Beyond 2020: How technology is defining your business' future

Jonathan Crossfield
Business and Technology Journalist

Jonathan is an award-winning journalist, blogger, writer and editor, locked in a daily fight for the keyboard with two very impatient cats.

Jonathan Crossfield
Business and Technology Journalist

Jonathan is an award-winning journalist, blogger, writer and editor, locked in a daily fight for the keyboard with two very impatient cats.

Welcome to the world beyond 2020: Where smart houses know exactly what temperature will keep us comfortable and the fridge can automatically remind you or your retailer to replenish the milk; where smart farms use sensors to tell the farmer precisely when different parts of a field need to be watered and to what level.

machinery behind glass window

In just over three years, clocks and calendars will mark the beginning of the third decade of the third millennium. As the pace of technological change shows no signs of slowing down, we can be certain that how we live and work beyond 2020 will be very different to how we did in 2010.

This decade saw the rise of tablet devices (the first tablet went on sale in 2010). DVD/Blu-ray sales declined as download and streaming services such as iTunes and Netflix changed how audiences access television and movies. The taxi industry was outflanked by a new app with a low cost business model while boardrooms everywhere watched on and began whispering about the threat of ‘disruption’. Devices got smarter. The internet got faster. Everything got connected.

“Many things that we are used to today will be revolutionised, just as many things over the last ten years have also been revolutionised,” says Stephen Elop, Group Executive for Technology, Innovation and Strategy at Telstra—and he should know. With a long career that includes Adobe, Nokia and Microsoft, Elop has seen firsthand how each new advance in technology leads to new business models and new opportunities, while sweeping away old ones. “Things are happening even faster today than they were ten years ago.” 

Welcome to the world beyond 2020: Where smart houses know exactly what temperature will keep us comfortable and the fridge can automatically remind you or your retailer to replenish the milk; where smart cities help everyone get to work faster, safer and more efficiently in their autonomous, driverless cars; where smart farms use sensors to tell the farmer precisely when different parts of a field need to be watered and to what level. 

The Internet Of Things

According to current estimates, 13.5 billion devices are already connected to the internet and, therefore, potentially to each other. Today, the average Australian home only has a few network-connected devices. By 2020, Elop predicts this will increase to forty or fifty devices, exploding to hundreds or even thousands by 2030. “That device could be something on their wrist keeping track of their body temperature because they may have a disease to be monitored. It could be the light bulb, it could be the switch, it could be all of these things—all working in harmony. And that’s what we have to look forward to.”

As Executive Director of Telstra Home and Premium Services, John Chambers is fascinated by what Internet of Things means for the smart home of the future—as well as the business models it enables. “Smart fridges have been on the slate for a while so I don’t think we should say that’s going to change the world. But I definitely do think there’s technology in the fridge that will make our lives more convenient, letting you know what needs replenishing. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see fridges subsidised by certain companies, much like how a telecommunications company might subsidise a smart phone because of the ongoing revenue that a customer will provide. The ongoing replenishment of what goes into the fridge will become so simple, so automated, that you might have a certain fridge in the home so that you buy online from a certain retailer that fills that fridge.”

However, the real potential becomes apparent when the Internet of Things is applied to industry. “In Australia the Internet of Things will impact everything from agriculture to mining, transportation, healthcare, many of the things that are important in Australia will be aided by Internet of Things technology,” says Elop.

“For example, understanding with precision when different parts of a field need to be watered to different levels based on sensors scattered throughout the field. In an environment where water is a precious commodity, that in itself will change agriculture. In the mining industry, understanding with great precision what is happening with all of the mechanical devices and vehicles and everything else necessary to make that mine as productive as it can be. Already, we’re seeing mining companies adopt these technologies with sensors all over the place and huge amounts of data collected so that they can make intelligent decisions about how the mining process should proceed.”

Future ways of working

“Statistics say something along the lines of 40 per cent of today’s jobs will be gone in the next 10 to 15 years. They’ll be automated,” says Annie Parker, co-founder of startup incubator Muru-D. “But what we’re not talking about is all of the new jobs that are going to be created.”

Parker is also a director of Code Club Australia, a nationwide network of after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11. “I have nine-year old kids who are putting together animations and computer programs that I can’t even think of. Imagine what businesses, what innovations they’re going to create in the future. The mind boggles!”

Elop doesn’t see this as a new trend. “Certainly, jobs that were around a hundred years ago don’t exist. There are very few people putting horseshoes on a horse today. But at the same time, there are many people working in jobs [related to] autonomous vehicles. The problem may remain the same, the problem of transportation or mobility or freedom, but the jobs around them definitely do change as we change the way we accomplish these things.”

“The Internet of Things is already large and it’s only going to get larger,” says Parker. “It will create new opportunities, new jobs, new learning points for us to create new businesses and new innovations. We just can’t predict what those things are just yet.”

Future ways of interacting

The jobs we do won’t be the only things that will change: Where and when we work is also undergoing a rapid evolution. “In a lot of industries, the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday [routine] is long since gone,” says Parker. “We are incredibly flexible about how we manage our staff and employee base, purely because we want them to have a great work life balance. I’m absolutely certain that new technologies like virtual reality can help us deliver an even better experience for our staff.”

Elop sees technology as a way of bringing teams together, regardless of distance. “Where I work, we have two headquarter locations; one in Sydney, one in Melbourne. But every important meeting is happening in at least those two locations at the same time through the use of video conferencing, the sharing of documents and so forth. As I travel the world a great deal, I can participate and be a part of those meetings, of those sessions, of those interactions wherever I am. That capability of working wherever you want to go is truly going to explode in the future.” 

Chambers cautions against getting carried away, though. “I don’t think the solution is all working from home. Certain tasks really require human interaction.” Chambers believes some of the best creative ideas, decisions and outcomes are the result of human interaction and engagement. “How do we use technology to be efficient with the stuff that isn’t necessarily creative—the admin stuff—but really maximise the human interaction time, the creative time where we’re coming up with the big ideas, creating the future? That’s the time we really want to maximise.”

“I think it’s important for employers to look at what technology can bring for their staff,” advises Parker. “It will become apparent that if they don’t have it, it will be a reason why their employees are leaving for other [employers].”

Future ways of shopping

Online shopping has also exploded in the last decade, and new technologies are only likely to continue this trend, according to Chambers. “Things like augmented reality and virtual reality—being able to interact with a catalogue in real time, perhaps overlay clothes onto your own persona and see what they might look like—these are pretty logical next steps from the technology that’s available today.”

Technology is also about to revolutionise one of the most frustrating aspects of online shopping—delivery times. “For me one of the most exciting things in the online and retailing space is drone technology,” says Parker. “I love the idea that instead of having to pop out to a shopping centre, I can order something online and it gets delivered at my convenience, direct to my front door by this wonderful drone.” 

However, Elop sees the shopping experience evolving far beyond simply having something shipped to you faster. “Think about how [3D printing] revolutionises the retail experience. Today, we expect everything to be shipped to us in a box but imagine that certain products could actually be printed for us in our home.”

Future ways of thinking

“We’re moving into an era where technology is going to fix real world problems, not just be entertaining and make our lives a little bit easier,” says Parker. “I think we’re going to see technology moving into spaces where it will genuinely improve communities and the lives of vast swathes of the globe. The impact of technology will be huge and I can’t wait for it to genuinely solve real world problems.”

“Technology doesn’t define the human experience; it’s an enabler of human experience,” says Chambers. “So what you feel comfortable with, what helps you to have a better day, feel more safe, secure, provides convenience—that’s what really matters. It shouldn’t just be tech for the sake of tech.”

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