New Frontiers in Digital Transformation

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: May 15, 2021

Technology in the 21st century is evolving at an incredible rate. From this innovation and growth, we are witnessing ways in which technology is reshaping society as we know it. In particular, there are emerging technologies that are truly rewriting the digital landscape.

For instance, artificial intelligence utilizes incredibly advanced machine learning algorithms that allow for nearly humanless customer service interactions. Cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, are built on the foundation of digital ledgers used for blockchain cryptography, and they’re becoming a popular way to invest and, in many cases, pay for goods and services.

So, what are these emerging technologies that are leading the way in the new frontier of 2021, what will companies want from them, and what are some interesting examples of how they are currently being used?

What are some of the frontier technologies in 2021?

Since the IT industry is rapidly evolving, it’s important to stay at the forefront and be aware of what each new digital landscape entails. For that reason, we thought it’d help to break down the new technologies that are catching the wind as we enter the new decade.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA): RPA systems develop a workflow action list by watching the user perform a task in the applications graphical user interface (GUI), and then perform the automation by repeating those tasks directly in the GUI. This can lower the barrier to automation in products that might not otherwise feature APIs for this purpose.

Artificial Intelligence: Modern machine capabilities generally classified as AI include successfully understanding human speech competing at the highest level. This technology can be utilized in a wide variety of products ranging from imperfect-information games like poker to self-driving cars, intelligent routing in content delivery networks, and military simulation. It’s also becoming a prominent resource in the healthcare field, allowing for accessibility of care for patients around the world.

Digital Ledgers: A distributed ledger (also called a shared ledger or distributed ledger technology or DLT) is a consensus of replicated, shared, and synchronized digital data geographically spread across multiple sites, countries, or institutions. Types of DLT include Blockchain and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT).

Blockchain: A blockchain is a growing list of records, called blocks that are linked using cryptography. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification of its data. This is because once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, causing an error and preventing the modification. The hack-proof nature of blockchain makes it the perfect foundation for cryptocurrencies.

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What do businesses want from frontier technologies?

From a business standpoint, there are five distinguishable business needs that are being met by these emerging technologies. Companies are keeping these technologies on their radar to help them improve their

  • Competitive Advantage
  • Time to Market
  • Increased Revenue/Cost Reduction
  • Increased Customer Service
  • Improved Security, Governance Risk & Compliance

Despite these tantalizing benefits listed above, most companies find themselves in the unique dilemma of being amongst the first to embrace a new technology without much experience or proven historical success. For this reason, businesses can be slow to adopt this climate-changing technology that we see entering the market. The fear of the unknown drives hesitation in integrating these types of frontier technologies into operations, and, as a result, it could lead to big opportunity costs if companies choose to turn their head the other way.

Examples of how frontier technologies are used.

While the promise of how these new and emerging technologies could potentially be applied in the business world is very exciting, there are numerous active use cases that we can look to in today's market that illustrates how operations can be improved with these technologies. One example that nearly everyone has encountered by now is the use of artificial intelligence in the form of the customer service chat box found on many businesses websites.

Once you opt in to speak to someone via chatbox, you are taken through a series of questions delivered by the algorithm that is using your questions and answers to formulate the next response. It can also answer questions that it has recorded in past sessions to provide the user with the best possible solution. However, this does come with its limitations and issues. This type of AI does not possess any true deductive reasoning or critical thinking outside of its programmed question and answer logic. It is merely capable of parroting questions and answers that it is given.

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Therefore, reaching a dead-end in the chat box’s customer service capabilities is a common possibility, and it likely will result in contacting a human customer service agent. With that said, the use of AI in customer service enables a new sense of streamlining customer issues and funneling them to the right person to speak with regarding their specific issue.

Another example of the use of AI, while not necessarily a business-specific example, is the success of IBM’s Watson computer in 2011. It beat two champion Jeopardy contestants, marking a groundbreaking instance where artificial intelligence was used in a way that had yet to be achieved. This was one of the first times that a question-answering computer system was shown to be truly capable of answering questions posed in natural language.

Challenges of the adoption of artificial intelligence.

While the idea of its adoption comes to the opportunity of streamlined and increased efficiencies, with artificial intelligence still comes some lingering challenges of its widespread use. Studies point to what is referred to as the ‘Solow Paradox’. This paradox indicated an interesting tipping point between IT investment and productivity.

There is a point that exists where productivity is lost due to the overinvestment in new technologies and automation. An example of this is from the 1990’s when green screen computers were replaced with PCs. Workers had memorized the quick codes required to function the older computers. Once the new PCs were introduced, that muscle memory was lost and an entirely new interface substantially slowed the speed in which users navigated selections, thus hindering productivity. Additionally, there is the ongoing argument that new technology is stealing jobs from humans.

Despite these challenges, this is truly an exciting time to be a business that can participate in an age of digital transformation that has yet to be seen before. Over the next few decades, these technologies are likely to take the limelight, and it will be the forward-thinking businesses that will reap the benefits. If you’d like to discuss emerging technologies and how one of these advancements in IT might help your organization, please reach out to me directly. I’m happy to be a sounding board and walk you through the opportunity and obstacles posed by these frontier technologies.

Author:
Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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