We’re in the middle of an information tech revolution, and it shows no signs of slowing down. AI and digital technologies are completely changing not only the way we do businesses, but also the way we live.
For the first time in history, the world’s most traded commodity is data. The giants of the data age: Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft, are now the five most valuable listed firms in the world. These tech giants have done well as early adopters of the revolution. But, whether you’re trading in data or flowers, your company’s activities are no less affected by the profound changes going on behind our screens.
Here are six of the ways in which business has been altered forever by the IT revolution.
Direct Customer Engagement via Social Media
Customer engagement has shifted entirely, from a one-way marketing stream, to a two-way conversation. Social media has enabled visibility and direct interaction between brands and consumers like never before. Brands can follow their hashtags and mentions on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, create unique conversations, reach new customers, and intervene in potential PR disasters before they turn bad.
A Skyscanner customer, for example, recently tweeted to the brand after a tech glitch suggested he takes a 413,786-hour and 25-minute long layover on a trip from New Zealand to London: “Hi Skyscanner. Just wondering what you’d recommend I do during the 47 year layover your website has suggested?” Instead of putting out a formal apology, Skyskanner’s social media manager engaged like a human being, with a sense of humour, making a number of suggestions on how he could spend his 47 years. The conversation became good press for the brand.
Businesses beware, however: today’s consumers are savvy, paying attention, and increasingly ethically and environmentally conscious. If your company is engaged in bad practices off-screen, or if you’re not being smart about what you put out online, social media is a space where you’ll be asked to answer publicly for your behaviour.
Take the #McDStories cautionary tale as an example. McDonalds created this hashtag to invite a social media conversation about nice moments customers have had at their establishment. Instead, the hashtag was used to highlight complaints and criticism about everything from their ethics and environmental impact, to cleanliness and service. The hashtag was pulled, but not before a lot of dirt became public.
Marketing is a Content Competition
Whether it’s booking a hotel, comparing insurance or finding a local dog walking service, practically everyone’s first port of call to find any business is the internet. Being searchable on Google is essential to the viability of any business, and the key to SEO is content. The problem is, everyone else is publishing, too.
According to SmartInsights, every minute; half a million Tweets are created, 500 hours of video get uploaded to YouTube, more than three million Facebook posts are created, and four million searches happen on Google. We’re saturated with online content already, so businesses really have to work their social media content hard in order to stand out.
Content across social media and online publishing has to be memorable, engaging, and on point when it comes to branding. The good news is that with social media being free and content cheap to develop, this somewhat levels the playing field between small and big business. New players can enter the market, with some clever content that goes viral.
The App Revolution
The invention of apps and the widespread use of mobiles have created space for new, decentralised business models that would have been impossible even ten years ago. DriveNow, Uber, TaskRabbit, Tinder, Foodora, and the myriad of other freelance worker hire apps out there: every week, it seems there’s a new app-based business on the market.
Not only are apps allowing for new types of businesses, the relatively low cost of app development means that they can used to solve problems within business operations, too. For example, a team of staff at Swedish-based manufacturing giant Husqvarna have used AppSheet to create 41 unique apps, to improve inventory and data management in their warehousing systems. The apps led to greater productivity, visibility of key metrics, fewer tracking errors and greater employee engagement.
AI and Machine Learning
We’re all familiar with those website chatbots that pop up to ask if you’d like some help. These bots allow companies to provide instant customer service 24/7, a kind of assistance that can be helpful with basic queries, and they are improving every year. That’s one very visible example of how businesses are using AI, however, most usage of this new information technology happens behind the scenes.
The three main ways AI is being used in business are automation, data analytics, and natural language processing.
To understand what that means, it’s helpful to take a look at Amazon: arguably the world’s most successful user of AI. The company was one of the first to use AI to interpret data and drive product recommendations. Of course, the Amazon Echo, (using AI bot Alexa) is another very obvious example of AI in customer service and data processing.
However, Alexa is the tip of the iceberg, when you look how AI pulls data and analyses from data across each customer interaction across all their platforms. Their specific ‘flywheel’ approach, means that machine learning in one area of the company spreads quickly across operations elsewhere. AI plays a huge role in the company’s ‘recommendation engine,’ which generates 35% of Amazon’s revenue.
In future, AI will likely be integrated further into Amazon’s warehousing, with automation playing a role in product searching, selection and shipping.
Hacking and Cyber Security
One of the not-so-great effects of the IT revolution is the way in which interconnectivity has made businesses (as well as individuals and governments) vulnerable to hacking and data breaches.
Facebook, Target, Equifax, and Adobe: these are just four of the companies that have experienced large-scale attacks in the last ten years. Each case involved the theft of tens or hundreds of millions of individual records, including login credentials, financial information and personal data, all totalling nearly 4 billion records stolen in over the last decade. Basically, half the entire world population has been affected by hacking!
Hacking is not only bad for investor confidence; it deters customers and ultimately, impacts a businesses bottom line. Nearly two in five enterprises surveyed in a recent study admit to losing business due to a real or perceived lack of cyber security. Businesses and governments are only just starting to take this threat very seriously, and to put the appropriate cyber security systems in place.
Cloud computing is arguably the foundation of all other current revolutions in IT and business. The ability to store data, software and systems on a flexible number of external servers underpins a company’s ability to adopt any of the new technologies we’ve mentioned above. The Cloud allows a company to:
- Expand operations beyond the limit of servers and software capabilities
- Support and share information with customers globally
- Allow employees to work at any time, in any location
- Save on infrastructure costs
- Develop new business models based on interconnectivity and device integration
From the small business operator working on Google Docs from any location, to Toyota leveraging the cloud to transform a car into a “connected platform,” the Cloud could arguably be one of the greatest revolutions to affect how, and where we work. It allows all computing activities to be free of any geographical or infrastructure constraint.
From online university degrees, to international supply chains: the impacts of the Cloud are far reaching, and only just beginning to be explored.
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