The last decade has seen technology dramatically alter the way we work and the way we live our lives. At its most fundamental, this change is about access to information.
You could stop someone walking down the street in Sydney, ask them the results of that week’s American NFL matches and (providing they were amenable enough) they would simply tap for a few seconds at their smart phone, then list out all of the scores.
You could stop someone cycling along the rugged coast of North West Ireland, ask them to check the price of a stock listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and (once they’d located their phone) they’d give you the exact price, as it stood at that moment.
In our working lives, this change has meant that we are “always on”. As soon as the question comes in, no matter where we are, we can reach for the laptop or smartphone and begin working on the answer.
That this omnipresent access to information has changed the way we work is not surprising. The aspect that is, perhaps, a little surprising is how large incumbent companies can struggle to use their market dominance to make the most of technological change.
Disruption as driver
There are numerous examples of market leading companies struggling when a newer technology comes along. To stick with our example of mobile phones, think of how Apple and Android wiped out Blackberry and Nokia. Or, to consider an older, more established company, we can cite Kodak’s struggle to respond to the rise of digital photography, ultimately leading to its filing for bankruptcy in January 2012. (These examples are discussed in greater detail in this article entitled: Why big companies squander good ideas.)
However, these are the well-known examples. They capture attention because they involve the collapse of a previous incumbent. What we can take greater leaning from, are the more local examples that impact us day-to-day.
Evolving technology enables new freedoms
The development of the remote desktop opened up a range of options for employers to enable employees to be more flexible with their working hours and location. Around the world, the number of office workers who work remotely for at least one day per week now stands at 70%.
From the employer’s perspective, the gains aren’t just about being able to offer remote work as a perk, or pull from a larger, more geographically diverse talent pool. The main benefit is the freedom that employees being able to login remotely affords decision making. Senior staff away on business trips, for example, now need only an internet connection to pick up on their work. Therefore, time spent in transit no longer has to be factored in as dead-time.
Other areas of business software have made transformative impacts as well. Enterprise application software (EAS) has seen major shifts in the way companies store and manipulate vast quantities of data. Many modern large corporates are in fact still jaded from gruelling implementation projects for enterprise software. It is perhaps for this reason that they are reluctant to avail of the benefits that newer innovations can offer.
Robotic Process Automation
Many foresee the next stage of evolution of business software is taking the form of robotic process automation (RPA). In business processes, RPA involves automating highly repetitive tasks and processes (those currently undertaken by humans) in order to increase operational efficiency and reduce the risks of human error. Because of its ability to limit the risks of human error, RPA has been most eagerly engaged by those in risk averse industries and risk averse departments (such as finance and accounting).
Software we couldn’t live without
The business software we give the least credit offers some of the greatest benefit. Think of how arduous managing your day would be without the use of your calendar app, for example. Or how an address is now all the directions that are needed for a meeting in almost any city in the world, thanks to maps and gps.
Precise tools for particular tasks
Perhaps the biggest change in recent years is an increase in the vast range of specialised software tools. Most business problems (especially those that are process related) can now be addressed with software solutions. Unlike the complex and time-consuming enterprise software roll-outs, these particular software solutions are often quick and easy to implement, offering an almost immediate ROI. As more and more corporates recognise and adopt these types of solution, the benefits of early adoption quickly become the table stakes just to keep up.
Always on, or always ready?
Meanwhile, turning back to the way we now find ourselves “always on” to receive queries around the clock, this ceases to be an issue when we find the answers a click away.
If the CFO sends a message querying the year-end numbers, and you can respond with thorough, detailed analysis, confidently and quickly, everybody is happy with the outcome.
In fast-paced environments like corporate finance and corporate treasury, the benefits it can offer mean the introduction of new technology is particularly welcome.