To hit the ground running in 2020, I wanted to compile a list of trends that I think will have a tangible impact for small to medium businesses this year. There are plenty of technology trend lists available online, but these tend to focus more at the macro level rather than the specific changes that are possible.
In October, at the 2019 Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo, technology trends for 2020 were discussed at great length.
Brian Burke, Gartner Research VP said “These trends have a profound impact on the people and the spaces they inhabit. Rather than building a technology stack and then exploring the potential applications, organisations must consider the business and human context first.”
I couldn’t agree more. It is easy to get caught in the hype of technology trends that are forecast each year. However, unless you first look at how the technology aligns to and supports your organisation to achieve its objectives, there is little value in exploring it.
So without further ado, here is my list of technology trends to look out for that I believe can truly drive significant change for organisations in 2020.
1. Increased Automation
We’ve been hearing about this one for a long time now, and there has been continual incremental increases in the automation of our day to day work, usually via feature updates to your software tools. For example, your Internet browser now auto-completes your sentences and automatically saves your passwords etc. These are small but important examples of improved automation.
But as a business leader, how can you drive further value from automation?
Most organisations perform a range of repetitive, time-intensive tasks, simply because the software platform(s) used don't support any other way of performing the task. For example, monthly reports may be received from an external party (such as a business partner or supplier), which then has to be manually entered into some other system, like a spreadsheet.
These are key areas that I think businesses are going to realise can be automated in 2020. Let me give you a practical example from our own business.
One of our upstream suppliers provides us with advanced notice of potential Internet outages for our customers, in the form of an email. In the past, we manually informed these customers one by one of the potential outage. A human would interpret the information from the upstream supplier email, and put the relevant details into a Diamond email template and then send to the relevant customer representative.
Using Microsoft Power Automate (previously called Microsoft Flow), we’ve been able to completely automate this task. When the email comes in from our upstream supplier, Power Automate extracts the relevant information, including which customers will be impacted and at what time, then automatically sends a new email (using a reformatted Diamond IT template) to the customer. How does it know who to send the email to I hear you ask? A good question, as the originating email comes from our upstream supplier, and they don't know who the primary customer contact is. Herein lies the power of Power Automate (pun intended!). After Power Automate extracts the information from the upstream supplier email, it searches our CRM system and determines the correct contact's details, then automatically sends the email.
In summary, what used to be a manual, laborious task has now been efficiently automated with minimal upfront effort. This technology is available right now and is affordable for businesses of all sizes.
2. Business Intelligence
If you’ve been reading our blogs, you’ll know that Business Intelligence is an area that we believe is going to expand rapidly in 2020, as the tools that provide the ‘connective tissue’ between disparate data silos becomes easier and easier to navigate and use.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate this change is to give another practical example. While this example is probably not strictly speaking ‘BI’, I think it’s a practical example of the way that managers and business owners need to start thinking about their time and activities (including their staff).
I recently needed to perform some consolidation of data between several different systems including our customer software management system, vendor bills and our accounting system. Thanks to high growth in this particular area of our business, I realised this was a task that I’d need to perform monthly to ensure accurate billing, but what I wanted to avoid was spending hours and hours each month pulling the data into various spreadsheets, and trying to use filters, etc, to match the data from the various sources.
With minimal assistance from our software development team, we were able to extract information from our customer software management system and put the relevant data into Azure Table Storage. Never heard of Azure Table Storage? Admittedly, neither had I, but Excel and Power BI support direct imports from this data source:
I was then able to directly query our accounting system (again, using the ‘Get Data’ function from Excel, this time joining to an SQL database) and match the data from these disparate systems in Excel, comparing what we’re deploying versus what we’re billing. And finally, I was able to import an invoice summary spreadsheet from our software vendor, allowing us to fully consolidate real-world deployment, vendor invoices and customer invoices. And best of all, because this spreadsheet gets data from multiple live sources, all I need to do for the monthly consolidation is to click ‘Refresh All’ in Excel to get the latest information.
A task like this would have taken many hours (perhaps days) in the past, but Excel and Power BI are incredible tools that connect to a wide variety of data sources – it’s just a matter of taking advantage of this functionality! This leads perfectly to my final trend.
3. Democratisation of Technology
One of the trends for 2020 that I believe holds the biggest opportunity for organisations is the democratisation of technology. Democratisation of technology means that all individuals and organisations will have equal access to technical or business expertise, without expensive and complex training. In particular, there is a growing trend away from traditional programming languages to platforms that provide the same level of capability but require little or no programming expertise. This is often referred to as “citizen access”, and has led to the rise of “citizen programmers”.
Democratisation of technology focuses on four key areas:
- Democratisation of data and analytics
- Democratisation of development
- Democratisation of design
- Democratisation of knowledge
Let me once again provide a real-world practical example of how this has helped us overcome challenges in our business.
Here at Diamond many of our non-technical staff are required to log their activities (time logging) into our service management system, which many find slow and frustrating as the service management system is designed for our technical staff. While the service management system we’re using is customisable, our staff asked the question whether it was possible to create a basic, mobile phone app to quickly and easily log their time.
Piece of cake! Using Microsoft Power Apps, we were able to rapidly develop a mobile phone app that talks directly to our service management system. Power Apps requires very little programming experience, so unlike traditional methods which might have taken weeks or even months to develop an equivalent mobile app, using Power Apps we were able to create the mobile app in little more than a day! With minimal investment, we were able to get a great result for our non-technical staff.
Where to next?
There’s a multitude of tech trends being spoken about as 2020 begins to ramp up. With this, it’s going to be more important than ever to ensure that your IT strategy and all the applications and systems within it align to your business objectives this year.
One thing for sure is that the pace of change of technology is only going to increase, so make sure you don't get left behind. We look forward to supporting our customers to succeed in their technology strategy.
For more information about how the Diamond IT Team can support your organisation and discuss where your Technology Roadmap is headed in 2020, contact our Team today.