A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues surprised me with a statement he made during our team meeting that the information technology age is coming to an end. I looked at him in complete disbelief. How can the advances that have brought so much convenience to our lives be said to be coming to an end. I thought he must be mistaken, and just like a student who has just been given a topic for an assignment, my curious nature of always wanting to know kicked in and I set out on my little research – not to pass this time, but to prove him wrong. I asked myself how can we live without information technology, and how can life be better without information technology, which has brought with it globalization – a concept that shrunk the world into a small village.
However, after reading a few articles on this topic, I realized that just like there were other ages before – for instance, during the 17th century human beings lived off the land, and were mainly agrarian. During the 18th century – the Industrial revolution happened – ushering in a new era in the history of mankind – the Industrial age, and continued to evolve through to the 19th century. That too subsided in the 20th century and gave way to the new kid on the block – technology, which revolutionized communication by introducing telephone, radio and television. And we have come a long way since then.
Needless to say, the advances that have been made in the technology space have been in leaps and bounds since the invention of the telephone line, and created what has come to be known as the ‘information technology’ or ‘information economy’ age. It is the world as we currently know it, and as we currently expect to operate. However, the earth has never stopped moving….it continuously orbits the sun 365 days a year. This means that, as much as we have felt comfortable with what we have come to know - the ‘information economy’ age – this period was also never here to stay either. At some stage, just like the earth is consistently in motion – this age would have to come to pass, and make way for a new order of things.
At the centre of the information technology age is the focus of acquiring, storing and processing data to meaningful information and insights to better organisations’ economic progress. And as we in the first quarter of the 21st century, the non-stopping advances in technology are preparing us for a new era – the experience age. It is reported that by 2025, which is a mere 7 years away, the virtual reality experience will be almost close to the new reality – such that conscious efforts will have to be made to make people to be able distinguish between the real ‘reality’ and the ‘virtual reality’. This age will bring with it a complete paradigm shift – from how data is collected, stored and processed to become meaning and useful information in the form of business intelligence to how consumers will experience products and services offered by organizations.
The significance of data collection and/or data mining to gain customer insights will no longer be of primary focus. The experience age will necessitate the creation of virtual reality for the consumers to experience a product and/or a service even without buying it. For example, they will feel like they are ‘physically’ at the stadium watching a soccer or rugby match, while sitting in the comfort of their homes.
The experience age will extend the use of technology even further. It will allow for the use of technology to enable the consumers to experience a product or a service in that moment as if it were real or as if they were already consuming it, even though they were still trying it out. Some of this might sound far-fetched and just a fantasy. However, who would have thought that the demand for voice calls on mobile devices would be replaced by the demand for data services like WhatsApp – a move that has just happened over the past 5 – 10 years? And to push the envelope even further, the demand for data services for chatting and sharing of pictures or videos will soon be replaced by demand for data services for video calls – something that Facebook has realized and now introduced video calling on WhatsApp. Consumers will demand the experience of seeing each other as they are talking to each other. Yes, this is already happened in some parts of the world, but not at the ubiquitous level at the moment. This is the experience age shaping up right before our eyes.
The experience age will also be of great benefit to the services market. At the moment, consumers can only experience the quality of the service offered by a hotel by physically staying at the hotel. However, with the advances in the experience age, the consumer will be able to take advantage of the virtual reality and experience the stay at the hotel before actually staying at a particular hotel. At the moment, all that thought and decision making process of which hotel to choose is driven by data – either personal or impersonal, i.e. either through word of mouth from friends who have stayed over at that hotel, or through what the hotel publishes about itself on websites, brochures and other sources of information. And all of these touch points may prove, as some of you may agree with me, very deceiving and lead to a disappointing experience.
In the product market space, gamification will probably become one of the dominant form of introducing the experience age to the consumers. In this way, technology will be used to create games for customers to experience the product they are interested in even before buying it – as part of playing the game – as opposed to reading about what the product can do or see the TV ads about what a product does.
We cannot speak about the experience age and leave out the new buzz word, the IoT – the internet of things. This concept simply means that every device with a power switch can be hooked on to the internet – the connectivity to the internet will not only be exclusive to devices such as laptops, computers, mobile telephones. These devices include cars, televisions, fridges etc. The ability of these devices to connect to the internet will also change how we ‘experience’ the world we live in.
Cars will be able to communicate with each other, with the traffic lights, with mobile devices of the people you are having a meeting with to advise them that you are running late, to identify roads congested with traffic due to accidents or traffic lights that are out, and to decide alternative routes. Fridges will be able to contact your local supplier to order milk or whatever it is that you will be running short of. We currently see the advances made by smart TV’s which are already able to connect to the internet. Thus the IoT will be another form through which the ‘experience age’ is rendered to us by technology.
Therefore, the paradigm shift I referred to earlier on means that organizations will have to change their strategies, as the focus will no longer be on relying on big data to run analytics, but rather on using technology to provide real time experience to acquire and retain customers. The experience age calls for a different mindset, bearing in mind that consumers are also changing. We are talking millennials now, and no longer the X’ers and the Y’ers – and they have a different view of the world – which is proving to be a challenge to both their employers and companies offering services or products to them. And I believe that this is food for thought for us in the information technology space. In order to adapt, companies have to gear themselves and their mindsets towards IoT, robotics and experience age to remain relevant and up to date with the new era.