Written by: Kevin Gardner
As technology changes, the way the world does business also changes. That can be seen everywhere these days, most notably in the form of so many former brick-and-mortar stores going fully online. There are, however, a few more subtle ways that the fast pace of technological change is impacting the business world. As is so often the case, this progress is taking forms which could not have been predicted even half a century ago.
Here are four cutting-edge technologies making headlines in the business world today.
Time Tracking Software
Completing a project is often less difficult than coordinating the people needed to do it. Most companies have a collective team or hierarchy of employees and managers who need to be on the same page to accomplish a task. The paperwork involved in keeping records of hours worked and milestones achieved is notoriously immense. Digital tools are now streamlining that process considerably. Basic time tracking software like app-based alarms, stopwatches and calendars have always been useful, but with digital time cards, managers can track the exact times that their employees are working down to the minute. These programs can be accessed by smartphone via a time clock app so that progress on a job site can be monitored in real time remotely.
Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to any sophisticated machine that can emulate human cognitive functions such as learning and problem solving. When AI systems act as a complement to human action, it can greatly improve the speed and efficiency of a task. Business analytics is one of the most prominent uses for AI. Analytical tools are used to spot trends in data and make predictions based upon those trends, something at which machine intelligence excels. Advancements in AI are making chatbots an alternative to live customer service as more complex programs are becoming better able to mimic human empathy and appropriate social responses. Something else to note is that device-based AI systems (which don't require cloud connectivity) are rapidly becoming available, including facial recognition software and voice-activated personal assistants.
Also called 3D printing or desktop fabrication, additive manufacturing is the building of an object directly from a CAD model. The printer actually creates an object layer by layer using a mixture of raw material feedstock, such as plastics or resins, to make the desired product from the bottom up. An important tipping point for this technology was a broadening in the range of printable materials. Once this becomes a more versatile technology through materials science advancements, 3D printing will liberate the manufacturing process from dependency on a complicated supply chain. Blueprints for specific devices will be available for download from the Internet so that the needed object can be crafted on site, thereby cutting overhead in the manufacturing process considerably. Imagine a world where products are created in the store rather than shipped across the planet, and the revolutionary effects of this technology become obvious.
This is one of those technologies that was hard to predict, but when it hit the market it made a big splash in the business world. Augmented Reality (AR) is an immersive experience, in which a real-world environment is enhanced by computer-generated perceptual data. In other words, physical experiences are enhanced by the addition of digital information. This can take the form of a head-up display (HUD) worn in front of the eyes, allowing the information to be layered over visual input without the person looking at a device, or can be incorporated into smartphone technology. Contact lenses are currently in development which can display AR experiences. AR can be used for intra-office communications as well, keeping far-flung groups of workers coordinated.
As technologies become more complex and advanced, the success of a business endeavor will come to be measured by how well they adapt to these changes and leverage them in order to grow in their ability to serve the public. Nobody can know exactly what the future holds in terms of which technologies will prove themselves profitable, but keeping an eye on these potential groundbreakers is a smart idea.