IT issues are no longer simply for IT companies. Technology, if adopted correctly can revolutionise a business, reducing overheads, finding new markets and allowing businesses to concentrate on their core business.
Dr Leigh-Ellen Potter from the Griffith School of ICT is passionate about how people interact with technology and ultimately how people (and businesses) can get the best results from technology.
This webinar will seek to advise business leaders about a number of opportunities for growing SMEs to take advantage of the latest technological trends and process including:
- Emerging technology, and the ‘Internet of Things’: what are the opportunities for business?
- The Agile approach to project management, and its application in non-IT based industries.
Dr Leigh-Ellen will also present some tangible collaborations that are available to businesses now, including:
- External consultancy
- The App Factory
- Industry Project and IAP
This webinar was conducted in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland.
Hi, my name’s Leigh Ellen Potter, and I’m a lecturer at Griffith University.
I have a background in the Information Technology industry, where I worked as a business analyst and user experience consultant with everything from small companies to big consultancy groups in both the public and private sectors. I now run the Industry Project program at Griffith, as well as teaching Project Management and User Interface Design – all areas where I have hands on experience. A big focus in my teaching is to bridge the gap between the students I work with, and the industry they’re about to step into. I want to make sure that I send them out to you, ready to work with you as IT professionals. I also get to indulge my own interests through my research – I head the User and Societal Needs research group. Through this group, I get to work with both seasoned researchers and energetic research students, and I get to play in the sandpit. This group looks specifically at how technology can be used to support people – we currently have projects looking at how technology can help young Deaf children to learn sign language, and projects working with new and emerging technology.
So, pretty much everything I do in both my teaching and my research work in one way or another comes back to how we can use technology to support what we do, and today I’m going to be drawing on that to talk to you about how you can use IT to support your businesses, and to innovate, and to engage. Technology is now across all businesses – I’m hard pressed to find an industry area that doesn’t use IT. It used to be that areas like farming were technology free, but not anymore – some of the big farms especially use sensor networks to monitor things like feed and water levels for stock, saving them a day of riding around the holding manually checking everything. They can monitor levels from their computer, and just go out to top up food and water, as they need. One of my students grew up on a farm, and he was telling me the other day about some of the ideas he has for how technology could be used to make his dads life easier. I see great innovation is his future!
Now, while businesses generally understand that technology is everywhere, the knowledge of how best to apply it varies. You’re all experts in your particular business, but not necessarily in technology or in what it can do for you – and why should you be, especially if it’s not a core part of your business? So today I’ll talk a little bit about that, and how you can still innovate and capitalise on what technology has to offer without having to be an expert.
Of course, one of the things that IT people tend to love, but that drives everyone else nuts is constant change – you’ve just gotten used to your new tablet technology, and then the next generation comes out and you have to start all over again. The emergence of new technology really is a constant in this industry – so how can you make the most of that, rather than living in fear of the newest upgrade or gadget? I’m also going to talk about some of the innovations that are out there, and what they might mean for you.
Really, all of this is about giving you space to focus on your core business. You don’t have to do it all yourself, and you don’t have to be across everything in IT. There’s a range of collaboration options available, so I’ll highlight some of those as well.
Ok, so we all know that technology changes – a lot, and frequently. It could be that some of these new innovations have an opportunity to offer you – either directly, through the tech itself, or indirectly just by looking at possibilities. The key here is innovation – how you can be innovative in what you do in order to achieve a business goal. Now, in saying this it’s a good idea to know why you want to innovate – in business, innovation will be more successful if you actually have a goal that you want to achieve. You can always innovate just for the fun of it, but you probably want to think a little more strategically than that.
So think about what you want to achieve – what is it that you do, and is there something that could be…easier, more efficient, ‘better’ in some way. Or, is there an opportunity for you – do you see some of the new tech coming out and see something you could use them for in your own business? And if you do choose to innovate, how will you know if you’ve been successful? Hand in hand with the ‘why’, think about what success looks like, specifically for you.
Right, with that said, what is the new tech? Not all of these will be relevant to you, but let’s have a look at what’s out there.
Wearables have become very popular, and are a fairly accessible technology if you’re looking to innovate. Current wearables are usually arm bands or watches, but glasses are making inroads – at the risk of branding, think FitBit, Apple Watch, and Google Glass. While still trying to figure out exactly what they’re good for, at present most aim towards the fitness market or as ways to quickly present notifications. There’s a school of thought that wearables are going to follow in the footsteps of tablets – tablets have actually been around for decades, but it took the introduction of the iPad for them to suddenly leap to a ‘must have’ technology, and there’s suggestions that wearables may follow a similar track. So what’s the opportunity for you?
Some companies are using the fitness wearables to simply improve the health of their workforce, basically just capitalizing on the devices themselves. Wearables gather an ENORMOUS amount of data about people, so it could be that this is something that is relevant to your business. The fact that they’re wearable means that you could potentially have access to people all the time. Can this improve communication for you? What about productivity? Can you use it as part of a customer relationship strategy? Or can you see a further innovation for this technology – there’s a big future in making wearables ‘fashionable’. No one wants to look like a twit wearing them!
A very sophisticated version of wearables is in Nanotechnology in clothes – you can interact with your devices by simply touching your clothing. A variation on that is in the ‘transmitted’ interface – the screen of your phone can literally be displayed on your arm from your watch using clever tech, and have the sensors so that it will actually recognise what you’re doing as your touch the display on your arm.
Now for a few that are very much in the ‘emerging’ category – EEG Headsets are very much cutting edge, worn to allow you to interact with a computer and devices by simply thinking.
Even more intense is Bio technology, technology that’s integrated and allows you to control things (with your brain!). Companies such as Touch Bionics are an example – the photo here shows bionics they’ve developed for people who have lost limbs, with enough finesse to allow very fine movements.
There are more mainstream industrial applications for bio tech, including health care, crop production and agriculture, non food uses of crops and other products (e.g. biodegradable plastics, vegetable oil, biofuels), and environmental uses. If your business needs to work at the messy end of things, then there may be something that bio tech can do to make your life easier.
Perhaps a more ‘achieveable’ emerging technology is Augmented reality and Virtual reality. Augmented reality uses existing technology, such as phones or tablets, and literally augments what you can see on your screen with additional information. Augmented reality applications are programmed to recognise something in the environment, and then allow you to see information about, say, an object in the real world, but displayed on your device in real time, and it can even allow you to interact with 3D models in the real world. Now this can be very sophisticated, or it can be really quite simple: there are travel apps for phones which are programmed to recognise landmarks and add, say, information about a building or a historical site. There are apps for furniture stores that will allow you to look through your camera at a room in your house and place new furniture in your own space, kind of ‘Try before you buy’. One of my colleagues at Griffith has helped develop a CSI style augmented reality app for forensics students that works using QR code stickers – you can place the stickers in a room, and the students can scan them with their mobile technology and get forensic information about a ‘crime’ that’s taken place in the room. I can really see huge potential in augmented reality for business.
Related to augmented reality is virtual reality, and that’s now moving from the world of big, full room virtual spaces, to small portable headsets like the Oculus Rift. Now, these are currently available as high level prototypes, but word is that commercial consumer devices will hit the market in the first quarter of 2016. There’s a lot of focus on gaming for virtual devices, but there are business applications as well – imagine the options you could have for hands on training, or virtual lectures for formal education, or the ability for people to practice skills from the comfort of home?
And of course there’s robotics, which can mean anything from the science fiction style AI robots, to that thing that vacuums your carpet. This past weekend saw a big Robotics forum in Brisbane, with a huge range of different potential applications. Robotics in a simplistic form have started appearing as consumer technology, however not in the high-tech form that fiction has presented. Work’s progressing though – I saw a drummer with a robotic drumming arm – he’s the fastest drummer in the world! There a broad range of applications you can consider here, with everything from assistance technology, to recreation, to safety – you can send robots places you wouldn’t want to go yourself.
So the emerging technologies are really dealing with new devices and options that might be able to support you in both doing your business, and growing your business. We’re talking physical innovation. But technology is not just about the hardware – the devices. It’s also brought about a range of different methods and processes that might be able to help you in the normal conduct of your business.
Let’s look at Agile. Agile is an approach, rather than a specific technique. It’s a way of doing software development that has steadily gained traction and popularity, not just in the IT industry but other industries as well. So what does it mean to be ‘Agile’? Does it have something to offer your business? What do you need to know?
Agile is light – it values “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. This just means that you use the level of processes and tools that will best support you – no more and no less. If a process or tool isn’t advancing the project, then don’t use it. If it helps the project, then make it part of your approach.
Flexibility is Agile’s bread and butter. Agile values “Responding to change over following a plan.” This doesn’t mean there’s no plan – it means that you adjust your approach to deal with the needs of this specific project with this specific team.
Agile is responsive – in part because it’s light and flexible. The team is able to adapt their approach to suit the needs of the project, and can do so quickly with a minimum of stress.
Collaboration is core to the Agile approach both within the team and between the team and the client if you deal with one. Client collaboration is built into the Agile Manifesto with the specification of valuing “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.” The clients needs and satisfying the client’s vision comes first – if you don’t have a client as such, then that means satisfying the needs of your business.
All of this together means that Agile is best suited to changing environments and changing requirements. The light, flexible, responsive nature of the approach means that it can take change in its stride and adapt.
What Agile is known for is giving you a faster time to market with a product, which can make all the difference with innovation. It allows you deal with change – it’s brilliant with changing situations, and that can also allow you to innovate more freely and be flexible. The fact that it’s so responsive means that it can help you align any IT based work you’re doing with your main business, rather than having IT sitting off on its own. And of course, all that flexibility I’ve been talking about makes it ideal for helping you to continuously innovate.
Ok, this all sounds great, but the reality is that Agile isn’t for every project or every organisation. It works well in certain situations, based on the problem space, the organisation, the people involved, the organisational culture, and the leadership involved. Implementing the Agile approach generally means a fundamental change in a team’s approach, and it isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do.
So, Agile may have started in IT, but it’s not confined solely to IT any more – there’s a broad range of industries that have switched all or part of their business to a more Agile style. Probably the most well known would be Suncorp – they’ve switched their entire business across. There are some industries that seem to suit the switch better than others – the leaders in this would be marketing, but pretty much any business that produces a product, or that needs to be adaptable, can look to Agile as an option. If you want to go Agile, then you need to change – you need to really commit to that change. So what does this mean. For a start, you need to look at the way you manage your business and your work, to the kind of culture your business has. Businesses that already have a flexible structure, that give employees a say, these will have the easiest time switching to Agile. Hand in hand with that is the structure of your teams. Agile means multi-disciplinary teams – this means teams where all the players can play each others instruments, and fill different roles. Teams are often what we call self-organising – the team itself works out what structure will work best. You know your own business and your own team best – if you want to move towards Agile, how do you think your team will cope?
You don’t have to make those kinds of decisions yourself – you don’t have to know everything about Agile straight off the bat. What you do need to do is arm yourself with as much information as you can, both to decide if this is something that you want to do, and to then manage the transition to Agile if you take the leap. There’s a difference between adopting Agile and using agile – The factors and variables to adopting agile in non-IT include support from your senior management, support from the business arm, and the existing culture in your company. If your company happens to have an internal IT department, and they’ve successfully transitioned to Agile, then this will help the rest of the business transition as well. The factors and variables for successfully using agile include reinforcement of the new approach, consistency in applying your tools or techniques, actually using agile tools, properly training your staff, having competent personnel on hand, and keeping it all as simple as possible. Unless you’re already an Agile expert, this is a lot to try to control, and that’s where it’s a really good idea to get an expert in to help you. Hire an Agile coach – they can not only have a look at what you’re already doing and give you some ideas for whether you want to move in this direction, but they can really help your company make the switch.
Opportunities for Collaboration
Which feeds in nicely to collaboration! Now I’ve spoken about just a small selection of technical innovations that are either here or coming, and just one of the approaches that technology has to offer business – really, there is so much more, and you can access them through collaboration with Griffith University. Of course, we’re known for traditional research, that’s what university’s do, but there’s more ways to access new information than that. I’ll start with the consultancy option – you have something that you want to look into, a new technology or a new approach, and you want to learn more, or see if it’s a fit for your organisation, or check if there’s an opportunity here for you to innovate. You can enter into what we call an external consultancy with people from within the university. I’m currently working with a community group to help them develop an app – we’re looking at what we need the app to do, and they’re drawing on my emerging tech knowledge, my user experience skills, and the research I’ve done in their specific industry to work out what they need the app to do. I’m running their requirements and design process for them as an external consultancy. Now, this is just one example, but a consultancy with university really does give you access to cutting research, and the knowledge of people who are working with this technology every day. You can decide just how much help or support you need – you don’t have to run a complete project, you can just choose the areas where you need help.
Now when it comes to actual applications, then a very tangible collaboration that you can have is through the App Factory. The App Factory is an initiative within the School of ICT at Griffith where I work – you can take a development idea to the App Factory, and an industry based project manager will work with you to scope out your idea and quote on the project. He then guides a group of high achieving students in completing your project to a commercial standard (and makes sure they deliver on time). Now, this is something that the students are doing in addition to their study, so it’s work that can occur at any time, not just during semester. Part of the power of working with students is their own inherent innovation – they can see options and alternatives that you might not have seen, simply because they’re really creative, and they’re as constrained by ‘expectations’ as those of us with a few more years under our belts! The external consultancy that I just mentioned? Once we’ve got the requirements and design done we’ll be handing over to the App Factory to produce the final product.
If you’ve got a bit more time or you want something outside the app space, then another collaboration option for you is our Work Integrated Learning options – actual coursework that our students complete, but based in the real world. I run the Industry Project course at Nathan, and for that I team small groups of students with an industry partner, and then essentially mentor them through an academic year as they work out your requirements, design a solution, develop the product, test and hand over to you. There is a fixed time frame for this – it is course work so the students work in either a single semester intensive style of over two semesters from March to October. Through this program I’ve teamed students up with everything from individual people with an idea for a new piece of technology, to companies looking to see what students are like (because they’re looking to hire some IT into the company themselves), through to big organisations in both the private and public sectors. I’ve also seen students complete both commercial development and research work. There’s a lot of scope to work with here.
The second work integrated learning option that we have is called IAP, or the industry affiliates program. So, the industry Project offering is for a team of students who will come out to see you, but do most of their work based on the university campus (unless you would like them to work onsite for a period of time each week – we can organise that too). The IAP program takes an individual student, and places them in your organisation to work with you and your team to complete a small, one person project. IAP is run over just the single semester, but depending on what you need there’s an option for either a 2 day a week or a 4 day a week placement.
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So hopefully I’ve given you something to think about, as well as a few options you might not have considered to access the expertise within the university to help you build innovation in your business through working with technology. I recently read a report from Capgemini and Altimeter – they said that the rise in innovation has been triggered by “digital Darwinism” as organisations strive to survive and then prosper from digital disruption – everywhere I look lately I’m seeing people talking about this idea of digital disruption.
The problem is, as it said in this report, innovation is extremely challenging, so why do it yourself, when you can innovate in collaboration? This report also said that “The dangerous thing that enterprises do is not look at the full lifecycle return on investment, and just focus on a fashion.” In reality, each of the new things I’ve talked means organisational change and cultural change and business model change. And you don’t have to do it alone.