Written by Andrew Moore, Director, DAV Management
At this year’s CES, one of the largest global consumer electronics and consumer technology trade-shows, it was announced that augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence will be the primary disruptive consumer technologies for the next 20 years. In addition to this a recent report published by research company, Mintel, looked at how virtual and augmented reality technologies are entering our homes and stated that this will have an impact on how we shop, the brands we choose, and so on. You only have to think about the potential of drones delivering your goods versus the good old parcel delivery driver, to appreciate the impact this technology is likely to have on our lives and the environment around us.
In fact, it’s already happening. In 2016 Pokémon Go and Snapchat demonstrated how brands can effectively capture consumer attention and monetise augmented reality experiences at scale. Add to this recent news from Digi-capital, which showed that in the first quarter of 2016 investment in augmented reality and virtual reality grew to $1.1 billion (compared to the $700m total in 2015) and you can start to appreciate how these technologies are beginning to move centre stage.
Many believe that 2017 will be the year when artificial intelligence breaks through as a platform enabler, at least in the consumer world. Imagine a phone that knows you so well it launches your favourite app before you’re able to tap the icon or is able to drop you into a live music performance, courtesy of its built-in immersive technology features! ΑΙ technology has been on a continuous evolution that will offer amazing functionality to users.
Novel as the current developments are and despite the hype that surrounds them, it feels as though we’re still at the early stages of what this technology can deliver. There’s even been some derision from certain quarters. In an article published recently in The Register, the author summed up the offerings on show at CES as ‘too much landfill and not enough purpose’. Taking a wider view, I sense there’s a collective holding of breath as we all wait for a catalyst to really open this technology out for mainstream business consumption.
Some years ago I was involved in a start-up business that developed interactive multi-media content based on the online rights of a huge lifestyle back catalogue. Today this is mainstream, but back then it was innovative. Unfortunately for us, the infrastructure technology required to deliver content ‘products’ to users was in its infancy and somewhat underpowered. It wasn’t until the more mainstream players moved into the market that the technology improved. In effect, they legitimised the technology and went on to dominate the market. I wonder whether we’re at the same stage with VR, AR and AI technology from a business solutions standpoint and, if so, what the modern day killer apps will prove to be and who will get first mover advantage.
At CES, one of the prototype applications on show immersed the user in a virtual reality car, enabling them to interact with the vehicle’s exterior and interior design. It’s easy to see how such an application would have a wide appeal in the automotive industry, but others too could benefit from such immersive reality technology: construction, aerospace, healthcare, to name a few.
What about collaboration? We constantly talk about living in an ever-connected world, but usually we are referring to hand-held devices. VR will have a huge role to play in this area and surely represents a massive opportunity for developers of collaboration software. Today, employees and businesses distributed all around the world conference using video and presence technology, but what if they could ‘sit together’ and interact with a virtual product, discussing design details in real time? The possibilities are as endless as the speculation. Perhaps what we really need is for one bold business to pull the trigger.
Maybe convergence is the key, where those able to bring together appliances, applications and infrastructure to deliver the whole experience will make the breakthrough and in so doing become the big winners. We’ve already seen a similar evolution to this in the Telco/Media space, with the big players provisioning dual mode mobile, fixed line telephony, broadband internet access and television, as an integrated, ‘Quad-Play’ Service. It’s evident from CES that the various components in the VR, AR and AI space are available with some elements already beginning to converge.
Amazon’s foray into the market place is a good example of this. Last year in the UK, we saw Amazon launch the Echo, along with its Alexa personal assistant. Together they make an effective ‘team’. The Echo is a Wi-Fi speaker to which users can direct questions, commands and playback requests, with Alexa handling the voice interaction. It uses a ring of far-field mics to pick up voices and a complex artificial intelligence-powered voice recognition system, which some have said is the best in the business. What has surprised many is how Amazon appears to have stolen a march on its tech based competitors with Alexa, leaving Apple (Siri), Microsoft (Cortana) and Google (Now) somewhat in its wake. Industry watchers have speculated that the reason for this lies in Amazon’s decision to design Alexa so that it can be adapted by third party manufacturers and integrated into a wider range of products. At this point in time this still really only applies to the consumer domain, but it does show how the kind of convergence mentioned above is happening and from this we might see a migration into more business oriented solutions and the emergence of a killer app.
Such applications are likely to take the business world by storm, just as those in the consumer space are already poised to do. And, whilst these apps have the power to transform our lives and will no doubt deliver huge benefits, they do raise an interesting dilemma. Last year my co-director Charlie Mayes wrote an article about AI and IOT and how this could revolutionise the world as we know it. He drew parallels with technical revolutions of the past and commented on how poorly prepared society was to adapt to the seismic impact of the changes these introduced and how they evolved in ways no-one could have predicted. He also touched on the ethical questions and quandaries that these technologies will raise, such as the issues involved in designing driverless cars and how they will be programmed to deal with potentially lethal accident scenarios. Charlie concluded that how these technologies are developed and applied will impact on how well and how quickly society adopts them.
There’s little doubt that VR, AR and AI will become major elements in both our everyday and business lives, but to my mind they do create a particular irony – at least in their current incarnation. As we don our masks and immerse ourselves in a virtual landscape and community that is artificially created, we are instantly closed into our computer generated world and somewhat isolated from real life. It seems questionable, therefore, whether we are truly interacting between the two. That may not matter given today’s ‘game’ centric applications, but I think it is a limiting factor for wider consumer applications and certainly when it comes to mainstream business apps. All of which leads me to think that the big breakthrough will come when this type of technology can be ‘embedded’ into everyday usage without all the paraphernalia and have it seamlessly interact, perhaps also with other sensory components such as taste and smell, so that the lines between VR and real life become completely intertwined. Now that would truly be a revolutionary development for both the consumer and the business world.
InsurTech is helping to drive the digital evolution of the UK motor retail industry
By Alan Inskip, Tempcover CEO & Founder
If the last nine months have made anything clear, it is that the pandemic has fundamentally changed both buying and driving habits for UK motorists. The latest Tempcover research has revealed that online-only used car sales had increased fifteen-fold during the pandemic among 2,000 survey respondents.
Before lockdown, just 4% of used car sales were fully-digital. The vast majority of those surveyed opted for either a physical purchase (50%) or a digitally-assisted purchase (45%), relying on a combination of digital tools and an in person viewing or road test before buying.
While car sales overall are down on last year’s figures*, one in six (17%) of those surveyed had bought a used car during lockdown, with two thirds (64%) relying on a fully-digital purchase journey. Digitally-assisted purchases counted for one in five (20%) used car sales, while in person sales fell to just 15% – no surprise considering the ongoing social distancing measures.
And when it comes to arranging insurance for their recently-purchased vehicle, our survey participants displayed an equal balance between telephone and online as the preferred method (48% each). Nearly a third of those (28%) said they wait up to ten minutes for their policy to be confirmed, and a further 22% wait as long as 20 minutes to get cover.
The switch to digital insurance, driven by InsurTech
In the midst of rapid and significant market changes, many traditional insurers have lacked the agility and flexibility to adapt accordingly. InsurTech can provide immense value in bridging that gap, as the digital solutions are entirely scalable, with the flexibility to substantially increase in size and across multiple geographies, with minimal disruption.
The ongoing decline of physical transactions in the motor retail industry is a perfect example of how InsurTech is adding value. Several national blue-chip dealerships, with both physical and digital showroom floors, are already streamlining their online purchase process by offering temporary driveaway insurance policies to cover the vehicle for a fixed-term, usually between five to seven days, as part of the purchase journey.
The entirely online one-step user experience is the first of its kind in the traditionally outdated and inflexible driveaway insurance industry and it is dramatically simplifying the process of how insurance is purchased and consumed. Due to the flexibility and agility of the digital solution, each retailer has its own unique URL, where the customer can obtain a simple single-cost policy in just 90 seconds through an entirely digital process, which fits in line with the evolving consumer purchase trends.
For the dealers, this technology means more efficient stock clearance times and greater profitability. For the buyers, it takes the stress out of searching for annual insurance on the spot, and provides the driver with near instant cover so that they can immediately drive their new car, while giving them the opportunity to thoroughly research the best annual policy to suit their needs. An added benefit is there’s no risk to any existing No Claims Discount, as it’s a separate and standalone policy.
While there is a chance these trends will reverse to some extent post pandemic, it is clear that the consumer appetite for digital purchase and consumption is here to stay, and InsurTech will continue to lead the way in making motor insurance more easily-accessible across digital platforms, while offering consumers the best value for money.
Five ways enterprises are using the public cloud
By Michael Chalmers, MD EMEA at Contino
The public cloud is the most significant enabler in a generation. It’s causing a massive shift in how businesses are operating and tearing apart previous business models.
Amid challenging economic times, it’s inevitable that spending within IT is dropping. However, the cloud is the only segment that is still growing. The public cloud is increasingly becoming a central element of enterprise IT.
Contino asked 250 IT decision-makers at enterprise companies across Europe, USA and APAC within companies of over 5,000 employees about their views on the state of the public cloud within their organisation at the beginning of 2020. Nearly all of them (99%) saw a significant technical benefit compared with on-premises.
Here are some other ways public cloud is being used by enterprises:
- Widely, albeit not yet business wide.
A whopping 77% of enterprises are using the public cloud in some capacity. Overall, 50% of businesses are utilising a hybrid cloud, 22% single private cloud, 20% multi-cloud, 7% single public cloud and only 1% are using only on-premises.
But only 13% of businesses have a fully-fledged public cloud program. The largest set of respondents (42%) have multiple apps/projects deployed in the cloud. 24% were still working on initial proofs-of-concept, and 18% were in the planning stages.
83% of respondents said they want to grow their cloud program. Almost half (48%) do wish to grow, but with caution, while 36% want to move as quickly as possible.
Only 4% plan to revert to on-premises but are in no rush to do so.
- To enhance security and compliance versus on-premises, although these are still also seen as barriers to adoption.
A massive 64% of respondents stated they find this more secure than on-premises, and only 7% see it to be less secure. 72% found it easier to stay compliant with business data in the cloud versus only 4% who found it harder. However, 48% cited that their biggest barrier for not using the cloud was security, and 37% stated the need to remain compliant was the most prevalent blocker.
Other challenges also posed a barrier: a lack of skills, the cost to purchase and cloud-native operating models not working with existing investments made up 29-32% of responses.
19% stated that lack of leadership buy-in is the biggest barrier, reflecting that a significant number of IT departments have a need for this solution but have not been provided with the support to do so. However, relatively speaking, this was one of the least-cited barriers.
- For improved efficiency, scalability and agility, but vendor lock-in is still a major concern.
The top three cited technical benefits of public cloud were better efficiency, agility and scalability versus on-premises. However, 63% of IT professionals were ‘somewhat’ or ‘very much’ afraid of the commitment that can come with investing in the cloud. This is another major barrier that is preventing businesses from migrating to the cloud.
Only 23% are not afraid of being locked in and a meagre 5% have no fear at all. However, the fact that 77% of businesses are using the cloud shows any risk of being locked in is outweighed by the benefits of the cloud.
- To align IT with the business.
This is by far the most cited business benefit of the public cloud. 100% of those surveyed witnessed varied business benefits versus on-premises. Other major benefits include the ability to focus on new revenues (43%), accelerated time-to-market (43%), and increased ROI (40%).
- To accelerate innovation and increases cost-effectiveness.
Innovating in the cloud was quicker for 81% of respondents. What’s more, not one person surveyed said the cloud slowed down their innovation. 79% have saved money with the cloud and only 5% have found it more of an expense than on-premises.
Another ‘new normal’? Five challenges CTOs will face in 2021
By Amit Dattani, Director of Technology at Conosco
We’re one year into the new decade, and arguably technology has guided the 2020’s so far. Chief Technology Officers (CTOs), responsible for taking ownership across IT networks, have faced new challenges as they spearhead the rapid adoption of a number of digital services.
CTOs have a lot on their plate. Many are responsible for managing production workflow, defining technology roadmaps and budgeting the cost of technology. However for smaller businesses, CTOs will also be responsible for leading the cybersecurity strategy, and defining the data protection guidelines.
We’re at an exciting time for innovation in the UK, and CTO’s need to provide sound technical leadership to the board and to employees. What challenges will CTOs need to overcome in their IT strategy for 2021?
1- Data compliance
After a number of GDPR lawsuits, there is growing concern over the state of business’ data handling. And post-Brexit, the ‘new normal’ will change again for data management and CTOs. GDPR will no longer be binding in the UK after 1 January 2021, leading to new data laws being introduced. Fear not – the UK government has said it intends to incorporate GDPR into UK data protection laws, but it’s still incredibly likely there will be tweaks and amendments to it.
The number of data privacy cases will likely continue to increase, but with every case brings further clarity to other businesses learning lessons about data protection. CTOs need to consider who will be responsible for the flow of personal data, reviewing information and ensuring that the correct processes are in place for business continuity and disaster recovery.
2 – Changing mindsets on data
Data is not the devil – but CTO’s already know that. Their customers and others in the leadership team, however, may not be comfortable with that thinking. The demand for data as a product is through the roof, providing value-added digital transformations and acting as a virtual decision-maker.
The growing complexity of the nation’s habits and desires means that data has had to fast track the growth of knowledge. Data removes the ‘intuition’ that senior decision makers have to go on, and instead validates the course of action you choose for your business.
CTOs need to ensure they have transparent processes in place about the status of their data integrity. Be open about the processes, and what you use your customer and employee data for. And for the leadership team, it will become harder and harder to avoid the benefits of using Big Data – such as improved operational efficiency, greater transparency into costs, and smarter decision making.
3 – CFOs will try to claw back early 2020 investments
Technology has proved it’s the beating heart of business continuity during these unusual times. But Gartner’s IT spending report found that budgets were down 6.5% overall in Europe.
One of the things on top of all Chief Financial Officers (CFO) priority lists is to reduce any overspend and improve budgeting. Cuts to IT aren’t because leaders need convincing of the importance of technology – it’s a priority.
But due to the increased spending on short-term fixes to enable businesses to work from home in the first ‘new normal’ of 2020, many businesses are scrutinising any extra investments to claw back some of the overspend. It will be a case of proving why it is crucial for businesses to gain an innovation edge and speed up digital transformation.
Especially for public companies – their share prices can increase or decrease value just by public perception – which is definitely something which board members care about. Consider looking into better tools, services and solutions which can allow for better budget use and a deeper understanding into the benefits your investments are making to your company.
4 – Tackling the talent shortage
Another main challenge of CTOs is a lack of knowledge by employees on new technologies, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning. A 2020 PwC survey finds that 74 percent of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills. A company is only as good as its people, but when the purse strings have tightened, there may be less scope for hiring externally, and instead you turn to upskilling.
Outsourcing talent can help you to keep innovating, get you on your feet and provide a better service. But continuing to innovate must mean that you have the skills to align with new projects that are in the pipeline. You should be prioritising time on training, but you can also bring in skill sets by working with targeted recruiters and external partners.
5 – Delayed technical debt
After the shift to an almost-fully virtual world in March, many companies faced new challenges that they needed quick fixes for in the race to appeal to the market.
But while quick solutions can generate business sales, if you only focus on the ‘essentials’ at the time and not the full picture, you risk facing vulnerabilities. For example, if you prioritise your employees need to work from home, but don’t invest in data management and security planning such as a VPN, issues will eventually begin to surface.
Opting for cloud and SaaS solutions will remove the issue of foresight, and avoid your team being faced with the decision between the urgent and the important. CTOs will need to have their fingers on not just the technology, but also the timing of their investments.
To avoid technical debt, ensure good policies and governance are in place for all technology under the CTO remit. This could include a regular analysis of your strategy to ensure overall architecture is needed. This limits technology creep, which leads to technical debt. You should also add technical debt into your agile development cycles – e.g. every sprint must have 10% tech debt work, or every 5th sprint is a ‘bug bash.’
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