Imagine the Terminator handling your customer support requests; Wall-E managing your inventory; C3PO writing your marketing materials… It sounds ridiculous, but in this age of digital business, robots and smart machines are becoming an increasingly common fixture in the workplace.
At this year’s Gartner Symposium in Barcelona, the IT research and advisory company laid out its predictions for the future of business and technology within the next five years. The predictions are bold, but with a 70 percent accuracy rate on past predictions, the future of business sounds, to put it bluntly, futuristic. Robots, cognitive computing, smart machines, and a new internet of things architecture are only a few of the highly digital shifts that businesses can expect to see in the coming years.
As an enterprise research firm, Gartner talks a lot about these predictions in the context of large corporations, but there are many trends that will undoubtedly affect small and medium businesses too. Here are five of Gartner’s top tech predictions for 2016 and beyond, and how they could affect your growing business:
1. Businesses will ramp up their recruitment of smart machines
Large enterprises may have the financial resources necessary to make the biggest leaps and bounds when it comes to state-of-the-art technology, but small and medium businesses known for their agility are more likely to be able to quickly adopt and adapt to these technological changes when compared to slow-moving, red-tape stricken enterprises.
2. Robots will become copywriters for marketing departments
At the level that content is currently being produced, it may already feel like machines are at work. Between web copy, press releases, reports, white papers, e-books, and articles, content is flooding the internet at unimaginable rates, a lot of it bland, uninspired, and dare I say, robotic. This is especially true when it comes to content marketing, where formulaic posts are a dime a dozen. Come 2018 though, you might be able to get two dozen posts for that same dime with the help of robotic writers.
For an SMB looking to cut costs on writers, having a machine do it could be the answer. It’ll likely be more practical for writing things like reports or press releases, although if it’s at the risk of sacrificing creativity when writing more in-depth articles, it can’t be any more bland or formulaic than what’s already being produced.
3. A wave of hack attacks on digital signage is coming
If you think that the digital sign in front of your building is safer from vandalism than when you had that trusty old plastic-lettered reader board, think again. ‘Smart buildings’ with digital signage, automated lighting and heating, and smart surveillance systems will become just as vulnerable to vandalism as those reader boards were to teenagers ruining a perfectly crafted message.
Smart buildings provide the opportunity for hackers to manipulate everything from digital signs, to lighting and security cameras. Digital sign vandalism may not be a huge security threat, but when it comes to the latter, there could be risks to employee safety or company property when tampered with. According to Gartner, preventing these types of threats will lead to the creation of ‘digital officer’ roles which will use algorithms to, for example, detect and avoid obscenities.
4. Virtual assistants will rule in a post-app era
Virtual personal assistants (VPAs) like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now will evolve to become infinitely more helpful than their current ask and tell capabilities. More like hunter-gatherers, these new VPAs will be able to collect and use data about a person’s mobile content, usage, and behaviours in an even more algorithm-heavy way to anticipate a user’s “needs”. These needs can then be fulfilled with little to no user action required, taking the idea of predictive analytics to another level. It’ll be like the suggested book or recommended viewing features in Amazon or Netflix’s algorithms, x100.
Similarly, this has the potential to contribute to workforce productivity, where these personal assistants will act on the user’s behalf without the need for human intervention.
5. Customers will be the biggest cloud security threat
Whether small, medium, or large, all businesses face the same threat: customers. With increased momentum towards a shift to the cloud, security continues to be the taboo topic of this shift. Regardless, it’s not the cloud itself that’s the biggest threat, but the way in which people and businesses are using it. This is especially true when it comes to public cloud services (like Google Drive or Dropbox, for example) and includes poor practices like the oh-so ominous weak password.
The robots are coming
While these predictions may seem far-fetched, the shift towards everything digital over the past ten years is amplifying at a rapid rate. At the very least, Gartner’s predictions solidify the notion of the digital trend picking up speed.
The most important thing about these predictions is being able to proactively embrace them so that your business can be prepared to meet its customers and clients where they’ll actually be: in the digital space. Beyond that – prepare yourself for the robopocalypse.