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Technology: Is this the fourth industrial revolution?

Ant Morse, Head of Digital Solutions – SMB, gives a personal view on our place in the digital revolution and how he sees technology defining the way we live and work.

As Head of Digital Solutions, I run a small team of digital experts, whose role is to understand what technology does and how it affects our customers.

Few would disagree that technology has changed the way we live and work forever. So much so that some experts suggest that the rate technology is evolving and disrupting almost every industry demonstrates we are living through a fourth industrial revolution.

In February I was honoured to share my own thoughts on this at Accelerate 2019, a unique event for new and scaling businesses hosted by Enterprise Nation and O2 Business.

I began by considering the meteoric rise in mobile user adoption in just ten years, and the effect it has had on us all. Our mobile phones are often the first thing we see in the morning, and the last thing at night.

The fact that we debate about when the right time to get a smartphone for our children is, and how much they should be allowed to use them, tells its own story. At home I find the best way to get my children together is just to switch off the router. People emerge from bedrooms I didn’t even know we had!

We demand connectivity everywhere. A hotel or restaurant without wi-fi seems outdated, like the store that doesn’t take contactless payments. There’s no question that as a society we have adopted mobile technology and are seduced by the benefits it brings.

It’s about things

However the digital revolution is about more than just user adoption. It’s also about things, or the Internet of Things (IoT), as it has come to be known. Predictions vary, but according to Gartner we can expect to see 20 billion internet-connected devices by 2020.

As consumers we’ve been quick to accept them. We wear connected devices that record the exercise we take, the calories we burn, our heart rate, blood pressure and sleeping patterns. We control the lighting and heating in our homes from our smartphone or even voice via smart home assistants.

We are installing a new generation of modern domestic security cameras smart enough to differentiate between a family member and someone who shouldn’t be in your home.

In fact, there’s a smart, connected version of almost every domestic appliance – from the smart fridge that replenishes food automatically and keeps food fresher for longer, to the smart toothbrush that measures how effectively you brush your teeth.

There’s even a connected version of the humble kettle, which you can set to boil for your morning mug of tea before you’ve even got out of bed.

The impact of IoT will reach far beyond the home. The smart city of the future will use connected sensors to monitor and improve the efficiency of its transport systems, energy, planning and utilities, and reduce both wastage and costs.

In June 2018, London Mayor Sadiq Khan published his vision to make London the world’s smartest city and launched an initiative to employ technology to tackle some of the capital’s most pressing challenges, including poor air quality, urban design and digital connectivity.

It’s big business

IoT is very big business. According to McKinsey, it has the potential to generate between $4 trillion and $11 trillion in economic value by 2025.

With a marketplace that valuable, we can expect to see plenty of innovation and disruption across business and industry from start-ups and existing suppliers. In fact, we’ve already seen some extraordinary examples of technology entirely uprooting established business sectors.

Take Uber, the taxi-hailing company that doesn’t own a single vehicle, yet over 15 million trips are taken through their app every day.

Or Airbnb, which doesn’t own so much as a duvet, yet, since 2008, over 500 million guests have used their website and app to book a place to stay.

Technology has also changed our habits as consumers. We now routinely buy products as subscription-based services. We stream television and film from Netflix or Amazon Prime and our music from Spotify, Apple Music or Google Play. Meanwhile our shelves of CDs and DVDs have become little more than boot fair fodder.

Where next?

Technology is only going to continue to change the way we live and work. In another 10 years, I have no doubt that we’ll be discussing technologies that haven’t even been conceived yet.

Here are my own views on four areas where I expect to see a lot more change:

1. The rise of the machine

I believe we’ll see widespread use of robots in industry, taking on many of the low-skilled, low-paid and repetitive tasks, such as product assembly or warehouse fulfilment. But that doesn’t mean we will all be out of work, as some of the more fanciful science fiction movies would have us believe. Quite the reverse in fact.

The introduction of robots, embedded with Artificial Intelligence (AI), will create many more jobs than the ones they are replacing. New skills will be required, though, which leads neatly to my second prediction.

2. Transforming education

It’s important for schools to talk about new technology and equip our children with the skills required to exploit new opportunities that technology presents.

3. Staying put

Remote working is on the rise and it’s predicted that as much as 50% of the UK workforce will work remotely by 2020.

For me, it’s very much the future of work. I work remotely myself, and I’m always looking for new ways that technology can improve my own team’s productivity. A few months ago, I flinched when I worked out the travel cost and time spent getting my team together in one location for a meeting.

It prompted me to challenge the way we do things. Instead we met virtually and enjoyed an uninterrupted online meeting space, where we talked, shared ideas and collaborated on projects and documents. It just worked. Technology is empowering remote working and making us more productive by reducing our need to travel.

If we can do all this now just imagine the impact that the speed and low latency of 5G will have. I look forward to meeting holograms of my colleagues in virtual meeting spaces before too long.

4. Working to fit you

We have a younger generation of workers who are willing to challenge the way the business they work in operates, and who choose to work their own way. I met a young recruit who declined the offer of a company laptop, explaining that he’d be just fine with his tablet.

My initial reaction was to question how he would cope without a keyboard, mouse and a couple of the applications that I rely on. But I stopped myself. When I gave it a little more thought I realised that there was no reason why a tablet wouldn’t be up for the job. I welcome being challenged in this way.

 

Ant is always pleased to talk with anyone about digital transformation, so do get in touch. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

Learn more about Ant – Meet the people at O2: Ant Morse



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