The entrepreneur’s guide to robots, IoT, VR and blockchain

To be successful as an entrepreneur requires a keen eye for an opportunity, good spatial and market awareness, experience, and a significant degree of good luck. Nonetheless, along the way things don’t always go to plan. Even the most effective entrepreneurs don’t have a 100 per cent success record. 

Of course, all business owners and managers strive for it, but there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to achieve perfection. Serving customers, finding new ones, managing staff, establishing processes, admin, expanding your market and world view – all this cuts into your time and potential effectiveness as an entrepreneur.

Then there’s technology. No longer a simple world of beige boxes and flashing lights, technology now runs through the arteries of most companies. Whether you’re recruiting customers, optimising customer experiences or developing new business models, IT is omnipresent. It can be argued that every company is an IT company now. It’s also important to remember that, as an entrepreneur, you don’t have to do all the technology heavy lifting yourself. You can spread the investigative workload, while at the same time benefitting from external expertise by working with the right suppliers and partners. These are companies that have already invested time and money in trialling and investigating new and emerging technologies to determine their worth and application. It means you can pursue the wider aims of your idea, while your technology partners provide the best possible technology to make them happen.

This is precisely why technology is a challenge for many entrepreneurs. Whether we’re talking about robotisation, the Internet or Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) or blockchain, it’s very important to know what to focus on and what value they offer. This also means knowing what not to focus on. After all, there is only a finite number of hours in a day.

As a tool for every budding entrepreneur, we’ve assembled an overview of the most important technologies to watch right now, along with assessing their entrepreneurial opportunity.

Robotisation

By robotisation, in this case we mean the increasing number of tasks performed by robots that were originally performed by people. The first ‘visible’ forms of robotisation took hold in the automotive industry, where pre-programmed robotic arms now routinely carry out welding operations with a degree of speed, precision and consistency that human welders cannot match. Robots have even made their way into office-based roles, such as financial administration. It’s no longer a question of whether robotisation will affect our work, but how much of an impact it will have on employment. There is no sector or company that won’t be affected by robotisation in the longer term. At present, its relevance is heavily dependent on processes; robots already carry out simple, time-consuming and repetitive tasks. For more complex tasks or creative jobs, it will take a little longer.

The internet of things

Another technological phenomenon that speaks to the imagination is the Internet of Things (IoT). Broadly speaking, IoT connects a huge variety of devices to the Internet; not only smart watches and mobile devices, but also household appliances and production machines that are equipped with sensors. There are various benefits linked to deploying IoT technology, such as more efficient processes, better logistics at lower costs, centralised management and automation through a constant flow of sensor data. Preventative maintenance is another example, as devices can indicate when they need maintenance before issues become visible to the naked eye. For entrepreneurs, it’s primarily a question of knowing when it’s the right time to make a product ‘connected’, and when it’s possible to make a valid a business case.

VR and AR

Creating a virtual world viewed through a digital headset can be done in two ways: superimposing a simulated layer over actual reality (augmented reality or AR) or creating a completely new world (virtual reality or VR). Again, many providers are busy developing products and software – perhaps the best-known application is Pokémon GO – but how relevant are these two technologies for companies? Broadly speaking, you can say that VR and AR are most relevant for companies that benefit from offering an optimal and innovative customer experience, or those needing a three-dimensional or data-rich view of their production or operating facilities.

Blockchain

One technology that has gained popularity in recent years is blockchain. You could best describe blockchain as a system that automates trust. Its original application was in bitcoin, the digital currency. Everyone who owns or trades in bitcoins is connected to a central database. When ownership of bitcoins is transferred between two people, this is not only registered in the systems of the people involved in the transaction, but in the administration of all who are connected. It does this in a way that is verified, almost impossible to manipulate or hack, and safe enough to be distributed rather than centralised. It seems simple, but according to many experts, blockchain paves the way to an almost infinite range of applications. However, blockchain has been around since 2009, so you need to jump on board now to make sure you don’t miss the opportunity.

What all these technologies have in common is that they depend on scale and standards. That’s not so strange, because these conditions are important for the success of any technological breakthrough. Take the rise of high-definition video for example, which only gained ground in terms of pre-recorded, high-definition content when mass production was possible and a viable standard (Blu-ray) emerged.

As an entrepreneur, you should avoid betting too early. You should also avoid making your entire play a technology one. Doing so raises the risk considerably that you will back the wrong horse due to a lack of market information. Had you invested in HD-DVD technology before the market showed any signs of preference towards Blu-ray, you would’ve got burnt. A good entrepreneur knows when and how long to follow a development before jumping in. They also know to make technology a component of the outcome, rather than making it the lynchpin of a project or action.

Gavin Fell, general manager UK, Exact
Image Credit: Melpomene / Shutterstock