Dynamic Business Logo
Home Button
Bookmark Button

Future Business Technology

With the information technology landscape changing so frequently, forecasts are fraught with danger.

Active Image

But Cameron Cooper takes up the challenge, and finds that Australian businesses are likely to be one of the big winners in the technological future.

Australia is poised to leave the tyranny of distance behind forever. According to a study conducted by RAND Corporation, Australia will be among the countries that will gain the most from technology by 2020. The US research group suggests that a convergence of multiple scientific disciplines will have "profound effects on society". RAND highlights areas of technology integration related to business: more efficient portable power systems; radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking of commercial products and individuals; widespread bundled information and communications technologies; and quantum-based cryptographic systems for secure information transfer.

Think back to when former IBM chairman, Thomas Watson, proclaimed in 1943: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." Even the more recent past—the early 1990s—now seems quaintly analogue or intensely manual and, for Australia, isolated. The internet did not exist in any meaningful form for business or consumers, and the term ‘dot-com’ had not entered the vocabulary.

While analysts argue over the likely technology environment in 13 years, there is consensus that it will undergo a massive transformation. Bruce McCabe, an independent technology analyst and managing director of S2 Intelligence, says there is going to be "an awful lot of change" up to 2020. Even within the next five years, he expects businesses to stop buying software in stores and instead access it over the internet. "We’ll rent software as we use it," McCabe says.

The priority for IT developers targeting business, he argues, will be to simplify technology and make it manageable. As society enters the 20s, one of the most significant advances for business will be around so-called positioning technologies such as RFID tags and global positioning systems. McCabe says RFID—the radio frequency tags that store serial numbers identifying a person or object—"will be everywhere because the cost will be so low. Every single business asset will have an RFID tag". Uses for such technology will be varied. Imagine an idyllic vineyard in the heart of the Barossa Valley. And imagine that rather than weather-beaten vignerons relying on instinct for grape quality, hi-tech sensor networks will send back moisture readings to a computer. Welcome to winemaking circa 2020. Mark Ganz, senior industry analyst at business research firm IBISWorld, agrees that "the big thing is RFID". As the cost per unit of RFID tags falls, they will become ubiquitous, even on cheap products. Logistics, manufacturing and wholesale businesses stand to gain as they more closely track their products and better manage their inventories.

Ganz says such technology will lead to a less labour-intensive nation, especially for retailers such as department stores and supermarkets. RFID systems will lead to a self-checkout option for customers, who will swipe their purchases and pay for them with a credit card or mobile device. Customers will be able to bag goods themselves or elect to have a person help them; for which they would pay, of course.

The benefits to business will be faster transactions and cost savings. While RFID penetration is now very low, Ganz says by 2020 it will be prevalent.

Technological Revolution

Active ImageThe jury is out on whether a new internet-style revolution is lurking around the cyber-corner. "I’m sure there’s another revolutionary piece of technology but I don’t know what it looks like," says Sheryle Moon, chief executive of the Australian Information Industry Association and a former Australian Business Woman of the Year. But she is certain there has been a subtle shift whereby consumers will create a "citizen democracy" over the internet through websites such as MySpace and YouTube. It is a far cry from the 1980s when business demands for greater efficiencies and higher levels of staff productivity led to IBM creating the PC. While business needs will still be crucial to the evolution of the information and communications technology (ICT) platform in the future, people power will have its place. "When I go overseas I want to get my emails," Moon says. "I want to be able to look at my address book and push a button and get a contact list. It’s now being driven by individuals in a way that we never imagined that ordinary individuals would push the technology."

Moon looks to her not-so-humble watch as a pointer to technology trends a decade down the track. The Swatch watch has a rechargeable ‘wallet’ and a proximity card, and when she goes skiing she can use it to access lifts and cable cars "so it makes it faster, easier and safer to ski. A watchmaker did not think of that level of technology. ICT people did."

Moon envisages a more and more mobile workforce courtesy of technology advances, but she stresses that management philosophies will have to move with the times if business is to truly take advantage of ICT gains. "Right now we’ve still got managers who think: if I can’t see the person they’re not working. So we also need to up-skill some of our managers to the 21st century." Wristwatches notwithstanding, a team of scientists and engineers at Battelle, a world-renowned technology organisation based in the US, has compiled a list of the most strategic technological trends that will shape business and our world over the next 20 years. They see a world of cancer-eating machines, cloned human organs, designer foods and ubiquitous computer technology. For business, some of their predictions have far-reaching repercussions in terms of corporate solutions and strategy decisions:

High-power energy packages: highly advanced batteries and inexpensive fuel cells will make our electronic products and appliances more mobile.

GrinTech, or green integrated technology: new systems that eliminate rather than reduce waste.

Omnipresent computing: miniature, wireless and powerful personalised computing options will initially work through watches or jewellery before later being embedded in our clothing or implanted under our skin.

Nanomachines: microscopic machines that perform a wide range of jobs for us, from heating our homes to curing cancer.

Intelligent appliances: advances in quantum computing will lead to telephones with extensive directories, and intelligent food packaging that tells the oven how to cook the food.

New Computer Language

The language around computer technology will also change. As Microsoft founder Bill Gates noted in a recent keynote speech at the International Consumer Electronics Show, people are not talking gigabytes any more—they want terabytes (a trillion bytes) or petabytes (a quadrillion bytes) of storage. Gates suggests simplicity and "connected experiences" represent the future of technology in an environment where people want to perform functions across multiple devices. "I want my music when I’m in the car, when I’m at home, when I’m in the living room," he says. "I want that to be simple. I want my family’s schedule, and the ease of updating it, from the phone, the PC, just touching something on the refrigerator. I want to collaborate with people. I want to have the experience connect up to people at work, as well as at home. So we can’t just say consume
r because the experiences span into that business environment."

For Gates, the technology firms that allow people and businesses to be productive, sharing and mobile, will succeed. Mobility of the workforce is clearly at the core of brainstorming sessions at electronics giant Toshiba. Justin White, the company’s product marketing manager, believes that by 2020 everyone will be using some form of laptop or mobile computing device. "The desk-top will be dead," he says. Just how the laptop or notebook computer evolves is still the subject of debate. Celebrated US physicist, Michio Kaku, contends that from 2020 onwards we will be using optical computers, with light beams carrying digital information that is stored in holograms. Toshiba is developing a prototype computer that will resemble a 20cm ruler with a core that unrolls and becomes a screen that is bigger than a typical PDA, and which fits in a coat pocket. It will boast a virtual keyboard and a digital pen. Targeted at mobile workers, White says it will be able to do everything as a primary computer—it’s no longer a secondary device.

Business will be one of the big winners in the ‘virtualisation’ of workers over the next two decades, according to White. "You’ll no longer need to have a 40-storey building with a plush environment to house all your staff. People will work wherever they need to." Overheads and rent will drop for businesses as they occupy smaller offices, and greater work flexibility is likely to lead to higher staff retention rates. With home-based workers tapping into Wi-Fi networks, security will become more and more important. According to research firm IDC, the worldwide security compliance and control market reached almost US$6 billion in 2005 and should top US$14 billion in 2010. By 2020, the figure is expected to surpass US$20 billion, and continue rising.

Fuelling the growth is increasing compliance and regulatory requirements. The focus to this point has been on external threats such as viruses, spam and spyware, but analysts suggest in future the emphasis will switch to protecting the integrity of customer and employee personal information and corporate digital assets. Broadband, an area in which Australia lags well behind nations such as Japan and South Korea, will be an important element of any new technology developments. Ganz, of IBISWorld, expects Australia to shifts from PSTN copper networks to ADSL2+ and VDSL with download speeds of 25 megabits per second. "But that still won’t be enough for the next generation of services that are just around the corner," he says. By 2020, he expects ‘fibre-to-the-home’ broadband offering download speeds of 100mbps to residences will open the door to new industries, particularly in the entertainment sector, and allow for video on demand. Free, sponsored broadband is also likely to become widely available. Rural towns will rely on the less-advanced Y-Max mobile wireless technology.

M-commerce will allow mobile phones to be used for micro payments, such as train and parking tickets and vending machine purchases. Users will key in their mobile number and the charge will appear on a phone bill. Business intelligence, the process of increasing the competitive advantage of an organisation through the smart use of data in decision-making, will become all-important. S2 Intelligence’s McCabe predicts that in the average large organisation in Australia "their business intelligence systems will analyse possibly hundreds of millions of times the data in 10 years that they do now". Whatever occurs, McCabe says one thing is certain: technological changes will keep occurring because we’re very "adaptable" as a race. "People think we’re over the tech boom, but they’re so wrong," he says. "We have decades of progress to be made in IT.

We’re only scratching the surface now—so much innovation is yet to come."

What do you think?

    Be the first to comment

Add a new comment

Guest Author

Guest Author

Dynamic Business has a range of highly skilled and expert guest contributors, from a wide range of businesses and industries.

View all posts