As Machines Get Smarter, How Will the Way We Live and Work Change? Part 2: Shifting Human–Machine Dynamics

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Every day, we see new examples of how technology is reshaping the dynamics of human–machine partnerships at work and at home. Some of the changes we can already see include everything from smart watches to drones to self-driving cars.
How will the next wave of technology disrupt our lives and change the nature of human and machine partnerships, and how quickly will this disruption happen? Although no one knows the exact path this latest round of innovation will take, Dell Technologies has partnered with Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore how these trends are likely to take shape in their new report, The Next Era of Human–Machine Partnerships: Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030 . In the first post in this two-part series, I discussed the emerging technologies that will underpin these changes. In this second installment, I examine how these technologies are likely to reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

What will the brave new world of 2030 look like? The Dell/IFTF study highlights the following key shifts in human–machine relationships:

  • People become digital conductors. We already use apps for many tasks, from finding jobs to hailing rides. Personal assistants—or chatbots—help us turn off the lights, monitor home security and order products online. As technology helps us to orchestrate more activities and tasks, more of us will become “digital conductors,” using more personalized apps to predict, meet and respond to more of our needs. Expect solutions to help us monitor and care for elderly relatives, understand the role our emotions play in making a decision and help us to run errands. We’ll “conduct” these apps through connected devices. In the future, machines will become extensions of ourselves. Honor, for instance, has developed a platform to match elderly patients with doctors and care professionals as well as coordinate meals, transportation, housekeeping and companionship. OhmniLabs is working on an affordable telepresence home robot. With one click of a button, a person can be in the same room as his/her family, friends and colleagues without being physically present.
  • Work chases people. There’s little doubt that machines will replace humans in many jobs: PwC predicts that robots could take over 38% of U.S. jobs in the next 15 years. However, IFTF authors contend that new jobs will replace them. The percentage of “gig” or contract workers will grow to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. Instead of workers looking for jobs, organizations will compete for the best talent for specific jobs, using solutions such as reputation engines, data visualization and analytics to automate the process. Companies will also change the way they work, adopting more capable solutions that streamline collaboration across geographies and time zones. Glowork, the first women’s employment organization in the Middle East, has launched a platform that links female jobseekers with employers. So far, it has put more than 3,000 women in the workplace and located work-from-home jobs for 500 women. By leveraging big data, employers can search for candidates based on different search criteria.
  • In-the-moment learning becomes the norm. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that today’s learners will have 8 to 10 jobs by the time they are 38, and IFTF estimates that 85% of the jobs they’ll be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. This makes the ability to learn new skills a worker’s most valuable asset. But how will people—especially the growing population of gig workers—learn new skills? Probably not through traditional HR and training processes. Instead, they’ll need to do more learning on the fly, with “in-the-moment” learning becoming the norm by 2030. New technologies such as AR and VR will facilitate this trend, guiding, for example, a new field service technician through an HVAC repair. DAQRI, which is based in Los Angeles, is using AR devices to display digital work instructions in workers’ physical environment, helping them to complete tasks more efficiently.

Technology: The Fabric of Our Future Lives

No one knows exactly how these trends will unfold; and while some people are excited about them, others are uneasy about what may happen. Will machines steal jobs from people and lead to unemployment? Will bad guys create evil robots like the Terminator in the movie of the same name and Ava in Ex Machina?

But whether we’re ready or not, it’s safe to assume that technology will continue to play a bigger role in our business and personal lives. Think about it: the internet was a novelty 20 years ago, and “dumb” phones outsold smartphones until 2013. Now, both are ubiquitous. The next round of technological change is likely to be as inevitable and pervasive, so the best route is to start preparing for it by asking critical questions, such as the following:

  • How can we, as individuals, get smarter and keep learning?
  • What skills are most likely to be automated?
  • What human skills will have the most value?
  • How can we use new technologies as tools to accomplish goals, for our businesses and ourselves?
  • How can we build people skills and digital infrastructure for the future?

Recognize that what seems disruptive today will become part of our individual and business fabric tomorrow. By thinking proactively about the next level of human and machine interactions in the workplace now, we will be much better positioned to reap the benefits in the future.

You can read the full Dell/IFTF report  for more food for thought and take the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Survey to help assess your organization’s readiness for the future. 

This is the second post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell. The first post examines the emerging technologies that will underpin changes in human–machine dynamics.

As Machines Get Smarter, How Will the Way We Live and Work Change? Part 1: Key Technology Drivers

You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that machines are getting smarter. Every day, we see new examples of how entrepreneurs, businesses and academics are using new technologies to reimagine how things get done. Not that long ago, for instance, ADT provided armed security guards to protect property. Today, ADT has transformed to become the largest professional installer of home automation solutions in the United States. From manufacturing robots to self-driving cars to devices to help us manage our homes, technology is reshaping the dynamics of human–machine partnerships.

Depending on your point of view, the next round of innovation may be exciting, scary, confusing, uncertain—or all of the above. How will the next wave of technology disrupt our lives and change the nature of human and machine partnerships, and how quickly will this disruption happen?

Although no one knows the exact path this latest round of innovation will take, Dell Technologies has partnered with Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore how these trends are likely to take shape in their new report, The Next Era of Human–Machine Partnerships: Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030. In this post, the first in a two-part series, I examine the emerging technologies that will underpin these changes. In the second installment, I discuss how they will reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

The Next Technology Wave

According to the Dell/IFTF study, the following key emerging technologies will radically change how humans and machines engage:

  • Robotics: Robots have been around for a while—especially in manufacturing, where they’ve mainly performed repetitive and/or dangerous tasks that don’t require a lot of problem-solving skills. But technology is expanding robots’ capabilities, enabling them to do more in manufacturing and to take on new roles, from driving our cars to administering physical therapy. For example, some rehab facilities already use wearable “exoskeletal robots” to help patients recovering from spinal cord injuries and strokes to stand, reach for objects and relearn to walk.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning make computer programs and machines “smart” by enabling them to learn, change and predict patterns as they are exposed to new data, as well as to converse with users to answer queries and provide insights. Unlike humans, programs that use these technologies can crunch massive amounts of data quickly and efficiently. For instance, many financial trading firms use these systems to predict and execute high-speed, high-volume trades. In healthcare, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD) is helping radiologists find early-stage breast cancers that might otherwise be missed. And, as I wrote about previously, Alice (which is powered by Circular Board and partnerships with Dell and Pivotal) is the world’s first AI platform for female entrepreneurs. Alice uses machine learning to guide and connect these women with mentors, referrals, capital and other resources needed to start and grow their businesses.
  • Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are transforming how we engage in both virtual and physical worlds. VR “blocks out” the physical world, taking the user to a simulated, digital world. VR is often used for training, such as in the military, where soldiers can prepare for combat situations without the risk of death or a serious injury. AR adds a digital layer on top of the physical world. The best-known example is the AR game Pokémon Go, which uses your smartphone’s GPS to mark your location and move your Pokémon avatar, and uses your smartphone camera to show you digital Pokémon in the real world.
  • Cloud computing: I know, after 20 years, cloud computing no longer seems like an emerging technology. However, cloud computing is the backbone that provides scalability, flexibility, cost, speed and ease-of-deployment benefits that enable businesses and people to continue to take advantage of newer technologies. For instance, Chitale Dairy’s “cow to cloud” initiative uses the cloud to improve farming for 50,000 dairy farmers in India. Chitale has outfitted more than 200,000 cows with RFID tags to monitor their health habits. Information from the tags is sent to the cloud to be analyzed, and alerts are sent to local farmers regarding when to make dietary changes or arrange vaccinations.

The Chitale story also underscores how some of these technologies are maturing, converging and coming to life as part of the next generation of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Liam Quinn, chief technology officer and SVP of Dell Technologies, the cloud provides the technology required to dynamically distribute and allocate resources across different platforms and devices. Now, organizations can attach gateway-to-legacy IoT systems so they can send the data they’re already capturing to the cloud to analyze and use it to run their businesses more intelligently. These advances also make IoT more cost effective and manageable, and they will enable companies to develop entirely new IoT solutions to improve efficiencies and facilitate new business models.

You can read the full Dell/IFTF report  for more details and insights on these trends and take the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Survey to help assess your organization’s readiness for the future.

This is the first post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell. The second installment looks at how these technologies are likely to reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015

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(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015! A more detailed description of each follows below.

(Note: SMB Group is the source for all research data quoted unless otherwise indicated.)

  1. Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs.
  2. SMB IT staff and channel partners evolve into cloud managers.
  3. SMBs recalibrate IT strategy and spending for a mobile world.
  4. The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus.
  5. SMBs reinvent marketing for the new buyer journey.
  6. KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric.
  7. Analytics gets SMB-friendly with “bring your own data” and freemium offerings.
  8. It’s time to reimagine work.
  9. SMBs place a premium on protection.
  10. SMBs opt for an incremental, integrated solutions approach.

Detailed SMB Group Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015

  1. Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs. SMBs increasingly view technology as a key business enabler. According to SMB Group research, 67% of small businesses (1–99 employees) and 81% of medium businesses (100–999 employees) say that technology solutions help them improve business outcomes or run the business better. However, most SMBs don’t have the resources necessary to keep pace with technology on their own. Just 19% of small businesses employ full-time dedicated IT staff. And while 86% of medium businesses have internal IT staff, they are typically IT generalists who lack expertise in newer technology areas such as mobile and analytics. As SMB requirements for fast, easy access to new social and mobile analytics solutions, more compute power and storage, and other services have been increasing, cloud adoption has boomed—with 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution and 87% using at least one cloud infrastructure solution. In 2015, cloud solutions are poised for hockey stick growth as more SMB decision-makers turn to a cloud-first approach that not only supports existing business models, but also enables them to develop innovative new products, services and business models. Public cloud adoption will continue to significantly outpace that of private cloud, but more medium businesses in particular will consider a hybrid cloud approach, particularly in industries and applications where security and privacy are top concerns.
  2. SMB IT staff and channel partners evolve into cloud managers. As the cloud becomes mainstream, both internal SMB IT staff and external channel partner roles will evolve from implementation and break/fix support to become more proactive and strategic. SMBs will look for staff and channel partners that can work with line-of-business decision-makers to better align technology investments with business goals, select best-fit solutions and manage cloud service providers. Internal IT staff and channel partners will also need stronger integration expertise to help SMBs get more value from their technology investments. Channel partners will need to cultivate consultative selling and adjust staffing skill sets accordingly. SMB decision-makers will seek help to better understand and articulate new skill-set requirements, and to hire and/or contract for these needs. They will be hungry for thought leadership from SMB vendors, analysts and other influencers.
  3. SMBs recalibrate IT strategy and spending for a mobile world. A growing majority of SMBs now regard mobile solutions as essential business enablers, with 60% saying that mobile solutions are critical to their business. 86% of SMBs agree or strongly agree that mobile apps are a complement to traditional business applications, and 71% believe that mobile apps will replace some traditional solutions entirely. Mobile solutions also account for a growing share of SMBs’ technology budgets. SMB median spending on mobile technology and solutions as a percentage of total technology spending rose from roughly 12% in 2013 to 16% in 2014. Mobile service and device costs still account for the bulk of SMB mobile budgets, but SMB spending in other areas is rising as a percentage of mobile spend. On average, in 2014, SMBs spent 11% of their mobile dollars on apps, 9% on security, 11% on mobile management and 8% on consulting. Planned increased investment in mobile apps and more diverse mobile devices will necessitate a spike in mobile management adoption as well.
  4. The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus. IT vendors and prognosticators have been forecasting explosive growth for more intelligent and connected devices of all types. However, many IoT scenarios have been cast in a consumer light, such as smart watches and Tile (a locator for items such as keys and glasses), and the IoT vision has been fuzzy for many SMBs. In 2015, however, early but compelling use-case scenarios and solutions will emerge, leading more SMBs to the “aha” moments required to spark adoption. For instance, radio-frequency identification (RFID) has been used in logistics to track pallets and crates for some time, but mostly in closed-loop systems for high-value goods. IoT will help reduce RFID costs, making it more practical and appealing to retailers to use in order to help improve inventory accuracy, automate customer checkout and reduce theft. Beacons, which are indoor positioning systems that communicate directly with smart phones via Bluetooth, provide another compelling SMB use case. For example, a network of in-store beacons can identify the location of customers in a store and send them push notifications. Or, a trucking company could install beacons to monitor the state of its trucks, provide more timely maintenance, reduce vehicle downtime and decrease costs. Once SMBs understand use cases more clearly, IoT will hold great appeal because it is mostly invisible to end users, which negates adoption issues, and it provides real-time data for better decision-making and better business outcomes.
  5. SMBs reinvent marketing for the new buyer journey. The buyer journey is evolving rapidly and includes many more touch points than ever before. SMBs must transform their marketing approach to connect with more prospects and customers, and to provide them with the right information at the right time in the buying journey. Although many small and even medium businesses rely on point solutions, more will turn to an integrated marketing approach. In 2014, 20% of small businesses and 25% of medium businesses had purchased/upgraded to a marketing automation solution in the past 24 months. Meanwhile, 22% of small businesses and 26% of medium businesses plan to purchase/upgrade a marketing automation solution in the next 12 months. More SMBs will realize that choosing the right marketing automation solution is one of the most important technology decisions they will make, particularly as cloud, mobile, social, analytics and other technologies continue to transform the buying process.
  6. KPIs trump ROI and TCO as the new “show me” metric. Historically, vendors have tended to focus on proving solution value through return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis and metrics. But these assessments and metrics, while often beneficial, are frequently too vague and/or too dependent on nuanced measurements to be compelling for SMBs. In comparison, key performance indicators (KPIs) can provide SMBs with specific, actionable insights on business performance and what areas need improvement. With so many vendors fighting for SMB dollars, SMBs will increasingly seek out those that help them understand what KPIs are most relevant for their business and industry, and those that provide credible, specific metrics about how their solutions affect these KPIs.
  7. Analytics gets SMB-friendly with “bring your own data” and freemium offerings. Most SMBs don’t have data analysts on staff. These businesses often are intimidated by analytics solutions, which have traditionally been expensive, complex and difficult to use. But cloud computing, better user interfaces, visualization tools, improved algorithms and natural language capabilities as well as a growing number of freemium offerings designed for business decision-makers—not data scientists—are poised to change this. For instance, IBM’s Watson freemium offering allows users to bring in data from many sources, and it has capabilities that reduce data preparation and loading time, including a “fix it” button to repair data quality issues. Once data is plugged into Watson, users can query in natural language to analyze information. As more solutions designed for people with little or no data preparation and analytics skills emerge, analytics will become more consumable for SMBs.
  8. It’s time to reimagine work. Whether you prefer the hashtag #futureofwork, #newwaytowork, #reimaginework or something else, it’s clear that change is on the horizon. Processes, tools, attitudes and behaviors are shifting as mobile, social, cloud, analytics, IoT and other technology advances take hold in SMBs. Likewise, demographic shifts are reshaping the makeup of SMB workers as well as their expectations of what technology should do and how it should do it. For instance, millennials and digital natives are rising through the workforce ranks, while baby boomers are starting to retire or move to part-time work. Meanwhile, the ranks of temporary and contract workers continue to grow. The National Employment Law Project found that temporary help agencies, staffing agencies, professional employer organizations and employment placement agencies fill 2.5% of all jobs, up from 1.4% in 1990. In addition, easy-to-use consumer apps and devices have raised the bar for user experience in the business-to-business (B2B) world. This changing mix of resources, behavior, attitudes and requirements will lead more SMBs to seek better, easier and more affordable ways to access, evaluate, buy and get productive with technology solutions. Vendors that understand and plan for this evolution, provide clear solution value and make SMB customers feel that they are part of a strong ecosystem will have a decisive edge as this trend unfolds. Providing easy access and free trials, clear messaging, a delightful user experience, superior support and vibrant user communities will be key to tapping into this trend.
  9. SMBs place a premium on protection. SMBs are already using basic security and backup tools. However, our research shows that most use point solutions that only tackle part of the problem. The use of more comprehensive solutions to protect and manage data is still far from the norm. But greater reliance on technology, an increasing number of “moving parts” (traditional apps and infrastructure, cloud, social, mobile, etc.) and the need to manage data no matter where it resides necessitate better security, control and management capabilities. SMBs need only turn on the news to understand the financial, brand and legal ramifications of data breaches at large companies such as Sony Pictures, Home Depot and eBay. As awareness rises, SMBs will place a premium on more comprehensive solutions from vendors that offer proactive guidance, deeper expertise, stronger service-level agreements (SLAs) and 24/7 support for an always-on world.
  10. SMBs opt for an incremental, integrated solutions approach. New cloud, mobile and social solutions have made it easier for SMBs to access and use new applications, but they have offered little help with integration. Although 63% of SMBs have partially integrated some applications, 79% still rely on manual Excel file uploads or custom code for integration, which underscores the severity of the problem. SMBs typically lack the expertise and resources to manage the entire integration process, and they need solutions that both encompass and better integrate cloud, mobile, social, analytics, security and other technologies. However, SMBs don’t want—and can’t digest—monolithic solutions. Vendors need to accommodate SMB integration requirements with a LEGO-like approach that enables SMBs to acquire only what they need at a given point in time, and then to add on new capabilities (their own or those of partners) with as little friction as possible when new needs arise. Although integration remains one of the toughest technology nuts to crack, we see new hope. Open ecosystems, embedded integration capabilities and stronger APIs should help pave the way, as should toolsets designed to help non-technical users to configure integrations without coding if they understand business integration workflows and requirements. Built-in collaboration and social communities to help users crowdsource information, find experts and share and/or sell integrations will also be key to making SMB integration a reality.

About SMB Group

SMB Group focuses exclusively on researching and analyzing the highly fragmented “SMB market”—which is composed of many smaller, more discrete markets. Within the SMB market, SMB Group’s areas of focus include: Emerging Technologies, Cloud Computing, Managed Services, Business and Marketing Applications, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions, IT Infrastructure Management and Services, and Green IT.