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The three biggest buzzwords of 2019, and what they really mean for business

(Image credit: Image Credit: Uverse internet)

Whether you’re excited or apprehensive about it – the rate of innovation is gaining rapid momentum. By the end of this year, while we probably won’t be living in a sci-fi eutopia (or a Black Mirror – style dystopia), emerging technologies will have a tangible impact on our lives and our businesses.

At a crucial moment when emerging technologies are crossing into the mainstream, even those outside of the tech industry can’t escape those big buzzwords – Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, big data etc. – which are transforming from obscure jargon to essential business discourse. But that said – the technology itself often gets lost in translation.

With that in mind, here are some of the biggest buzzwords you really can’t ignore this year and why they’re significant.

“5G”: We’re not just talking about speed 

2018 felt like a slow build-up to the launch of 5G. And while consumers are still eagerly awaiting lightning-fast mobile internet on their smartphones, businesses are equally as excited about what the impending connectivity revolution means for them. Already, a recent projection suggests that rapid adoption of 5G in businesses could contribute up to £15.7bn a year in revenue to the UK economy by 2025. And should our 5G dreams be realised, this year will likely kick-start the democratisation of the Internet of Things.

We need to escape the assumption that 5G is simply about faster speeds. It is so much more than that. The potential of 5G lies in both its high-speed connectivity, low-latency and ubiquitous coverage. But what does this really mean? Simply put, it will allow more devices to connect and share more data at any given moment – faster than ever before. 

We’re already surrounded by devices that talk to each other – whether it’s your thermostat responding to instructions from your smartphone, or machines in a factory sharing information. Yet Gartner predicts that by next year, the number of connected devices worldwide will almost double – and 5G is poised to be a crucial catalyst for this.

Today, IoT deployment on a macro scale, while making headway in the form of some independent smart city initiatives, remains largely hindered by several limitations. Ultimately, IoT hinges on connectivity. For those of us already benefitting from consistent access to the internet the world may seem well-connected, however this is far from a universal standard. Although the number of individuals getting online is steadily increasing, global connectivity as a whole remains disparate.     

A faster, more reliable and more secure connection will allow vast networks of sensors and smart devices to share data faster, even in remote areas. This won’t just mean smarter homes or even smarter cities – it could dramatically transform every industry, from healthcare to manufacturing, on a global scale.

“Artificial intelligence”: We’re not talking about robots 

Last year, we continued our fixation with artificial intelligence. In fact, around 9 out of 10 tech executives believe AI constitutes the next technology revolution, according to a recent study by Edelman.

Our simultaneous over-excitement and weariness of AI has been a defining factor of the past decade, and the technology has reached something of a collective cultural obsession in recent years. Whether its ruminations about job losses when human roles are eventually farmed out to the machines, dramatizations of self-aware AI dethroning humanity, or the gradual appearance of home appliances capable of speaking back to us – when we think about future technology, AI is often centre stage.

Yet, while AI has made some significant breakthroughs in recent years, it remains bleeding-edge and the reality falls short of our ambitious expectations. This is particularly true when we consider its business use.

Gartner summed this up best as a “Hype Cycle”, whereby emerging technologies (think flying cars or sentient robots) are culturally overhyped, only to never achieve that full potential. Alongside this initial hype phase is an inevitable excess of investment (of both time and money) by businesses attempting to commercialise or monetise these innovations, even when there is no business justification.

We need to take off those rose-tinted glasses. Otherwise, we risk having the adverse effect of actually delaying innovations in AI, both in business and within society. Whether its AI, IoT, machine learning or time travel – businesses must start with a firm understanding of their business objectives, then work backwards to find a solution that fits, rather than pouring investment into exciting new technology and attempting to shoehorn it in.    

“Digital transformation”: We’re not talking about digitalisation

You knew ‘digital transformation’ would be on this list. Yes, digital transformation has firmly remained that (albeit occasionally vague) buzzword on the agenda of most future-thinking organisations. Yet, despite the popularity of the topic, digital transformation itself is often misunderstood. So, let’s set the record straight.

Digitalisation has unintentionally become synonymous with digital transformation – when the two, although related, are different things. Digital transformation is really about leveraging insights from data, IoT or advanced analytics (such as machine learning or artificial intelligence), so as to completely re-engineer an organisation’s existing business model and processes. Simply implementing a shiny new technology, tool or solution – while a good first step – is not digital transformation, that is digitalisation.

As some of the technologies we’ve already touched on are beginning to mature – AI, machine learning and IoT – many companies are scrambling to think of ways to leverage these technologies to digitally transform their businesses. Yet digital transformation shouldn’t be treated like a fad diet. Technology shouldn’t be deployed as a ‘quick fix’, nor as simply a shiny proof-point to try and show-off how tech-savvy your company is. Throwing technology at a business problem won’t necessarily solve it – and is indicative that you probably don’t understand the problem or the technology. 

When we say ‘digital transformation’ in 2019, perhaps what we should really be saying is ‘digital evolution’.  Because successful digital transformation shouldn’t be about reinventing the wheel, but rather a gradual, pragmatic, process. Innovation is a journey, and it starts with your current business model. Take a process that you’re already doing and that you understand – whether that’s maintaining a fleet of vehicles or keeping your production line moving – and then consider where technology can be deployed to intelligently streamline this process.

Darren Barker, Vice President and General Manager, UK&I, Hitachi Vantara
Image Credit: Uverse internet

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