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Joining the Digital Revolution

A lot has been made in our industry about going digital, but there is so much more to the digital revolution than just print technologies. It’s easy to forget that just about everything in our world has been transformed in one way or another by this still-emerging technology. And today we stand on the cusp of another giant technological leap forward. From the Internet of Things (IoT) and analytics, to augmented reality and artificial intelligence (AI), the digital revolution will continue to shape every aspect of our personal and professional lives for the foreseeable future. The key for all of us lies in seeing the opportunities and finding ways to make digital technologies work for us.

Woman looking at virtual reality

How did we get here?

Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of 2005’s The World is Flat, claims that the foundation for the modern Internet was laid in the late 1990s, when multinational telecommunications companies strung thousands of miles of fiber optic cables across the oceans’ floors. The result was a global network that for the first time allowed for inexpensive yet almost instantaneous communication from nearly anywhere in the world to nearly anywhere else. Friedman predicted that this would create an unprecedented change in terms of the flow of ideas and the very notion of work.

Barely 13 years later, Friedman’s vision is playing out before us in real time. Driverless cars, once the stuff of science fiction, seem likely in our lifetimes. Automation, once seen as the savior of the working man, has become more feared in some places than outsourcing. And some of our brightest and most celebrated innovators, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Tesla’s Elon Musk, are warning about the possible perils of AI. Still, there are many aspects of the digital revolution that promise more hope than fear, along with opportunities for those who can see beyond the hype and focus instead on the possibilities.

Can you hear me now?

Today’s business world moves at a pace unimaginable even 10 years ago. Customers expect 24-hour instant access to their vendors, as well as a corresponding response time in terms of products and services. The big question now is not what customers expect today, but rather what they will expect tomorrow – even faster and better service. Technology experts recognize this and are already working on the next generation of connectivity. Soon, we will begin hearing about the 5G platform with theoretical download speeds of 10,000 Mbps. That’s ten times the speed of the current 4G platform.

In business, companies continue to digitize every aspect of their work environments, from entering orders and sample requests to processing quotes, invoices, and products. Others use RFID technology to track inventory through their warehouses, and some have even found ways to automate various aspects of their production line, further reducing the long-term costs of manufacturing. All the while, they’re gathering data on cycle times and lead times to help them improve efficiencies and increase profits.

Looking forward, more and more companies are using application program interfaces to help them process large volumes of business. These AIPs are also helping companies marry up their divergent existing technologies in a manner that allows them to eliminate internal redundancies and harness the full power of the data that they are gathering. For example, the data from accounts receivable, production, and sales no longer have to exist in isolated form, allowing for a free flow of information among employees and departments that allows for improved responsiveness to their customers’ needs. This convergence of information could possibly be extended to customers and suppliers to streamline the flow of raw materials through production.

Where do we go from here?

The advent of 5G will likely fuel the growth of connectivity. We can already view the feeds from home security cameras on our phones and send medical data directly to our doctors through sensors on home medical devices. Further, the IoT allows businesses to run equipment remotely and enables customers to submit orders that then go directly into scheduling systems that in turn provide real-time job statuses. For the time being, it’s mainly larger companies with bigger IT budgets that are taking advantage of these types of systems, but like every other new technology, it’s just a matter of time before they’re adopted by the masses.

In fact, Gartner, a company that provides research and consulting services in the information technology field, estimates that there will be more than 26 billion devices connected to the internet as of 2020. This, of course, includes millions of personal devices, but the possibilities for businesses to increase connectivity through equipment that is connected directly to their customers via the internet is already a reality, bringing with it opportunities for differentiation and growth. Companies that are open to interacting in this way will strengthen relationships with their customers and vendors by providing an ease of doing business that enables all to be more competitive. The companies that will prosper in this environment are those that are willing to embrace change, to look at technology as an ally rather than as an enemy, and to see the opportunities lying therein. Adaptive companies will find a brave new world that thrives on enhanced communication and responsiveness, and consequently leads to an enhanced customer experience. Working collaboratively with all stakeholders, these companies will reap the benefits of the digital revolution.

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