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Smarter and more connected technology will lead intelligent transformation in 2019

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Ekaphon maneechot)

Life as we know it is in a state of transition; everything around us is getting smarter, from our PCs to conference room systems to our lightbulbs. As humans and societies, we are adapting and evolving the way we engage with our technologies - in the workplace and at home - for faster consumption and productivity, and more convenient connections. Many of these advances in technologies are working towards a greater sense of good, improving our quality of life.

In 2019, the dawn of limitless connectivity, full automation and immersion into extended realities will inch closer than ever before, expanding horizons and shaping the way in which humans can harness smart technologies in the time of intelligent transformation. 

Everything’s getting smarter, so what’s missing?

Smart spaces – whether physical or digital – are those wondrous environments where humans, devices and systems interact in open, connected and efficient ways. Whether a smart city, a digital workspace or a smart home, these ecosystems are all on the rise.

So where are the gaps? Based on recent research, our user experience team uncovered that saving time, creating comfort and enabling authentic human connections are what people value most in their technology. If a smart piece of technology doesn’t serve those core human needs, then users will be just as fast to abandon it as they are to adopt.    

For consumers, that means a much less frustrating and time-consuming experience when setting up their smart home with devices from a slew of different manufacturers with little-to-no integration. The smart home category will continue to expand as advantageous solutions that offer quick configuration, a painless user experience and interoperability between devices and ecosystems will be deployed. The adoption of PCs with smarter, connected features like voice recognition, biometric authentication and always-on connectivity, alongside an emerging category of smart displays that combine sight (touchscreen displays) with sound (voice assistants) will also evolve the way we engage with technology for faster information consumption and more convenient connections.

In the workplace, it is all about the employee experience – not simply about tech or spaces, but about culture and how the three merge together. In order to attract and retain the best talent as well as drive innovative and profitable organisations, employers must recognise and accommodate the changes in how millennials and post-millennials work and what they expect in the workplace, as well as respect their personal sensibilities. Tech-enriched, assistive spaces that are configurable and flexible are certainly trending, but everyone still needs a sense of comfort and belonging.

Forward-thinking organisations will start turning their attention to the concept of transitional, mobile engagement and spaces that foster greater collaboration and human connection -- whether in hallways, cafeterias or huddle rooms. These communal spaces will require smarter, more democratic and agile tools for instant collaboration and co-creation, including smart meeting room solutions, interactive displays and more. Furthermore, as the tech savvy Generation Z enters the workforce, they expect control over the types of technology available to them – favouring the technology they grew up with and use in other spheres of their lives – as they become more accustomed than ever to take on the decision-making power of the IT department. Companies that will easily succeed in workplace transformation, we believe, will elegantly balance those goals with inclusive cultural policies and personal touches that bridge employees to new ways of working. 

Another aspect of workplace transformation will be forward-thinking organisations’ ability to deploy pre-configured, or ready-for-cloud configured devices to their workforce. Smart vending solutions is another trend propelled by transformation in the workplace that enables employees to procure various IT products, from fully configured laptops all the way down to a mouse, keyboard or headset. The smart part of these vending solutions takes the tedious paperwork out of the procurement process and empowers employees and end-users to focus on productivity. By leveraging the next wave of smart office technology, enterprises can design a workplace for agility, creativity, and ultimately increased productivity.

Tech for good: How IoT, AI and AR/VR are making us happier and healthier

The Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) are hot industry topics, and certainly the promise of limitless connectivity, complete automation and immersion into extended realities is intriguing. The adoption of these intelligent offerings will continue to scale into different verticals from manufacturing to education, retail and more in 2019. In fact, according to a recent Accenture study, 72 per cent of health executives agree that extended reality will be widespread and impact virtually every industry over the next five years.

In the healthcare sector for example, IoT and artificially intelligent enhanced applications have the capability to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges. Leveraging these technologies has the potential to unlock a wealth of developments in coming years. Reducing emergency waiting room times, enabling remote health care and monitoring, offering the availability and accessibility of critical hardware, and even freeing up doctors’ time through the use of AI in detecting and diagnosing tumors are all examples. In fact, according to a recent Market Research forecast, the IoT healthcare sector will continue to expand significantly, reaching US$163.24 billion by 2020, a 38 per cent compound annual growth rate from 2015.

AR/VR has exciting future implications for the healthcare field too. For instance, AR/VR can be used to let patients virtually visit a hospital prior to being hospitalised, or help patients visualise procedures to reduce anxiety. VR can also provide hospitalised children with the vital distraction needed through fun, dynamic entertainment, meditation exercises and therapeutic games to cope with their hospitalisation.

In the education space, VR in the classroom allows students the chance to immerse themselves in experiences they normally wouldn’t have access to, like learning about wildlife on other continents through a virtual field trip or participating in RNA sequencing to identify a new gene in a virtual lab. For those students facing physical, social or cognitive disabilities, VR creates an inclusive environment and potentially even levels the playing field. The promise of virtual distance learning is on the horizon as well, providing students and teachers with the ability to create their own VR content and distribute to the class.

Retail is also going through a transformation as well, with new ways to identify and engage customers early in the shopping experience, as well as enabling customers the freedom to purchase flexibly, whether via mobile, self-checkout, online or regular checkout. The drive to unified commerce applications in retail is leading a revolution in transactional point-of-sale devices. These devices integrate with point-of-experience interfaces for customer loyalty programs and IoT offerings to enhance retail with new technology in real-time pricing, inventory management and customer analytics.

As new advances and applications make their way into various verticals, expect to see accelerated adoption as technology costs come down and organisational and business outcomes improve.

AR moves from fun to function

The immersive technology market is quickly advancing; in fact, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) products and services spending is forecasted to reach $27 billion this year, a 92 per cent year over year jump according to IDC. VR clearly has already made its mark in gaming, journalism, film-making, education, sports and music and is well established in training and data visualisation.

The larger appetite will be around AR, which is already being used for consumer entertainment and in the commercial space, enabling efficiencies in training, maintenance and knowledge transfer into immersive environments. With the advent of 5G, the rich and meaningful capabilities of AR – real life enhanced with computer-generated imagery, remote assistance, object recognition, workflow builders and other powerful content – will leap forward and make meaningful impact to businesses.

For instance, using AR glasses as part of a larger technology system can give manufacturing and field workers real-time data that helps to reduce errors and improve accuracy, safety and quality. With AR remote assistance, a worker on an offshore oil rig could be assisted by an office-based worker who can see what’s happening live through the glasses. With object recognition, AR glasses worn by an airplane mechanic working on a tarmac could connect to a remote server to automatically identify the parts being worked on and pull up schematics and other critical materials. With new AR workflows and tools, a factory line worker on the first day can see through their AR glasses for step-by-step guidance on how to accomplish the task at hand with minimal training.

Moreover, there will be a rise in demand for more hardware/software agnostic solutions to ease users’ pain point of experiencing incompatibility between AR headsets and glasses with AR content and platforms. Content creators and hardware makers may converge to develop a more holistic and seamless hardware plus software solution for businesses. Expect to see AR gain momentum in the commercial space this year. In the near future, we may also see enterprises deploying AR and VR together through IT integration for even more benefits.

The future of security

Offering a number of lifecycle and other benefits, DaaS (Device-as-a-Service) is a smart way to address security issues, particularly as they become increasingly complex and frequent due to the expanding mobile workforce. In response, companies will need to seek agile, customisable solutions and greater control of the device ecosystem as well as the security implemented with it. This is a growing trend; almost 30 per cent of CIOs who responded to a Gartner study in 2018 are considering DaaS as part of their device strategy in the next five years, and a recent IDC study shows total market value tripling between now and 2020. In the interim, there are inherent challenges that will need to be solved. A recent report by IDC highlighted the issues organisations face when it comes to device lifecycle management, with over half admitting they could improve. Challenges include keeping up to date, customisation issues and concerns over safely managing the influx of BYOD.

Humans are often times considered to be the weakest link in security. The growth of mobility, BYOD, remote working and the gig economy have all contributed to the security challenges companies are facing today. Well-meaning employees who ignore – or don’t understand – security protocols can expose enterprises to considerable security threats, financial loss and reputational damage. Digital natives are accustomed to technologies that are more ‘intimate’ in terms of personal data access, but people of all ages can be guilty of prioritising convenience over compliance.

AI has been touted as the pathway to protection; but as with many powerful tools, it can be used for good or for evil, as AI platforms are favoured by cyber criminals too. We expect to see much more focus on machine learning to address security vulnerabilities, as well as more of a focus on end-to-end security solutions versus a patchwork collection of discrete tools. There are four spaces where companies and end users need to focus to protect themselves – data, identity, online and device – and it’s critically important to develop a holistic plan against threats in each of these spaces. The trend from two-factor to multi-factor authentication on personal devices, for example, will continue to grow as security industry bodies like the FIDO Alliance integrate with Windows Hello to enable safer authentication.

The rise of smart devices in the home and office that are all interconnected will also introduce security vulnerabilities that will need to be addressed. A crucial aspect will be to learn from users through heuristics and new learning models addressing not just changes in technology but also changes in human behaviours. Companies will need to understand their multi-generational workforce, to better manage and protect devices as well as develop strong security protocols and practices.

Preben Fjeld, UK General Manager, Lenovo
Image source: Shutterstock/Ekaphon maneechot