Changes in technology radically change the way we work, even if your core skills remain the same. When Star Trek introduced the world to the idea of ‘mobile communicators’ back in the 1960s, it all seemed impossibly space age. Now, 93% of UK adults have a mobile phone, with over two thirds using a smartphone and most of us can’t imagine life, or work, without them.
The internet has had an equally big influence on how we communicate with the world and each other – with enormous amounts of data, information and misinformation all available at the touch of a button. So what will the game changers be over the next few years? We don’t have a crystal ball, but it is possible to identify some trends that are likely to change our working lives.
Check the Which? guide to the best smartphones of 2017 if you’re considering a new phone. Read on for more on the technology trends that will change the way we all work.
New technology is leading us towards a world of increased connectivity. Tablet and mobile use has largely taken over from desktop and laptops. A 2016 report by Deloitte found that four out of five UK adults have a smartphone – that’s around 42 million people. Smaller, mobile and handheld devices have the advantage of being easy to take with you when you visit customers. Some businesses already use tablets to create quotes or show customers examples of work or products when staff members visit customers’ properties.
Increased connectivity means that security is more important than ever. One of the biggest technology trends is trying to protect IT systems adequately. This can mean ensuring sensitive data, such as staff or customers’ personal information (names, addresses, credit card details and so on), is encrypted and/or kept separate from larger systems, so that a hack might infect one part of a network but not all of it. Check our 10 top tips for protecting your business from cyber-attack for more details.
Rather than having data stored on physical servers within your business, more companies and individuals are turning to Cloud-based storage. Moving your files and data to the Cloud means that you and your colleagues can access information wherever you are and you can work on documents simultaneously, improving communication and collaboration between teams. It also overcomes the problem of losing data when a computer or laptop is lost or breaks down. The Which? guide to choosing the best storage cloud storage service has more information on the different providers. There’s more advice on which Cloud-based solution is the best value for money.
Mobile payment systems such as bank apps, PayPal or Apple Pay are another area that can benefit smaller businesses. These systems can make invoicing as simple as clicking a button. Taking payment also becomes more straightforward – for a fee. It is possible to set up mobile banking, which allows customers to pay by debit or credit card through your phone. It’s a secure payment system, which is easy to use and allows customers to pay you on the spot without needing to have cash to hand.
Smart business premises are not so far away – some are already in use. The Edge in Amsterdam claims to be the greenest, most intelligent building in the world. The building is packed with more than 28,000 sensors that allow its operating system to recognise you when you arrive at work, via your staff pass. It directs you to a parking space and controls the environment around you as you move through your working day. It knows your location, your schedule and your environmental preferences. It might sound a bit creepy, but it means that the building can use energy more efficiently, directing resources to where they are needed.
Similar sensor-packed buildings are on the rise, with the arrival of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). This is where more and more products will connect with each other via sensors and chips implanted in them. A fridge that restocks itself might sound extraordinary, but it’s pretty much already possible – you just need a fridge that can link barcodes on products to online shopping lists. We also already have remote-controlled heating systems, self-monitoring car parts and smart homes that can be controlled from your mobile.
Changing the way you work
How could any of this affect your business? Developing technology could change the tools or your trade and the nature of the work. Garage owners have already seen this happen thanks to the increased use of electronic systems in cars. The rise of smart technology – interconnected homes will mean more cabling, more sensor installation and maintenance, and more IT awareness required from a whole variety of trades.
For some businesses, smart technology will be able to provide an automatically updating inventory – your system will tell you when you’re running out of stock. You could install and monitor products that notify you when they need refilling or maintenance – imagine plugging your laptop into a boiler that tells you why the hot water isn’t flowing.
Connected technology should make managing resources – whether that be people or materials – more straightforward. By monitoring people and stock availability, future systems should be able to plan the quickest way to get the resources you need, where you need them in and in the shortest possible time. This isn’t revolutionary, but the scope of the management system will be – much of the power of future systems will come from their ability to link up data faster and from a wider variety of sources than ever before.
None of us have a crystal ball; we can’t know exactly what will change in the future, but some new products can give us a clue. Electrical systems with sensors that self-diagnose any wiring problems or smart pipes that let you know where and when there is a leak are already available. They’re not widely used in the UK, and are currently prohibitively expensive for many, but the technology is there and who knows what the next few years will bring?