Five Technologies Disrupting Business
By Brandon Carson
“Automation will relieve humans of performing risky and dangerous work. Machines will be closer to the danger, and instead of taking on the risk, humans will be in supervisory roles, away from the danger. The idea of knowledge work will become less tangible. Companies will always seek to reduce the requirement for humans to perform expensive processes when there is economic incentive to apply automation.”
Unlike previous technological disruptions, such as radio and television, the Internet has always been about handing the power of communication to the masses; no invention has spread as quickly and transformed our society as much in such a short time, affecting how we connect, communicate, and get our work done. The Internet revolution was driven by the rise of easy-to-use, connected devices and near-ubiquitous access to networks. Digital technology has fundamentally affected almost every aspect of how business is conducted and has altered how we acquire information and transfer knowledge. From workplace automation, including robots, chatbots, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality, to the ascendance of the cloud and mobile technology, to the influence of big data and analytics and the Internet of Everything, these five technologies have begun to disrupt both business and learning organizations.
The Five Technologies Disrupting Business
- Workplace Automation
Workplace automation is a topic that both entices and frightens people. The idea that computers, robots, and algorithms could make us obsolete and irrelevant is enough to make us wonder about the future of humanity itself. Automating job tasks is not a new paradigm. Our society has worried about how technology disrupts our livelihoods since the turn of the 20th century. This era is different. With advances in machine learning now moving at an accelerated pace, it won’t be long until software can do much more than just react to input. Software will anticipate our needs, complete our tasks, and connect us to faster, simpler ways of working. For many tasks, software and machines will replace humans, which begs the question: What will the workforce you support look like in the next several years? Are the skills and capabilities you have in your organization the same ones you will need to future-proof your team? Just look at Blockbuster, Nokia, or Blackberry, each of which had opportunities to transform their businesses to prepare for or anticipate changes brought on by technology. But they were slow to respond to the technological disruption that affected their businesses. Where are they now? Workplace automation is changing how you need to respond from a learning perspective, but it’s also affecting the talent you need in areas such as collaboration, creativity, strategic and analytical thinking, and work intermediation (ability to integrate digitization into almost any work method). Your learning team cannot respond proactively if they do not have the technical acumen to provide the right learning solutions based on the rapid rise of automation in the workplace.
- The Cloud
Cloud computing has come to represent the perfect aggregation of technology and services driving our insatiable quest for real-time, contextual knowledge. As we begin to evolve from the ownership economy (owning or storing our data on our own hard drives) to the streaming economy (accessing data stored elsewhere on demand), we are seeing explosive growth in content decentralization. We can now access data from any device at any time from remote servers while we are connected. The cloud has become a utility that has changed the nature of how we interact with one another, transformed multidevice computing, and exponentially increased our ability to learn, share, and acquire new skills and knowledge in almost any context.
Mobile technology has arguably had the biggest influence on the workplace thus far. With mobile devices, our behavior has dramatically shifted. Now we’re “always on” and our experiences are more direct and hyper-individualized. Information is only a tap away. This is why we have become emotionally attached to our devices—we touch and rely so much on them, so we form a deeper relationship. We expect our devices to assist us through almost every aspect of our lives: how we communicate to one another, research and purchase products and services, conduct work, schedule our day, and yes, learn. We expect our devices to entertain, but also shepherd us through our tasks. They are always with us and keep us connected. The mass adoption and major behavioral change brought on by smartphones is the primary reason you need to rethink everything you’re doing when it comes to your learning strategy.
- Big Data and Analytics
For training, the impact of big data and analytics is twofold. First, it provides more complete information about what your learners are doing, where they’re excelling, where they’re struggling, and how they’re actually using your content. Second, big data can help predict learner behavior. You want a workforce that can perform to the capabilities the business needs to execute on its goals. Your challenge is knowing whether the workforce is capable of achieving those business needs. Every time someone does something with their connected device, you can gather data. The emerging practice of data science and behavior prediction is leveraging these data to find trends and analyze those trends to predict action. You want to have the capability to know what action is about to happen so you can step in and change any action that is not desired. You also want to interpret both formative and summative data to inform your training strategy.
- The Internet of Everything
The growing Internet of Everything is emerging as the grand connector that enables all our devices to communicate with one another and us. The promise of a more connected ecosystem is to truly realize the idea of contextual learning. Imagine a day when workplace knowledge is less about pushing information through one centralized system, such as your learning management system (LMS), but instead focusing on decentralizing content. Learning content becomes more of a feed delivered through multiple channels at any moment of need—think smart displays in the work environment, signage, product packaging, mobile devices, wearables, sensors, and so on. Everything will be capable of connecting to the network and assisting. Think of how sensors communicating to other sensors will craft a customized experience specific to the context of the learner.
While technology alone doesn’t improve training, it’s become our permanent partner in how we design and deliver learning experiences and evaluate their effectiveness. Increasingly, the workforce we support must learn new skills, innovate and create quicker, and boost performance while absorbing rapid change in how they communicate and collaborate. These five technological factors are or will affect how training is designed, delivered, and evaluated. Sometimes referred to as “edge technologies,” they are having a significant impact not only on business but also on workers and their performance. It’s important to be aware of these technologies so you can appropriately determine their place, if any, in your learning strategy.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the realization that these technologies aren’t really meant to help you do things the way you always have; they’re not just about making it easier to implement your existing learning strategy. These technologies demand a new way of thinking about how you should approach the business of learning in its entirety. Many learning leaders strive to find a way to do more of the same with increased efficiency, productivity, and cost effectiveness. Now, more than ever, it’s time to rethink talent needs across learning teams. Jobs are evolving, technology is embedded in almost all work tasks, and the right talent will be scarce as skill sets evolve. Your team needs the capabilities to proactively deliver relevant training across the spectrum of these changes.
Our newfound ability to instantly share and receive information with anyone, anywhere means we are now in a world of not only real-time information, but also real-time learning. How does this affect your learning organization? Never again will anyone expect to wait to learn something. Can you support your audiences with up-to-date, meaningful content? Are you able to make that content easily discoverable, on demand? Do you have the skill sets and resources on your learning team to design and deliver device-optimized content to your audiences?
It’s important to gain a deeper understanding of what’s coming next, to make more informed decisions about which factors may be right for your organization. For your learning team, the next few years are the beginning of everything they do changing for the better.