Technology is evolving -- fast. And though it might not be easy to keep up with it all, your company cannot just focus on the changes that are happening today. You need to look beyond, to the technological trends that are emerging to shape the future of your organization and your industry. Why? Because the more anticipatory you can be in regard to technology, the more creatively you can use it to gain competitive advantage.
As someone who has been accurately predicting the future of technology for over 25 years, I urge all leaders to focus on the following three emerging trends that will reshape the business landscape as we know it.
1. Just-in-time training
Thanks to cloud-based technology, we're on the brink of a revolution in just-in-time training. This will enable people to use their laptops, cell phones and tablet computers as tools to receive training precisely when they need it. In the current training model used by many organizations, people receive training for a variety of things before they actually need the expertise. This takes the people away from their jobs and costs the company a lot of money. With just-in-time training, companies can keep people in the field, forgoing training that might be needed someday. Then, when an employee needs a certain skill set to complete a job or do a task, he or she can receive the training for it in real time via cloud-based technology.
For example, suppose your IT staff has to install new hardware at all your company's office locations. Brand new and complex, the hardware requires special installation procedures. Rather than taking your IT staff out of work and putting them in a training course, you keep them on-site without the specific training. Then, when they have to install the hardware or troubleshoot it, they can receive the training on how to do so in real time via their mobile devices as they are installing or servicing the hardware.
Now, let's take this trend a step further. Suppose the IT professional is using the just-in-time training module via his tablet computer. But he's still confused about a certain aspect of the installation. All he has to do is touch the "help" icon on his screen and it immediately connects him to a master trainer, live on the screen. And instead of just telling the master trainer what the problem is, the IT person can put on a headband that has a camera on the front. Now, the master trainer can see what the IT person sees and can tell him exactly what to do. The master trainer can lead the IT professional through the installation as if he were standing right there. Talk about a dramatic savings and increase in efficiency!
Realize that using cloud-based technology for just-in-time services goes way beyond installation and repair. It could be used to train people on new software, train salespeople on product upgrades, instruct employees on new policies and procedures, etc. And it's different and better than a standard tutorial, because the training can be accessed via any device, anywhere and at anytime...and it offers an option for live help. In reality, the applications for cloud-based, just-in-time services are virtually limitless.
2. Processing power on demand
The increased bandwidth that our mobile devices now receive enables us to connect to cloud-based technologies easier and faster than ever before. And one thing we know about bandwidth is that it will continue to increase. Because of this, we'll soon be able to take advantage of another trend that I call processing power on demand -- or virtualized processing power.
A mobile device only has a certain amount of processing power. But if you can tap into additional processing power via cloud-based technology, you can turn your mobile device into a super computer where you can do advanced simulations and crunch different data streams together to get real-time analytics. Now your handheld device is as powerful and advanced as your desktop. Imagine the increase in productivity if each of your company's employees had the capability to do complex work that required advanced processing power while they were on the road, armed with nothing more than their mobile device. What would that shift do to your company's bottom line?
3. Creative application of technology
For both of these trends and others to fully emerge, business leaders have to consider what their people would do with the technology. It's no longer enough to just deploy technology; you also have to consider how your people can creatively apply the technology in order to gain competitive advantage.
Therefore, you need to go to your internal customers (all the people using the technology in the enterprise) and ask what they want technologically. Give them what they ask for, but realize that they will under-ask because they don't know what's technically possible. So while you want to listen to what people in the organization are asking for and give it to them, realize that what they're not asking for is the bigger and better capabilities-the things they don't even know are possible.
The key is to go to the next level and give people the ability to do what they currently can't do, but would want to do, if they only knew they could. After all, people really didn't ask for an iPhone or a BlackBerry. The hidden need was the ability to access their email and Internet without being tied to their desktop or laptop.
This is about putting existing technologies together and using them in a creative way. For example, there are literally thousands of features in Microsoft Word that you can select. Most people are using only seven to ten features. And your competitors are using the same features, which means you're not getting any true competitive advantage. So you need to ask, "What features would be great for our sales group (or HR, or accounting department, or logistics people, etc.) to use-features that are so buried in the software that no one knows they exist?" Most IT departments won't ask those questions because they're too busy making sure everything is connected, working well and safe. And if they're not asking, who is? Who in your organization is looking at the tools you already have and asking if they are being underused? Chances are the answer is "no one." As such, it's safe to say that all your tools are underutilized.
Therefore, you need to implement a communication vehicle that engages the different groups you serve in the enterprise -- such as sales, logistics, purchasing, accounting, HR, etc. -- and you need to engage them to help them understand the power of the tools they have access to. One suggestion is to automatically show them a "feature of the day" and how it can make their life easier. This is about giving them information in short, fun, engaging ways rather than a hundred-page document detailing all the features (which no one will read anyway). Some software programs have such features where you get a tip per day. Perhaps you can customize that idea and apply it internally so that the different groups get information tailored specifically to them and their needs.
Create your company's future
Many business leaders will say they are too busy to address any of these trends. But if you don't address them, who will? Ultimately, whoever drives these trends within an organization will be perceived as a significant contributor to the enterprise, someone worth keeping -- and someone with high value in the marketplace. When that someone is you, you can drive results to the bottom line and be a key contributor to the organization's success.
Daniel Burrus is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology-driven trends to help clients better understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create opportunities. He is the author of six books, including Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible and Technotrends. For more information, go to burrus.com.
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