When Will Your HR Team Start Learning To Code?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

There are many emerging technologies that are not only changing the workplace, but changing the way that jobs are structured and the skills that modern (or future) employees need. I believe that three of the most important changes taking place at present include:

1.    Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace
2.    Remote working
3.    Creating tribes

There are technologies and systems emerging, such as AI in business application support, that are fundamentally changing how corporate processes function – and this changes the skills that people in professional jobs need. Employees need to become comfortable with the idea of AI delivering performance feedback, personal development, coaching and evaluation. This offers many advantages to both employee and employer, but it can still face resistance by some employees, especially when they feel it will change their job.

Forbes magazine recently published data from a study by the Center for Effective Organizations at USC Marshall School of Business. The study suggested that only 37% of employees would share innovation or automation ideas if they believed they would have to do different work as a result of such technology being implemented. However, when employees believed the technology would help make their job better, 87% of them said they would share innovation ideas with their employer.

Both AI and employees will help companies to reengineer their processes, but with AI exploring how to optimise systems there is an opportunity to change processes without the natural reluctance of the employees.

Remote working is increasingly a reality in many industries. Customer service companies are now actively promoting the Work-At-Home-Agent model instead of increasingly large contact centres. Companies with a large number of home-based employees can dramatically reduce costs for office estate and more easily scale up and down as the business requires.

The need to create tribes is partly related to the trend for home-working, but it is also linked to our increasing use of social networks. As we see people less in real life and more in virtual spaces, such as social networks, it becomes more important to be more methodical about socialising – both in person and virtually.

All these changes in the way we work are related back to the increasing intelligence of systems that can help us to perform more effectively at work. We are now reaching a point where coding skills are becoming useful for employees in almost any professional job – accounting, HR, and law companies will all be using AI business application support and this means that professionals need to learn how to manage their virtual tools.

A great change is coming soon. It’s not that every job will vanish as many are automated, but those that remain will become more interesting and more technical – the HR team needs to start coding soon!

How The Robots In Your Home Are Creating New Opportunities

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I recently bought a Furbo. It’s a device that started life on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. You fill the Furbo with small dog treats and when away from home it’s possible to watch your dog using the camera and toss those treats remotely. It’s also possible to speak and listen to what your dog is ‘saying’.

It’s just a fun device, but it is also one more connection to the Internet. Our homes are becoming filled with connected devices and slowly our home environment is becoming far more technology-enabled than any office, where the focus is still on connecting little more than computers and printers.

Think about your own home environment. Do you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home system? That means you will have connected microphones dotted around the house. What about your phone, laptop, and Kindle? If you have a games console that that will also be connected and how else can your TV access Netflix if that’s not online?

Much of the traditional media we used to consume in the home such as records, movies, and books is now consumed electronically. We stream Netflix to a Smart TV. We stream Spotify music to a home theatre or speaker system. We download books and magazines to e-readers like the Amazon Kindle. The connected home has slowly become a reality and is no longer unusual or cutting edge.
Data published last year by Cisco estimates that by 2021 each person in North America will be using 13 connected devices. Thirteen for each person! That’s a lot of Kindles and Furbos.

Naturally much of this growth is because everyday objects are gradually becoming connected. It would be unusual to buy a new car today and to find that it does not ask to connect to your wifi. Tesla cars regularly upgrade themselves when parked overnight. A new channel between products and their manufacturer has been created allowing automated updates and maintenance to take place without user involvement.

Smart leaders need to look beyond the devices and think about the data. When people are streaming constant information on their location and behaviour how can your business tap into that information to create genuine value? Insurance companies are one great example of a sector that is benefitting from this move to an Internet of Things (IoT) environment. If a car driver only pays insurance for their car when it is used and they are rewarded for safe driving behaviour then that helps the customer and the insurance company. Insurance is being redefined by this real-time data on the customer.

How is your business reacting to this connected environment? Can you see the opportunities or does it just seem like a threat to the established way of doing business?

Is There A Difference Between Consumer IoT And Industrial IoT?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The difference between enterprise IT and consumer IT has been blurred in recent years. It used to be that managers used Blackberries as their mobile device of choice because it worked better with email than any other handset – now Android and IOS are dominant for both enterprise and consumer use.

Enterprise technology used to be completely unrelated to any of the systems we might use on a computer at home – think of ERP or CRM systems. Who would be building a CRM system at home, yet it’s a common tool in the office. However, now that many enterprise tools are delivered via the cloud using a web browser it feels remarkably similar to be using tools and systems at home or in the office.

So is the Internet of Things (IoT) any different? The IoT has largely been talked of as an automation tool to assist in the home – the smart home where every device is connected and controllable. But how does the IoT work in the enterprise environment and should it be approached differently to the home?

There are in fact many differences that enterprise IT managers need to be aware of and this interesting article lists ten talking points. I’m going to just focus on what I consider to be the most important three here:

1. Security; you might be comfortable capturing personal data, such as your heart rate, on devices at home and sharing that information with your own personal cloud, but in the enterprise environment systems handling highly personal information need strong protection – just assuming a password is enough is negligent.

2. Reliability; enterprise and industrial IoT systems may be deployed far from your headquarters in remote and hostile environments. You need to know that a sensor will have a lifespan that can be measured in years, not weeks.

3. Programmability; IoT systems produced for personal use at home are largely out-of-the-box solutions. Even systems that can be configured in many ways, such as the Amazon Echo used for controlling home devices, are generally used in default mode most of the time. In the enterprise environment it is critical that your IoT devices and general environment can be changed to suit your needs – the default setting is unlikely to meet your needs.

This is an interesting paradox. As we have observed consumer and enterprise applications becoming more and more similar, the world of IoT remains distinct. The CIO, or general IT management, need to create an enterprise IoT strategy that moves beyond just installing systems that would be more useful in a smart home environment.

IT Trends For 2018 Will Be More Consumer Focused Than Ever Before

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The industry analyst firm Gartner has just published their view on technology trends to watch in 2018 and it makes for some interesting reading. Their research summarises the trends into three main groups: intelligent, digital, and mesh.

Scanning across all the trends it is interesting to see how many are now very influential on customer experience (CX). Companies used to engage with their customers mostly through customer service functions – often just contact centres accepting calls and emails. Now there is a much more complex environment where customers expect intelligent interactions across many different immersive environments – technology is required to support all of this.

Consider these trends, all from the top 10 Gartner predict as important for 2018:

  • Conversational Platforms; Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri. People are getting much more comfortable just speaking to computers and expecting them to respond intelligently. Google has even demonstrated their Pixel Bud headphones that can translate 40 different languages in real-time, allowing a user to have a conversation with a person speaking another language.
  • Immersive Experiences; both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are really taking off as people get used to immersion into a new world. The success of the Pokémon GO game in 2016 boosted AR and VR is seeing a huge boost as the power of the new Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox mean that millions of people have VR systems at home.
  • AI Foundation; companies are finding that they can use AI to help with real problems. In particular a common machine learning and AI solution now is to capture every customer interaction – what problem the customer has and how it was solved – creating a smart system that over time learns how to answer almost any problem. The system knows about every question every customer has ever asked, and how the problem was resolved in the past.
  • Intelligent Things; the Internet of Things (IoT) means that many more devices will be connected and online. Often this is talked about as a way to ensure your fridge never runs low on milk, but the real story is that your devices will all be talking to their manufacturer all the time, diagnosing problems and fixing themselves or upgrading – without your involvement at all. Imagine if your car can just check itself and get advice from the manufacturer automatically?
  • Blockchain; Crypto-currencies are still a niche pursuit, but many big organisations are taking them seriously. If a large network such as Alibaba, Facebook, or Google started taking the idea of non-sovereign online currencies seriously then we could see big changes ahead in many industries – retail and banking first.

What is fascinating to see now is how many technology trends are becoming ubiquitous and consumer-focused. We are no longer talking about business-focused issues such as network strategy or cloud computing. Many of these changes are driven by technology, but are being demanded by the end customers. The divide between enterprise and consumer technology is becoming very narrow indeed. As we now enter the final quarter of 2017 I’m going to think a little more about this in some future blogs – where should the IT industry be focused next year?

Carmakers Move Research To Eastern Europe After Brexit Vote in UK

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

One of the manufacturing myths common in the UK is that nobody builds anything any longer – it’s popular to suggest that the UK used to manufacture products such as cars, but today that business has all vanished. However the numbers make the situation look rather different. Last year around 1.6m cars were manufactured in the UK, which was the highest figure for a decade.

But 2016 brought the Brexit vote and some potential changes to the auto manufacturing industry in the UK. The recruitment company DHR has suggested that auto manufacturers are shifting high-end work such as research and development over to Eastern Europe. Their data is supported by the news that companies such as Jaguar, Audi, and Renault have all recently invested in Eastern European expansion plans.

However, I believe there is more at play here than just the Brexit vote changing how cars are designed and manufactured. What we think of today as a car is changing faster than ever and the research function is about more than developing the next generation of sound system. The entire auto industry is being redefined around technology and the car makers that get this right will win a substantial market share.

There are three areas where I think technological research is redefining the entire auto industry and this summarises why the locations where the R&D take place will be at the heart of planning the future of this industry.

1. Electric vehicles; Tesla has shown that electric vehicles can be popular, but the price is still out of reach for regular consumers. As the regular brands invest more in R&D and battery design we will see an enormous change in this market.
2. Internet of things; cars just becoming a part of your home network will be normal. This will allow cars to self-diagnose problems and talk to the manufacturer without the owner being involved in addition to synchronising to your home – perhaps something as simple as playing the last song you had on in the house when you start the vehicle.
3. Self driving cars; we have seen that it is mainly tech companies that seem to be progressing in this space, but if the mainstream auto brands want to define the future then they need to also be investing in this space.

All this shows that the future of the car industry looks more like the technology industry with integration into networks, the Internet of Things, new battery technologies, and the ability to function without human interaction. There will be a strong crossover between the IT business and the auto business in the near future and it looks like a lot of this work will be taking place in Eastern Europe.

Why Using Cell Phones at Work Can Be a Good Thing

The recent Innovation issue of PULSE Magazine, a bi-monthly e-zine created by and for IAOP’s members, published an article by Sergei Zhmako, IBA USA General Manager. The publication titled Why Using Cell Phones at Work Can Be a Good Thing focuses on social and mobile tools and their place in the corporate strategy of an enterprise.

According to the article, mobile and social technologies, being a strong trend in the consumer market, have become a top priority for most enterprises. With two billion people across the globe using social media and half of the web traffic coming from mobile devices, organizations actively employ these technologies in their work environment.

Mobile and social technologies enable easier communication and collaboration between employees and provide an instant access to business information and learning materials.

Despite bringing exciting opportunities, social and mobile technologies may also bring a number of challenges, as transition to them requires additional skills and effort.  The article gives ten recommendations to consider in a mobile or social engagement. Here are top three of them:

1. Engage Users Early – companies must strive to engage users at the early stages of the project lifestyle, including prototyping and receiving quick feedback from focus groups.

2. Consider Added Features – new features, such as a GPS location sensor, camera, or mike, could be added to solution if such need arises.

3. Change Your Culture and Make It Fun with Games – gamification can contribute to easier transition to enterprise mobility.

You can read the full article here.

Companies Are Using Big Data Without Realising It

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Big Data is one of those buzzwords everyone is talking about, but as I have been saying for some time now, most companies are performing some kind of data analysis on their customers or suppliers and have been doing so for years without ever calling it Big Data.

There does come a time when the data being analysed is so huge and fast changing that specific Big Data tools are required, but the reality is that many organisations are already performing some kind of data analysis that could be termed Big Data – without them even realising it.

A new study from Dresdner Advisory Services backs up my observations. When asked specifically if they use Big Data, just 17% of companies responded yes on this survey. 47% said that it might be used in future. However, 59% of the respondents also claimed that Big Data is “critically important” to their business. Something is wrong?

The survey shows that the definition of Big Data is perhaps one of the problems here. Most companies don’t have petabytes of data to analyse and they therefore are performing data analysis, but not thinking of it as Big Data analysis. If the manager doesn’t think of the problem as big enough then they don’t use the term Big Data.

However there are many areas of industry where this is about to change, largely driven by technologies such as mobile and the Internet of Things. Think of an example such as a retailer needing to create the same customer experience for an in-store customer, as that same customer would receive online.

These problems require data. They also need it to be analysed fast. While a customer is in-store and tracked using their mobile device, decisions can be taken about whether to give the customer a discount code based on their profile. During payment, recommendations for other products can be made based on sales history.

All these processes are easy to imagine, some retailers are getting this sophisticated now, but to make it happen it needs the IT system to be joined-up with data that can be analysed in real-time – allowing the system to take decisions itself.

Another easy to imagine examine is with automobiles. Cars are increasingly connected to the Internet via smart phones and wi-fi. They will increasingly diagnose problems and communicate with the manufacturer without the driver being aware that the car is fixing itself. The amount of data captured and exchanged for this to work is enormous, yet in most cases the customer is entirely unaware of the processes taking place.

So how big is big might still be a question for many, but I think that we are on the cusp of an explosion in data use – analysing this much information will certainly be a part of the bigger picture for Big Data.