Four megatrends that will reshape what software can do for us

SUMMARY:

New self-driving software will deliver exponential results from current breakthroughs in big data, mobile access, user experience and computer intelligence.

Four horses gallop in poppy field against sunset sky © callipso88 - Fotolia.comFour major enterprise management trends are maturing simultaneously, and their imminent fusion has only begun to transform the way we conduct business. They are:  big data, mobile access, user experience, and computer intelligence.

Individually, each of these breakthroughs are game changers. Together they will combine into a new, vast and complex enterprise software.  Mastering it will require a new type of software capable of autonomously emulating how people perform tasks and make decisions. By operating in the background on a massive scale, it will free employees from mundane tasks and empower them to spend their time on high-level decision-making and oversight.  It is called self-driving software.

Self-driving software is central to managing and thriving in this new and otherwise overwhelming environment. Ultimately, it is the key to utilizing complex enterprise software in a simple, straightforward manner. It will empower the employees of today to become the Super Managers of the future – the very near future.

The megatrends have arrived

Individually, each of these enterprise software megatrends can change the course of business.  Collectively they form a tidal wave of change and opportunity that needs to be ridden successfully.

Megatrend 1 – Big Data is really big. Not only are we collecting greater quantities of data than ever, but we are collecting it from more sources than ever.  These sources include emails, mobile, social networks, wearable devices, and the Internet of Things.  Today computers no longer just process numbers and formulae. They are collecting and analyzing terabytes of data relating to every action and interaction imaginable, and using it to create their own formulae.  That data is too much, too dense and too varied to be digested by humans, but computers can mine it for insights.

Megatrend 2 – Mobile access is pervasive. Pew’s Internet Project revealed that as of May 2013, 63% of adults access the internet through their mobile devices.  A company’s mobile strategy should not only focus on customers – it must include its employees.  Bring Your Own Device is now the business norm, revealing how desktops and laptops are not our only computers. Mobile devices are an integral part of business operations. Employees are using their mobile devices to call a taxi, do research, order dinner, make hotel reservations, and message customers. Your employees’ smartphones provide and receive new, rich, enormous and complex streams of data. Management needs to collect that data, digest it, and take advantage of it.

Megatrend 3 – User experience is paramount to everyone, everywhere.  Mobile apps have changed how customers interact with businesses. They expect every interaction to be streamlined and seamless. Those customers are also employees, and they have a growing expectation that business software should deliver the same smooth and productive interaction they get from their consumer apps.

By embedding mobile, social and big data inside systems, we can make them work natively to take advantage of technology and change the business processes so that the system actually works for individuals – rather than individuals becoming slaves to systems.

Megatrend 4 – Artificial Intelligence, especially Machine Learning, has advanced rapidly and continues to do so. Machine Learning is crucial to understanding the terabytes of information that Big Data collects and delivers. Computers analyze extremely large and varied sets of data and can uncover patterns, trends, and associations that are invisible to the human analyst.

Enormous change – managed simply

Managing four concurrent megatrends will require a fusion of human and computer capabilities.  The computer’s half of this partnership will be self-driving software.  Self-driving software will provide the best and simplest interface possible, so humans can easily understand and utilize these immense and complex systems.  The human half of this partnership will be an empowered workforce, relieved of menial tasks, reinforced with deeper insights, and focused on what people do best:  strategizing, reasoning, creativity and communications.

Self-driving software is at the core of making these complex systems useable.  Ironically, the best user interface imaginable is no user interface at all – tasks that are completed by the software without human intervention.  ERP software will collect data from every conceivable source and examine the patterns and histories of employees individually and collectively.  Predictive algorithms will deliver solutions before the user has offered any input whatsoever.  That’s the best interface imaginable.

The second-best user interface is “just a little.”  Self-driving software can complete a difficult, time-consuming task and then prompt the user under prescribed conditions. The more the system learns, the fewer the prompts will be needed, but how the decision of how often and when to prompt is ultimately made by a human.

To clarify, let’s use travel expense management as an example.

Typically, a sales rep arranges a meeting by email, calls the client on his smartphone, books a flight on the internet, finds a restaurant through social media, hails a cab through Uber.  Unfortunately, after the meeting, the sales rep spends hours recording expenses, searching for receipts, filling in reports, and waiting for approval.

With self-driving software, the sales rep does nothing.  The report is produced automatically.  Maybe the rep snaps a photo of the dinner receipt.

That is possible because every productivity tool and mobility device in this example fed data into the system without any extra effort by the user – zero effort. It is possible because algorithms were developed by artificial intelligence from data collected during previous trips.  It is possible because self-driving software automatically completed the report.  The user does a quick scan of the finished report and hits ‘Send’.

Tomorrow’s computers will serve us

Self-driving software is not merely a time-saver.  It is creating a paradigm shift.  Today we serve our computers – tomorrow they will serve us.

We serve our computers by spending so much time developing our skills, understanding programs, filling in forms.  Soon our computers will serve us by understanding our needs, collecting their own data, developing their own algorithms.  They will interact with us in a simple, seamless, understandable way. It is our job as software developers to build software that works for people and not the other way around and we’re well on our way.

Businesses are fast approaching a paradigm shift when computers will handle the onerous, redundant, and time-consuming tasks, giving people the time and ability to do what they do best – managing and improving business.

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