South African businesses wanting to leverage the power of technology to transform themselves into intelligent enterprises that can integrate into people’s daily lives must embrace five key trends, according to Accenture Technology Vision 2018, the annual report that identifies technological trends most likely to disrupt business.

This year’s report by New York-listed Accenture (NYSE: ACN) surveyed more than 6,000 businesses across 19 industries in 25 countries including South Africa, making it the largest-ever sample size in the history of the report. Accenture Technology Vision 2018 highlights how rapid advances in technologies — including artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics and the cloud — are enabling companies to not just create innovative products and services, but change the way people work and live.

“South African businesses and IT executives are increasingly embracing the power of technology with 80% of those surveyed agreeing that it can help companies weave themselves seamlessly into the fabric of daily life,” says Willie Schoeman, Managing Director for Accenture Technology in Africa. “Many people may not even realise that they are interacting with new innovations like AI. If you’ve received an automated telemarketing call or interacted with a Chabot online then AI has already influenced your life.”

Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are good examples of how companies can use the power of technology to integrate into their customers’ lives, not only through the company’s extensive online presence but also through its Echo device and AI assistant Alexa. Schoeman says an excellent local example of a company that is successfully integrating itself into customers’ lives through the power of technology is Discovery. By embedding its Vitality programme into its insurance products it encourages its customers to interact with the company by rewarding them for positive behaviour.

Given the wave of technological change sweeping the globe, the Accenture Technology Vision 2018 report identifies five emerging technology trends that companies must address if they are to build the partnerships needed to succeed in today’s digital economy:

1. Citizen AI: Raising AI to Benefit Business and Society

As artificial intelligence grows in its capabilities—and its impact on people’s lives—businesses must move to “raise” their AI presence to act as responsible, productive members of society. The report shows that 72% of South African executives agree that in the next two years, AI will work alongside humans in their organisations as a co-worker, collaborator and trusted advisor. This is slightly lower than the global average of 81%. Nevertheless, 78% of South African executives report that their organisations seek to gain customer trust and confidence by being transparent in their AI-based decisions and actions, compared to 72% globally.

2. Extended Reality: The End of Distance

Virtual and augmented reality technologies are removing the distance to people, information, and experiences, transforming the ways people live and work. Only 54% of South African executives believe it will be important or very important to leverage XR (cross reality) solutions to close the gap of physical distance when engaging with employees and customers. While this is far lower than the global average of 80%, Accenture says this is likely due to the lower connectivity and computer literacy levels in the country, which means local managers are still focused on other challenges. This is probably why only 13% of South African executives state it is very important for their organisations to be a pioneer in XR solutions compared to a global average of 27%. However, the local mining and engineering industries are more likely to adopt XR (60%) compared to others such as consumer goods (30%). For example, the heavy engineering industry uses remote experts to assist fieldworkers to repair vehicles.

3. Data Veracity: The Importance of Trust

By transforming themselves to run on data, businesses have created a new kind of vulnerability: inaccurate, manipulated, and biased data that leads to corrupted business insights, and skewed decisions. A fairly large portion of South African executives (73%) agree with their global counterparts (79%) that organisations are basing their most critical systems and strategies on data, yet many have not invested in the capabilities to verify the truth within it.

4. Frictionless Business: Built to Partner at Scale

Businesses depend on technology-based partnerships for growth, but their own legacy systems aren’t designed to support partnerships at scale. Only 18% of South African businesses report working with double or more partners than they were two years ago. This is half the global average of 36%. Schoeman says many South African companies are still using legacy systems that were not built to support the technology-based partnerships that underpin how companies currently interact with clients and competitors. Companies that invest in microservices architectures and use blockchain and smart contracts to build strong technology-based partnerships will be the ones that redefine how businesses transact in the future. At present, only 31% of South African executives state that blockchain and smart contracts will be critical or very critical to their organisations over the next three years versus a global average of 60%.

5. Internet of Thinking: Creating Intelligent Distributed Systems

Businesses are making big bets on intelligent environments via robotics, AI and immersive experiences. But to bring these intelligent environments to life, they must extend their infrastructures into the dynamic, real-world environments they want to reach. A mere 33% of South African executives believe it will be critical over the next two years to leverage customer hardware and hardware accelerators to meet the computing demands of intelligent environments versus a global average of 63%. Robotics, immersive reality, artificial intelligence and connected devices are bringing a new level of technological sophistication to the physical world. Current predictions suggest that by 2020, smart sensors and other Internet of Things devices will generate at least 507.5 zettabytes of data. This will necessitate the development of special-purpose and customizable hardware to support real-time systems requirements.


Presented by Accenture

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