing of significance had been developed outside the fitness industry, especially in South Africa, he said.
“Consider the possibilities when you start pulling all the components together, such as a mobile device and heads-up display-like glasses wrapped together with a fancy app. This is when the power of wearable starts becoming appealing, especially for retailers.”
He added that this year smart watches would become more integrated with tablets. But unlike tablets, which were introduced to the enterprise by consumers, Deloitte expected business to lead in building the acceptance and demand for the technology.
Deloitte has also identified cloud orchestration as another leading trend. Ramsingh said, in South Africa 18 months ago, the adoption of cloud – the practice of storing and accessing data on shared information technology infrastructure over the internet – could have been considered lethargic. Current rates of adoption were nominal.
“The interesting thing is that cloud is not being adopted to replace [on-premise infrastructure],” he said, adding that companies in the country were using cloud and on-premise solutions simultaneously.
Another innovation was industrial crowd-sourcing, which defines a practice by firms to dynamically source specialised skills from anyone, anywhere, and only as required.
In South Africa, about 10 percent of a sample of 68 organisations interviewed employed crowd-sourcing, claimed Accenture SA’s Technology Vision 2014 data published last month.
Lee Naik, the managing director of technology consulting at Accenture, identified commercial bank FNB and Accenture as crowd-source adopters. Few companies were analysing and acting on consumer feedback from websites such as Hellopeter.com or Facebook, for example, Naik said.
The internet, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, has been transformative.
“We are on the threshold of the fourth industrial revolution,” said Björn Goerke, the global chief technology officer of SAP, a multinational specialist in enterprise software, who spoke at the Gartner Summit in South Africa last month.
“Driven by the internet, the real and virtual worlds are growing closer and closer together. We are moving from the conventional factory to the smart factory.”
SAP has designed technologies to embrace Industry 4.0, which advocates the computerisation of manufacturing that will lead to companies incorporating their machinery, warehousing systems and production facilities in the shape of cyber-physical systems.
“In the manufacturing environment, these cyber-physical systems comprise smart machines, storage systems and production facilities capable of autonomously exchanging information, triggering actions and controlling each other independently,” Goerke said.
Smart factories enable production for individual customer requirements and one-off items can be manufactured profitably. With sensors manufacturers can manage and analyse large amounts of data.
The internet of things is a new buzzword this year and Goerke forecast it would affect industries in South Africa such as healthcare and utilities. The internet of things is the connection of everyday physical objects to the internet.
“We are looking at an increase from 9 billion connected things in 2013 to 50 billion connected things in 2020. It is important to remember that the internet of things excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones – this is about units such as cars, washing machines and clothes being connected to the internet,” Goerke said.
In South Africa, the internet of things is expected to have an impact on industries such as healthcare and utilities and enable businesses to collect data from sensors.
More than three quarters of companies globally were using or actively exploring the internet of things, said Goerke. “I am spending a lot of time talking to CIOs about being innovation agents for the business and preparing companies for the changes ahead.
“At SAP, we also talk about this as machine to machine connection and we see that this will radically change the way that systems, humans and things will work together.
“We support the connectivity between things with our SAP HANA database and with predictive analytics because without analytics, data is of little interest.”
The impact of the internet of things could be immediate for end consumers, too.
SAP and BMW Group Research and Technology have recently been engaged in a co-innovation project which uses the car as a virtual marketplace for different service providers.
“You’ll be driving to a new town and you’ll be able to assess the best parking deals and even be offered a coupon for free parking,” Goerke said.