When I walked into Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, I was struck by how much it felt like CES instead of yesteryear’s mega-conference on networking equipment, towers and antennas.
How so? It was clearer than ever that consumer demand, tastes and habits continue to shape the arc of technology innovation. In fact, it’s easy to imagine that the next wave of products designed for the enterprise may reflect a mandate that businesses and their IT departments support their employees (a.k.a.consumers) across whatever kind of devices those employees are already using.
Still, despite the continuing pervasiveness of this consumer-first mindset, there’s some new and compelling evidence that some of the most hyped — and overhyped — consumer technologies at last are on a promising path. But the catch? That path is actually in the enterprise. Let’s walk through three areas that look to have the most potential, and why.
5G: Empowering More Workers and Accelerating Content Delivery
5G is an exciting step forward because it eradicates the coverage gaps, latency issues and network density limitations that have plagued traditional wireless networks. Removing these barriers opens up new possibilities at the enterprise level for capabilities like real-time controls and instantaneous delivery of high-bandwidth content, such as augmented and virtual reality.
What impact will these new capabilities have? One likely result of real-time controls is that they will expand remote work beyond the traditional knowledge worker and into the realm of mechanical and electronic technicians. For example, a warehouse worker or HVAC technician no longer has to be on-site to move pallets or diagnose a broken compressor. On the content delivery side, companies in the hospitality, tourism and real estate spaces will have a new suite of rich media sales and marketing tools (VR tours of available properties, for example), and media/entertainment companies will be able to push out such high-bandwidth content faster and more easily.
Will the reality of 5G match the hype? I think it will, eventually, but right now the massive spend required by carriers — with uncertain upside for them — is a major barrier.
Next-Gen Smartphones: Bringing AI-Driven Efficiencies
Just when it seemed like smartphones had nowhere else to go in terms of advanced functionality, Qualcomm introduced its latest Snapdragon chip, which is embedded with machine learning and neural processing.
This innovation will eventually bring AI-powered real-time communications directly to the phone, eliminating the need for a network connection to access contextual search, virtual assistant, and other AI-related capabilities. I’ve been excited thinking about how such capabilities will further streamline collaboration at the enterprise level.
Perhaps even more impactful, AI-enabled smartphones (or other devices with these same chips) will allow enterprises across a wide swath of industries to shave costs in two key ways. First, by helping businesses create customer-facing mobile apps that capitalize on contextual intelligence and background analytics. Imagine, for example, the time and cost savings for an insurance company verifying and processing an insurance claim when they have the background analytics to prove the time and date of the incident, that the geo location wasn’t manipulated, and other key data points.
Second, by making it possible to create cheaper but more sophisticated wireless portable instruments — tools like digital thermometers, tire pressure gauges, and other diagnostic devices. If you smarten up these tools by making AI local in them while keeping other specifications minimal, you bypass the need for costlier custom-built devices.
IoT: Driving Process Improvement through Big Data
We’ve seen a lot of useless applications of IoT in the consumer space, particularly in home automation applications. But IoT is poised to deliver meaningful advancements in the industrial sector, particularly when it comes to systems for monitoring and controlling.
How? IoT devices collect an enormous amount of data — data that previously had to be imported and exported to and from closed loop industrial systems to analyze. With so much newly available IoT data driving insight into production and other processes, opportunities to squeeze out higher profits are much easier to spot. Gartner estimated that last year there were 6.4 billion IoT devices connected to the Internet and they estimate the number will increase to 20.8 billion by 2021, we are going to see an explosion in IoT’s impact on manufacturing. Pressure sensors and other factory-floor devices may not make for a glamorous story, but the gains to business will be real.
In the bigger picture, the enterprise inroads these three technologies are making are further evidence of the continuing democratization of IT. Technological innovations continue to open up what were once advanced, costly and exclusive capabilities. And consumers — perceived, as the purveyors of stealth IT, as headaches by many enterprise IT departments — may have been leading the enterprise along a path to higher productivity all along.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.