Eight essential technologies are fundamentally changing the way companies do business. As identified by PwC, they include Artificial Intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), Internet of Things (IoT), drones and 3D printing.
These technologies are profoundly game-changing in everyday ways: AI is disrupting whole sectors; drones are delivering packages; IoT is being used to remotely monitor fuel levels in generators; 3D printing is being used to create unique parts at scale; and VR is revolutionising training.
Private businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) are increasingly finding digitalisation essential – not just to become more competitive and efficient, but to survive. Sixty-seven percent of private business leaders we surveyed see digitalisation as highly relevant to their businesses’ long-term viability. They are increasingly employing these eight technologies in their businesses.
Topping our list of the most frequently used of the Essential Eight technologies in EMEA by private businesses were IoT technologies, (55%), robotics (32%), 3D printing (25%) and AI (27%).
Adopting new technologies is critical given today’s challenging business climate, but the key to getting real value is by using them in combination. “If companies start to invest in IoT but are not also looking into AI and/or blockchain, are they going to get true value? The convergence of these eight technologies working together is where the power is,” says Scott Likens, PwC’s Emerging Technology Leader. “Preparing for this convergence is critical.”
Sometimes business leaders delay implementing new technologies for fear they are overly complex and require a complicated, multi-year effort. But in today's fast changing, hyper-competitive world, smaller steps are best. Trying, and sometimes “failing fast”, are key. Adopting and converging essential technologies requires an openness and flexibility to test and experiment, too.
“There is an urgency here and an interest, but a lack of understanding, about where to start,” says Daniel Eckert, Managing Director New Services & Emerging Tech, at PwC in the US. “The best way to start is just start; you do not need a five year plan, you can get started with two-week sprints.”
In our work with clients we’ve often seen that the first step is to overcome reservations about these emerging technologies. Sometimes that’s as easy as attending events to experience the technologies first-hand – and better appreciate what’s possible – or simply connecting with leaders of start-ups and other businesses to learn how they use them. Another option is to collaborate with start-ups, which our survey suggests private businesses are starting to do.
Company leaders sometimes underestimate the contributions staff can make. The reality is that innovation doesn’t usually happen top-down. It’s often employees closest to the action who identify new products and services, and more efficient ways of working. The key is to give them space and incentives to participate.
It’s often easier to start with technologies with which staff and managers are already familiar as consumers. Chatbots and games have accustomed people to AI and AR, paving the way for leveraging these technologies in a more widespread way.
Investments in emerging technologies don’t have to be large to be effective. Indeed, with technologies such as VR and AR, small- and medium-sized businesses are discovering enormous upside potential for relatively low cost. Many customers, employees and suppliers already own a handy AR device in the form of the latest smartphones.
Digital technologies can help realise efficiencies in production and internal communications, and can be implemented in a matter of days leveraging existing applications.
For example, employees at a large retailing client were frustrated as their source material was filled with undefined acronyms and difficult to find “frequently-asked questions” (FAQs), making it challenging for new employees to on-board. The client had been working on the problem by themselves for more than ten weeks. PwC engaged and plugged in an AI-based voice orchestrator directly into their core collaboration systems and in a matter of hours pilot users were provided with answers to more than 1,500 acronyms and hundreds of FAQs – all accessible by using a simple voice and text bot interface. On-boarding support calls dropped by more than 30%.
While some of these solutions may seem nebulous or futuristic, the reality is that they are real and available, and being used right now by more agile competitors to transform their businesses. Blockchain is building trust, AI is standardising and accelerating intelligence, drones and 3D printing are accelerating change and customising the physical world, and AR and VR are enhancing the real world with data and creating virtual worlds in which to more efficiently test ideas.
Private business leaders can’t afford to delay their digitalisation journey. The time to take that first step is now.
Global Family Business and EMEA Entrepreneurial and Private Business Leader, Partner, PwC Germany
EMEA Marketing & Communications Leader, PwC Germany
Tel: +49 406 378 1929