The year 2020 seems so far away, yet in reality, it is just around the corner. Accordingly, strategic professionals are already making plans for how they can operate most effectively in the upcoming new decade. As you begin making your plans, one of the key drivers and influencers will be the technologies available to you and your team members to improve individual and team efficiency. In this article, let us examine the technologies that will impact business professionals in the year 2020 and beyond.
Connectivity Will Escalate in Importance
To say that the Internet has been the most important technology to go mainstream over the past twenty years is likely the understatement of the century. Likewise, to say that the Internet will continue to increase in importance in 2020 and beyond is likely an understatement of similar magnitude, as connectivity will become even more important in the years ahead. However, the connectivity will take a different form moving forward compared to the past. In the coming decade, connectivity between people will be almost a given and taken for granted. After all, that level of connectivity is relatively saturated now. Rather, connectivity in 2020 and beyond will increase as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes mainstream. In the most simplistic terms, IoT refers to devices connected to each other through the Internet. These devices can be simple home automation devices, such as thermostats and irrigation controllers connected to and controlled from homeowners’ computers, smartphones, and other devices. In business settings, IoT could be sensors to continually monitor factory machinery and alert maintenance crews when a breakdown appears imminent, instruments to let farmers know when livestock may be falling ill, or mobile devices as alternatives to traditional point-of-sale terminals to facilitate purchases in retail stores. Regardless the types of devices that will represent IoT, know that there will be an extremely large number of them; as confirmation, Gartner indicates that the number of IoT devices connected to the Internet will grow from 6.4 billion in 2016 to 20.8 billion in 2020. Clearly, the importance of connectivity – with the Internet as its backbone – will escalate in the coming years.
Business Intelligence Efforts Will Dominate Reporting
Though Business Intelligence (BI) has been discussed for a number of years, only in the past few years have tools supporting BI activities emerged that facilitate true BI efforts without overwhelming end users and breaking their budgets. Microsoft, Qlik, and Tableau are among the companies leading the way with BI tools that end users with average technical skills can use to create powerful interactive dashboards that provide real-time insights into organizational and team performance. For example, using the free Microsoft Power BI Desktop tool, you can create and distribute BI dashboards that allow team members to focus on the areas for which they are responsible and measure performance against established norms.
In the near future, expect to see BI tools continue to get easier to use while simultaneously providing even more robust reporting capabilities. For example, it is quite plausible that a publisher of BI software could begin accumulating industry-specific benchmarking data and provide that data through the BI application. Of course, end users of dashboards would then be able to measure performance not only against their own prior results and internally-established targets, but also they could judge performance relative to others in the industry in which they operate. Further, BI tools could also help with predictions, forecasts, and even routine budgets by incorporating artificial intelligence to analyze even very large historical data sets to uncover hidden relationships in the data. Though traditional financial and operational reports will still be generated in the upcoming decade, look for their relevance to decrease while BI dashboards begin to dominate business reporting routines
You Likely Will Use a Single Device to Conduct Business
The days of using multiple devices to conduct business – desktop computer, laptop computer, tablet, and smartphone – are coming to a close. In the upcoming decade, many business professionals will ditch all but one device and conduct all business activities from that single device, simplifying the work environment while simultaneously saving money on capital expenditures, software, and maintenance. In fact, this is possible for many professionals today, although few are yet willing to venture in to this brave new world.
Virtually all smartphones today allow connections to external keyboards and monitors. Many (with the iPhone being the most visible exception) also allow you to connect to a mouse. With a keyboard, monitor, and mouse connected, simply download any necessary apps you’re ready for business!
Where the above scenario becomes potentially troublesome is when you might need to run a line of business application such as your accounting/ERP software, a tax application, or CRM tool. Because these full-featured, robust applications do not readily lend themselves to being re-written as apps, it is not likely that you will be able to run them from a smartphone or other device that might replace a traditional computer. However, if you ran these applications from the Cloud as software as a service – as in the case of QuickBooks Online or CCH Axcess – or as a hosted application such as Sage 300, or if you accessed them from a virtual desktop such as those provided by Cetrom, you would be able to use the browser on a smartphone to access them on that device.
Security Needs at the Mobile Level Intensify
Of course, if we carry all of our data and applications with us on a single mobile device, then the importance of end-point security intensifies. Accordingly, we will need to secure these devices better than ever before and treat them with the same level of “security respect” as we currently treat our traditional desktop and laptop computers. Fortunately, new technologies now arriving should make that easier for end users. For example, the new Windows Hello feature can be used to log-in to mobile devices using facial recognition, instead of entering a password. A feature such as this should not only improve security, but simultaneously make it easier for end users to comply with organizational security policies.
To help ensure compliance with all policies, organizations will place even greater reliance on Mobile Device Management (MDM) software. Using MDM software, managers remotely monitor and enforce compliance with policies relating to passwords, encryptions, backups, downloaded apps, etc.
Just because the need for mobile security will increase, do not be lulled into thinking that the need for more traditional security measures will decrease. Far from it! Hackers will continue to innovate in their attempts to gain access to sensitive and critical data and we will likely need to re-think our entire security plan in an effort to ward-off attacks. Look for technologies such as “whitelisting” software titles and device and network monitoring tools to grow as means of not only attempting to prevent attacks, but also to alert us in real-time that something appears to be amiss in our computers and networks.
Software Deployments and Upgrades Will Be Incremental in Nature
The days of major software upgrades may be over or soon drawing to a close. To illustrate, Microsoft has already announced Windows 10 will be the last version of Windows – there are no plans for Windows 11. Expect more software publishers to follow suit. Does this mean that no new features are on the way or that development will cease? Of course not! Rather it confirms that the very nature of software, including operating systems, is changing as more publishers are moving to or encouraging subscription licensing instead of traditional, perpetual use licenses.
In these subscription models, you pay a monthly or annual fee for the right to use the software for a specified period of time. During that period of time, as your software publisher releases new features to the software, you will receive them through periodic updates, presumably downloaded from the Internet. Of course, if you stop paying for the license, you should expect the software publisher to cease sending the updates to you. In this business model, software evolves into a service instead of a technology. Compare that to the traditional licensing model where the publishers create and innovate new features, but store them until they decide to make a major release of the application, such as when upgrading from one version of Windows to the next or one version of Office to the next.
Revamping and Monitoring Workflows Will Produce Extraordinary Dividends
Over the past thirty years, businesses of all sizes have invested heavily in technology. But in large number of cases, they have not modified internal workflows at the same pace they have deployed new technology. Accordingly, their business practices are stale and inefficient. Further, because they have not modified their workflows to take advantage of much of the technology in which they have invested, they are not receiving the return on investment that they expected when they acquired the new technology.
Consider accounts payable practices, for example. In many organizations, accounts payable continues to consume significant amounts of labor as team members manually process vouchers for payment. Tools provided by companies such as Bill.com utilize technology to automate and streamline accounts payable processes, up to the point of cutting processing time by as much as 50%. Similarly, tools such as SurePrep allow CPA firms to automate much of their tax processing workflows by automatically organizing and bookmarking working papers for individual tax returns and, if desired, populating returns with data scanned from W-2’s, 1099’s, K-1’s, and other forms. Similarly, businesses of all types could use a workflow solution such as XCM to revamp workflows and ensure that all team members process transactions and complete projects in a prescribed fashion. Workflow tools will only increase in importance and provide bigger paybacks as organizations seek to enhance their ROI on technology.
Training Will Prove to be a Never-Ending Strategic Mission
The pace of change shows no signs of declining; in fact, it will likely continue to accelerate. Smart managers will recognize this and look at training team members as a strategic decision, not a tactical one. Failing to train team members on new technologies or new features added to existing technology virtually guarantees that the organization will not receive the promised ROI on technology. Yet, many managers will adopt a short-sighted approach and attempt to cut expenses by reducing their investment in training and then wonder why team members struggle with technology. Those who see training as a key corporate strategy will double-down on their investment and their organizations will reap the rewards.
The year 2020 will be here before we know it. And with the arrival of a new decade we will all face technology challenges and technology issues. Failing to plan for the continuing revolution in technology almost guarantees that an organization will be ill-equipped to take advantage of the tools and trends that will materialize, forcing the organization into what sometimes seems to be a never-ending cycle of playing “catch-up.” Carefully consider the trends and technologies discussed above and how you can capitalize on them in your business to increase efficiency, security, and profitability. Best of luck in the coming decade!
Mr. Stephens is a shareholder in K2 Enterprises, where he develops and presents continuing professional education programs to accounting, financial, and other business professionals across North America. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.