January 28, 2014
Digital Devices Offer New Opportunities for Physical World
By: Ariel Bernstein

When was the last time you were faced with a decision and you pulled out your smartphone to help inform your choice? Maybe you pulled up Waze to see road conditions before picking your route home, or checked out the user reviews on Yelp to decide between restaurants. Maybe it was any of the dozens of other times we use smartphones daily to access, create, and share an astonishing array of pertinent information that can enable faster, better decisions.

And that’s just the beginning. Now imagine driving on a city street. Looking out the window you see the car next to you cruising along, but the driver has a magazine spread across the wheel and a cup of coffee in hand. You realize it’s an autonomous car, just like the ones Google is already testing out on the road. But what does the average smartphone subscriber have in common with the person riding in a driverless car?

Both cases are using “devices” that have unprecedented capabilities to connect with other devices. From wearable computers to autonomous drones, the ways we experience the world are changing fast – and while the level of disruption this will have for organizations is great, so is the number of new opportunities businesses can take advantage of starting today.

You may think this innovation is restricted to the global tech giants. Guess again. Companies of all sizes and across industries have been benefiting from the reduced cost and increased capabilities of cyber physical systems to drive new experiences. With robotic systems for order fulfillment enabling big reductions in shipment times, warehouses are processing more orders in less time. Taking robots to the skies, agricultural applications use infrared cameras to pinpoint crops that are receiving too much or too little water; first responders use drones to detect survivors of accidents and natural disasters; and road surfaces and traffic congestion are monitored by drones.

While today’s cyber physical systems range from chef-robots that can serve a custom gourmet burger every 10 seconds to smart grid technologies, the future is not just about improving existing processes and services. Companies now have the tools to re-imagine their end-to-end delivery and experience – in doing so, there’s ample opportunity not only to disrupt existing industries but to define new markets. Large companies, supported by their abundant resources and ability to scale, can use cyber-physical systems to position themselves as cross-industry disrupters.

Take the Royal Caribbean International cruise line for example. Eager to ease long lines for shipboard restaurants – a perennial complaint for vacationers – Royal Caribbean installed sensors to relay to passengers the real-time seating availability at each of the restaurants on its ships. By giving passengers access to the data they needed to decide when and where to have a meal, the cruise line was able to discard cumbersome scheduling processes and keep passengers happy – a win-win situation for everyone.

Disruption will begin as it always does—by changing users’ expectations of what is acceptable, normal. The businesses that proactively alter users’ experiences will be the disrupters. Accenture anticipates three phases of uptake. The first impact will be on making current ways of doing things much more efficient. The second phase will see cyber physical systems start to create industry disruptions. The third phase will be in how organizations respond. They will need to ask questions about how truly intelligent automation will change interactions with and expectations of their customers and other stakeholders.

Getting your business to take the right steps towards a successful digital-physical strategy could be the most significant differentiator behind your company becoming a disruptor, or being disrupted. To read more examples of companies pushing their decisions to the edge, and get inspired as to how you can do the same, read this year’s Accenture Technology Vision.

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