Daniel Iyanda, Staff Writer, Financial Nigeria
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Four digital transformation trends in 2019 13 Feb 2019
Technology is not the silver bullet for the myriad challenges of humans and businesses. However, it can accelerate and enhance the solutions to many of society’s problems. Technology is an enabler; indeed, it was even supposed to be the great equaliser. By using technology for its internal and external operations, businesses and other institutions can enhance their competitive advantage and improve overall productivity.
At the last edition of its Symposium and ITxpo in October 2018, Gartner Incorporated, the American technology research and advisory firm, highlighted top strategic technology trends that organisations need to be aware of in 2019. These trends, which include blockchain, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, are what the firm calls the “intelligent digital mesh.” These technologies are expected to create new business models and drive disruption in the ongoing digital revolution.
At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which held last month, over 4,500 exhibiting companies – including manufacturers, developers and suppliers of consumer technology hardware and content – were at the global stage where next-generation innovations were showcased. Although CES is a show and tell, and most of the products showcased may not hit the market anytime soon, the underlying technologies of those products are, however, considered notable technology trends.
According to Gartner, strategic technology trends entail those technologies with substantial disruptive potentials and are breaking out of an emerging state into broader impact and use. There are four of such technologies that this article will focus on because of their disruptive potentials in Nigeria as more companies and start-ups are increasingly adopting them.
In recent years, different businesses have deployed chatbots – computer programmes that simulate human conversation through voice commands, text chats, or both. A chatbot is an artificial intelligence feature that can be embedded and used through any messaging application. In 2018, four Nigerian banks – United Bank for Africa, First Bank of Nigeria, GTBank and Access Bank – deployed chatbots to kick-start chat banking on WhatsApp in the country.
These banks use chatbots to provide financial services to customers. Using the WhatsApp messaging app, customers can transfer money, check their account balance, pay bills and purchase airtime.
In 2019, chatbots will become more efficient. With improved natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms, it will be harder to tell whether one is talking to a computer or a human being.
Also known as intelligent assistants, chatbots provide customers with a self-service option. The technology is an artificial intelligence feature any business can easily leverage to deliver value to its customers. For instance, a chatbot can be embedded on the website or a mobile application of a company to address customer complaints and enquiries via live chat. It can also be deployed in the training of employees and in the recruitment process.
By the end of 2019, Gartner says up to 40% of large businesses – those with more than 500 employees – would have implemented AI chatbots. Thus, small businesses that leverage this technology trend will be increasing their competitive advantage.
The automation technology trend is featured in various applications, including robots, drones and autonomous vehicles. Drones are being used to facilitate precision farming, deliver last-mile customer service, and other services such as delivering medical materials to the hinterlands and war-torn areas.
Autonomous machines use artificial intelligence to interact with people and their surroundings. For instance, in precision farming – a system in which farmers optimise inputs to enhance productivity – when a drone examines a field and finds that it is ready for harvesting, it could dispatch an autonomous harvester to the farm.
At the CES 2019, Wilkinson Baking Company unveiled a breadbot – a robot that can make 10 loaves of bread in an hour. All a person is required to do is pour the dough into the machine.
While these instances from the advanced countries might seem too sophisticated for a developing African country like Nigeria, businesses can still automate certain processes in their operations. Web-based tools such as If This Then That (IFTTT) and Zapier can be used to automate digital marketing, customer support, and internal communications process.
3. 5G connectivity
Talks about 5G – the fifth generation of mobile internet connectivity designed to succeed the current 4G LTE connection – have been making the rounds for about a decade. 5G is expected to drastically reduce latency and improve download and upload speeds. It is 30-50 times faster than 4G LTE.
Last year, MTN, in partnership with Ericson, tested use cases of 5G technology in South Africa. MTN plans to start commercial deployment before 2020. Also, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has earmarked three spectrum bands for trials in Lagos and other parts of the country. The trials, which will likely take place this year, are to prepare for full implementation of 5G networks by 2020.
Phone manufacturers have also mooted that they will be releasing smartphones that support 5G in the second half of the year. It seems all is set for the evolution of 5G networks.
The improved connectivity 5G provides will revolutionise businesses in the digital age. It will enhance the capabilities of autonomous things such as self-driving cars, as well as virtual reality, augmented reality and all Internet of Things (IoT). For instance, an HD video that would take an hour to download over a 4G LTE network will be downloaded in mere seconds over a 5G network. Also, response time will also be upgraded from under 50 milliseconds to around one millisecond – 400 times faster than a blink of the eye. Businesses can also leverage its network slicing capability to create their own bespoke network, thereby increasing their bandwidth.
One should, however, be sceptical about the implementation of 5G network in Nigeria by 2020. Up to 90% of the 111,632,516 internet users in Nigeria as of December 2018 have access to only 2G network. While 3G and 4G LTE coverage remains very low, some people do not have internet access at all in the country. Also, new infrastructures, which are expensive to set up, must be available for full implementation of 5G.
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash are synonymous with blockchain. However, blockchain is simply a digital distributed ledger with myriad use cases – certainly beyond digital currencies. Cryptocurrencies, and Bitcoin in particular, are just the most popular blockchain use cases.
Last year, Interswitch, a Lagos-based payment processing company, in partnership with Microsoft, launched a blockchain-based supply chain service. The service aims to digitise the process of providing trade financing to entrepreneurs and business owners in the supply chain sector.
In 2019, more technology firms are expected to explore the possibilities of using blockchain beyond cryptocurrencies. More blockchain-based enterprise solutions are also expected to emerge. These solutions could be used to digitise records, enhance sharing of information and provide opportunities for tracking and tracing physical and digital assets. For instance, a restaurant can use the technology to ensure the authenticity of its food materials by tracing their origin.
While blockchain technology is currently too complicated to be used by laymen, it is only wise that businesses start to plan how they can leverage the technology. Gartner forecasts the business value of blockchain-based solutions to grow to more than $360 billion by 2026 and leap to more than $3.1 trillion by 2030.
A lot of people – including some tech enthusiasts – are concerned about the potential negative impact of automation on the workforce. They fear that robots would take away jobs from people. Indeed, it is true that work is always reshaped by each technological advancement. Following the past three industrial revolutions, people adapted to new ways of production, societies evolved and markets expanded. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will not be any different in shaping the future of work.
But it is not all doom and gloom for the labour force. The World Bank in its 2019 World Development Report, says new technology will bring enormous opportunities, pave the way for new jobs and increase productivity.
But the onus is on countries and companies to upskill their workforce to be able to work with new technologies. In this new economy, every enterprise must consider itself a digital company. It must consistently strive to deliver value to its customers and ensure customers’ fulfilment by leveraging technology and developing its human capital.