From AI and blockchain to robots and automation, Paul Swift outlines the trends that will shape the future of tech, media and telecoms.
Digital acceleration and digital transformation are often used interchangeably. Transformation refers to the use of digital technology to revolutionise an organisation’s business model, strategy, customer experience, and every other facet of the business.
Acceleration on the other hand, is more about the speed at which companies embrace, integrate, and use technology, in parallel with upskilling and training of their staff and employees to support a seamless adoption of technological solutions and tools.
While wider society has been on the digital transformation journey for some time, Covid-19 hasn’t so much initiated the journey, rather it is the catalyst for speeding it up. Video conferencing/collaboration tools were being used well before the pandemic, but a lot more people are using them now than before, the same can be said for contactless payments, food deliveries and even telehealth.
Importance of technology
The terminology around new and emerging technologies often becomes clichéd before the technology itself becomes ubiquitous. Cloud technology for example, has been around for several decades, yet its true agility, flexibility and accessibility was only recognised during the pandemic, as it provided organisations with scalable computing power that enabled remote working, continued communication and collaboration, which became essential during the period. Similarly, mobile technology and applications became increasingly important, powering everything from entertainment to wellbeing to social interaction. The importance of telecommunications services and infrastructure was never more apparent than in recent months, as various providers flexed their network to meet unprecedented demand and keep society connected.
Emerging tech likely become more commonplace post-Covid-19:
- Expansion of Artificial Intelligence (AI): the Irish government will shortly publish a National Artificial Intelligence strategy to drive the adoption of AI across indigenous businesses. This strategy will provide a high-level direction to the design, development and adoption of AI in Ireland, under the working title of “AI – Here for Good”, giving direction for the steps needed to ensure that Ireland’s use of AI will benefit society.
- Increased robotic automation: we are going to see more widespread adoption of AI technology to perform tasks that originally required some form of human interaction, being replaced by RPA (Robotic Process Automation), undertaking day-to-day work, removing mundane and repetitive tasks; freeing up employees to engage with and add-value to customers. Sectors expected to see adoption of these technologies include financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, and supply chain management. Also, likely to find more expansive use of robots from areas such as sanitation services food processing and remote surgery in the time ahead.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) of everything: growing use of AI, from helping process large swaths of data at pace to creating a COVID-19 vaccine to helping brands learn a little bit more about what’s relevant to their customers. In short, wherever there is data, there is opportunity to derive insights and deliver products or services that people want, which is evidence-based. Likewise, from a government point of view, AI can assist in the delivery of societal opportunities; enterprise development, RD&I, data, digital and connected infrastructure and public sector use of AI.
- Telehealth: we witnessed patients turning to telemedicine as a safe alternative to in-person visits over the last year. Many across the healthcare space have for some time been advocating this approach pointing to the potential to lower costs, and the potential to ease pressure on overextended healthcare systems. In 2018, 18pc of American doctors reported treating a patient via telemedicine. During the pandemic, almost half (48pc) of all US physicians said they had treated patients virtually. We have also seen similar adoption of virtual visits and the use of technology for remote self-monitoring of patients in Ireland which will inevitably expand over the coming years.
- The Internet of Things (IoT): The Internet of Things refers to the connection of sensors and everyday devices to the internet. These devices can include everything from wearable devices to home appliances to sensors in medical devices. Real-time data from those sensors can then provide insights, automate various functions, and more; supporting everything from improved healthcare provision to the roll out of smart cities to enhanced visibility across supply chain management. While much of this evolution is reliant on expansion of 5G technology, we are seeing an increase in infrastructural investment to support its roll-out, which suggests we will soon see the benefits of hyper-connectivity in the short term; bringing with it unprecedented levels of data, insights and the creation of new products, services and solutions for customers.
- Cybersecurity protection: as the working from home model evolves over the coming years, so too will the need to proactively protect employees, data, and networks; necessitating businesses to increase budgets to cover the costs. According to CB Insights, Cybersecurity spending hit an all-time high in 2020 at $11.4B, nearly 50pc increase from 2018. It is important to note that protection against cybersecurity is not an end state, rather a continuous journey and therefore businesses must establish stringent corporate security and compliance structures to facilitate the likely increase in remote workers, while also providing adequate protection. This will inevitably lead to further growth and consolidation of the sector in the time ahead as cyber protection is a critical necessity for safe business operations.
- Blockchain: while the technology is still relatively new and has not yet matured, the potential uses are numerous. As cybercrime continues to expand, the potential for Blockchain to protect against and arrest many of these attacks is enormous. Blockchain also has the potential to minimise transaction time from days to minutes and reduce the level of bureaucracy and inefficiency often associated with the financial services sector.
- Cashless society: Is this the final death knell for cash? Consumers in their thousands ceased using cash to pay for goods and services and replaced it with various contactless payment applications. This also necessitated the adoption by businesses, retailers, and companies of every kind to facilitate these payments, which has become ubiquitous and is here to stay. Possibly the most interesting opportunity that will come from this adoption is the level of data and insights that the various payment platforms could offer back to their customers. Visualisation of data has been around for some time and we are seeing more examples of it in everything from wearable technology to various mobile applications. What is interesting here is how we have become immersed in data presented in dashboards, which is adding to our expectations from a customer point of view. This trend is going to expand further, and data will be something that customers will both pay a premium for and have an expectation of receiving in relation to contextually rich, personalised offers based on our data.
- eGovernment: the program for government is committed to ensuring that digital transformation forms part of enterprise policy to drive adoption of digital and emerging technologies among Irish businesses as a driver of productivity and competitive advantage. To this end, Enterprise Ireland’s Strategic Framework for 2021 and in the SME and Entrepreneurship Growth Plan, includes the establishment of a digital transformation scheme for SMEs. This top down approach from central government and its agencies highlights the emphasis being placed on digital engagement in the time ahead and the need for businesses to do likewise.
- Digital skills: underpinning the various plans that government are putting in place to support Ireland’s Digital Economy must also be the reskilling and upskilling of citizens to take advantage of new employment opportunities presented either through remote working or new career pathways that will evolve and new job roles that will be created. To this end, the government is supporting digital upskilling initiatives through its funding of Skillnet Ireland and the roll out of a suite of programs that enables citizens to embark on a pathway to digital literacy and enhanced skills set, funding or part-funded through government assistance, depending on the candidate’s employment status.
These insights were published as part of a Bank of Ireland Sectors report on the Acceleration of Technology. Full report: