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The 2020 trends shaping technology and business

 

Welcome to Business Futures podcast, the show where we take an honest and challenging look at the technologies and people that are shaping business. I'm Emma Pownall, Datel's Marketing Director - and in this episode I welcomed back Datel’s R&D Director, Tim Purcell, to explore three of the trends that are going to shape technology and business in 2020.

In this show, I explored:

  • 5G – the superspeed network that promises a wealth of new opportunities

  • Agile working – the Silicon Valley way of working that’s coming to traditional businesses too

  • And we couldn’t ignore Brexit – we still don’t know what it’ll look like, but we do know that it matters to business!

And as we reach the end of 2019, I wanted to ask Tim for his take on the future of technology, and we started by looking at 5G and the infrastructure already in place to support businesses.

“Yeah, 5G's getting rolled out now across certain major cities in the UK. We're starting to see the proliferation of masts that support 5G, and now we're starting to see devices themselves that will start supporting 5G as well.”

I was interested in whether the speed of the 5G network is the priority for consumers.

“It is and I think for me that's one of the issues with the advertising that is going on at the moment around the consumerization of 5G. I think there’s been too much focus on speed and the ability to watch video and stream video, regardless of where you are. I think there should be more of a focus around how businesses may benefit from 5G.”

I asked Tim what benefits businesses are going to get from 5G.

“I think the always-connected piece is a major piece for businesses, being able to access data, being able to access facilities across the entire country. Certainly speed is a big part of that as well. It also will allow businesses to have video communications as well, regardless of where you are. So I think there's certainly major benefits there.”

So what about the element of low latency for 5G? I asked Tim what that will bring for businesses.

“You've got multiple device connectivity, so devices can always be connected and feeding information into the wider network. It also brings an element of direct access of applications as well, so systems can always be available, always be connected. So regardless of where you are, whether you're in rural locations, whether you're out in, you know, farming facilities, the ability to be able to connect different devices, discrete devices, to major networks, I think is massively important.

If you look at the current 4G network, the 3G network, it's not great. Those locations that really where businesses would absolutely benefit from having that connectivity, they're just not getting it at the moment. And I think we need to make sure that that does happen with 5G.

I think again, looking at that low latency piece, I think where 5G really does add a benefit is where devices can then broadcast instantaneously if there are issues, if there are difficulties. So for example, we could have machinery in a factory generating information to say that there are problems with maybe some of the components within that piece of machinery and actually being able to action that immediately. Whereas today, typically there is a delay of time while you wait for the information to come through, and then you're having to react to it after the event. Now we can be a lot more proactive in how we manage situations within machinery and within devices.”

We had discussed the benefits of 5G, but I wanted to know whether Tim predicts any disadvantages from this 5G connectivity.

“The major problem, I think is going to be the volume of data that's generated. I think that's probably an area where we're not quite ready, certainly from a business perspective. So all the information that's now going to start to be fed into the network, so as each device generates gigabytes and gigabytes of data per device, it's what do we do with our data? How do we interpret the information that's being broadcast into the main network? I think that's going to be the main challenge, actually, both in terms of having people that are able to interpret that information, be able to do something with it, and actually the storage of that information as well. At the moment, we're storing gigabytes, terabytes as it is, and actually we're going to increase that tenfold, 100 fold. And actually, what do we do with that? How do we interpret that? And I think there's going to be a great deal of pressure on data scientists, data analysts to be able to at least understand that information and be able to predict and do something with it.

The value of the information is incredible. You can do all kinds of predictive analytics with it, spotting trends that maybe you've never been able to spot before, but actually being able to interpret it is a completely different skill set and I think businesses will need to start considering how they interpret that information, the type of employee that they might need to be able to look at this and analyze this.”

So how do businesses solve this problem of big data and the skill sets needed for that?

“Well at the moment, there is a massive shortage of data scientist professionals around, certainly in this country, and it's something that has been apparent actually for the last five years I would say, I mean certainly since 4G even became widespread. And actually having that level of skill, I think a lot of businesses are going to struggle to do that today. So there are different organizations starting to spring up such as crowdfunding organizations, for example kaggle.com is an organization that allows you to feed your data into them, and have people compete for the analysis of your data and be able to feed that back to you. So there are different solutions starting to present themselves. But I mean, fundamentally, we still have a shortage of data scientists.”

I wanted to know more about what businesses can do to bring 5G into their strategies.

“Businesses could be doing a number of things to prepare for 5G, so they could be looking at how communications could be improved, they could be looking at how they interact with their customers and suppliers in terms of shipping and sharing data. I think certainly on the communication side of things, 5G will bring a lot more capabilities around remote working, for example, such as video communications, such as augmented reality for example in warehouses, so I think businesses should be looking at how actually 5G would bring some of that benefit to them.”

The exciting thing for me is that 4G brought a lot of disruptive technologies, and a lot of disruptive industries, and it'll be really interesting to see where business takes 5G and what they do with it to build businesses for the future.

“I think that's the exciting thing. Actually, as you said, 4G did bring a lot of disruption. And it created a lot of technology businesses that took advantage of that technology, and built structures, built businesses around it. And I think it'd be really exciting to see which innovative organisations spring out the 5G network and the 5G capabilities.

It'll also be interesting to watch some of the technology leaders anyway, so companies like Apple that have always been ahead of the game in terms of innovation to see where they will go with the 5G technology. For example, they are rumored to be bringing out an augmented reality set of glasses in the next two or three years. So it will be interesting to see how some of those industry leaders actually adopt the technology and drive new technology from it.”

I wanted to move on to discussing agile working, and I asked Tim for a bit of insight into what Agile actually is.

“So the Agile Manifesto in software development has come about over probably the last 10, 15 years, and it's been quite a sea change in terms of how companies build software. So previously, it was quite a regimented, structured format, where now teams are given a little bit more autonomy. There's a definitive attempt at continuous improvement, so it's a constant reviewing of processes, of interaction, of how software is built.”

How does it make a difference to the process, then?

“You would think, actually, it's a lot less controlled, but actually what it does is it allows teams to keep building on what they've previously built upon. So they will take for example an iteration, review how that iteration has progressed, see where they can improve on it, and then the process gradually will improve over time. So it's very much geared to what an organisation is attempting to build rather than just the focus on the process itself.”

This is Tim’s method of working within his teams that he has brought to Datel, and I wanted to know more.

“Yeah, we made a conscious decision a number of years ago about how software was built in reality. Previously, there was a very rigid process about how software was built. There was little engagement or very small engagement with say a customer. They would only be brought into the process at various points. The team wasn't able to react as quickly as it needed to be able to do. So eventually you go out with the idea of designing a piece of software, you would then pass that through for customer feedback that would then get passed through to a developer that which would then get passed through to a testing team. So each one of those gates was a very distinct point in the process. And actually, what you ended up with is a piece of software that actually didn't really bear any resemblance to what the original requirement was. So taking a more agile approach, teams are involved at a much earlier point in the process. So they get to have a feel for what the software is going to look like, the customer will get input into that all the way through the process. And it's just a constant refinement of what you're working on and what you're building on. So at the end of each sprint at the end of each iteration, you will build something you will deliver something that can be reviewed that can be critiqued and then can be improved. So what you end up at the end of that process is what you expected to end up with, not something that one person particularly thought about, somebody else then builds upon, and then somebody else completed.”

I asked Tim what benefit he thinks it's brought to him as the leader of that team in delivering projects of the scale.

“I think well scale actually is a key word there because that whole process becomes a lot more scalable. So building individual agile teams then allows those teams to be a little more autonomous in terms of what they're building and how that process works for them. So previously, it was quite difficult to scale a very rigid process, whereas the agile teams were able to scale those more effectively, more quickly. So by having those units of people able to work on a particular area, they can be lifted and moved into other areas quite effectively, but also that team can be flexed and scaled. And when a team gets to a point where it's at maybe critical mass that can be broken off into other sub areas as well.”

I wondered whether Tim thinks there's benefits that other areas of business can take from working in a more agile way.

“Yeah, absolutely. I think that continuous improvement piece is a clear piece that businesses could adopt across their other areas of the business. I mean, that continuous improvement piece is very much focused on what did I do last time? How can I improve on it? What didn't work particularly well? And what are the actions we should take from it? So it’s a constant review of what we're doing and how we're doing it. I think that's absolutely something that can be carried across different teams, different departments in a business, just a constant question about what you're doing, what value is it adding to both yourself and your customers? And therefore, how can I improve on that? And I think absolutely that it's an area that anybody can be considering.”

As the Marketing Director, there’s a range of skill sets within my team and obviously they've got a lot they need to deliver. I asked Tim for tips on how I can practically bring agile working into my team.

“I think collaboration is a strong point of that. So making sure enabling those teams to be constantly collaborating with each other. I mean, going back to the software industry, it was quite an isolated environment. So teams and in even individuals who are working in a very isolated fashion, and something that actually technology has added to that is bringing that ability to collaborate even for remote workers. So people are always connected, always on, they're always communicating. And I think certainly encouraging that, encouraging team members to talk to each other, question each other, ask each other and support each other in what they're doing, I think is a key part of that agile piece.”

It feels like this could open up topics such as remote working, or four-day weeks and productivity hacks.

“Yeah, the remote working piece is really key actually. So, having that technology to provide that constant communication has enabled teams to stay very, very closely contacted. So I've got a number of remote people working within my teams, they're constantly enabled. They're constantly speaking to their colleagues using a combination of either video or audio chat or just textural chat. They're able to send code snippets to each other, they're able to send or share desktops to look at what they're developing and, and make sure that they're all working with the same goal in mind. And I think that's certainly been a huge facilitator for those teams.

Another one of the benefits of Agile actually is time limitation. So what we do certainly on from a software development point of view is we set time limits. So each iteration of development has a finite limit to him. So that might be two weeks, three weeks, a month, for example. And by setting a time limit, it means that there is a natural review process within that. So you would always be reflecting on what you've just built and delivered. And it might not be a completed solution but you will always reflect on where you are, what it is you've produced, and whether it is actually meeting expectations. And as part of that process, you can bring in different stakeholders such as customers, such as partners, such as members of the board, for example, to review what the ultimate guideline was, what the goal was, and whether you're on track to deliver that. So that should in theory, stop you from building something that you were never intended to build from going off and allowing scope creep, you should always have that time limitation to bring you back to where you should be.”

If businesses are wanting to pick up agile techniques, I wanted to know where Tim would recommend they start.

“I think the starting point would be looking at the culture within the business itself. So is there a culture of continuous improvement already within the organisation? I think that would be a good starting point. And the collaboration, so are employees, are our teams allowed to have a voice within the process to be able to help define some of that process and be able to contribute to that culture of improvement. And then looking at how their current processes would fit around that culture and building up the processes around that. Certainly from my own experience, that that's where we started in the past is looking at making sure that the culture is right, making sure that the collaboration framework was there to allow people to have that voice and to be able to contribute to that.”

We can't talk about what's going to affect businesses in 2020 without mentioning Brexit. Regardless of the outcome we know that businesses are going to be affected by it next year, so I asked how businesses are currently preparing for that.

“Certainly a number of the businesses that I've dealt with, certainly of the recent months with regards to Brexit have had to make a number of considerations. So for example, the supply chain itself, they've had to build more of a supply network as opposed to just having individual organisations that they work with. So they're also having to consider the location of goods as well, where they're storing goods, how would they get goods across into Europe in the event of, for example, a no-deal Brexit. So a number of businesses have actually been quite forward thinking in terms of building that network and building those distribution centers to ensure that subject to what happens with Brexit, they were still in a position to be able to trade and to be able to ship their products across Europe.

We're also seeing quite an impact on systems as well. And I think it's highlighting actually the rigidity of some of those business systems where, for example, we've seen distribution systems having to encompass wide-ranging changes to deal with that uncertainty. And I think that's the key actually, nobody knows realistically how this is going to affect anybody. I think there's been limited guidance. Businesses as part of that supply chain and then unsure as to how it's going to affect their individual systems, they're having to build a certain degree of flexibility around that.

And a great example of that is, for example, our own carrier software, we've had to build in that flexibility to allow it to be able to communicate with all the various shipping systems to be able to deal with what would happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. So for example, trading rules change the application of duty and tax changes, and we've had to build that flexibility into the system to deal with that uncertainty. So not just ourselves, but a number of businesses are having to consider how Brexit does affect their own data transfer and their own business systems.”

I think one thing we've learned from our customers is that they want certainty at this point and an ability to move on and carry on running that business. I wanted to know what lessons Tim thinks we've learned from the Brexit experience that businesses can take away.

“I think there's a couple of lessons actually, I think collaboration is one, I think working closely together to try and deal with such a seismic change in business, I think it's been an interesting point. I think having to work together to facilitate changes to business systems and working closely with customers and suppliers and so on, I think it's brought a lot of businesses together to understand those changes and to be able to deal with those changes. Technology needs to play a key part in that. And I think, again, I think we've noted that some of the systems that we've been dealing with have been quite rigid, and we've had to start looking at introducing that flexibility to deal with some uncertainty.”

My guest was Tim Purcell, and together we looked at next year’s upcoming trends for technology and business.

Whatever your plans for 2020, we wish you a prosperous and successful year. See you again soon, on the Business Futures podcast.

 

This podcast was produced by ModComms, a full-service marketing agency offering innovative approaches to client challenges. www.modcommslimited.com 

 

 

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My guest:

Tim Purcell, R&D Director, Datel

Tim’s interest and passion for emerging technologies and how they can assist businesses to be more successful is at the heart of Datel’s research and development. Tim’s growing team is focused on keeping abreast of technology, how it can benefit businesses and how we can satisfy any gaps in business system requirements. Datel’s own product range, Fusion, is authored from within this team through collaborating with customers on their changing needs.

Business Futures host:

Emma Pownall, Marketing Director, Datel

My team and I provide our customers with a range of events, guides and tools that bridge the gap between business leaders and technology.  From large conferences connecting customers with each other and the software world, to sharing customer stories that explain what is possible with the right business solutions, I'm focused on sharing how people and technology can support business success.