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March 12, 2014
The Digital-Physical Future
By: Ariel Bernstein

If you have read the 2014 Accenture Technology Vision then you are probably familiar with the first trend, “Digital-Physical”. This chapter discusses the convergence of digital technology with the physical world, and looks at the business impact of decisions being pushed to the edge. One question asked pretty frequently is why does this trend matter right now? While the penetration of smart devices in the market is undeniable, autonomous drones delivering packages is not yet a part of everyday life.

In the research process for the Vision we found that there are a number of ideas driving this trend, but before covering those take a moment to consider what the Technology Vision is: a projection of trends that will grow into critical differentiators for businesses over the next 3 to 5 years. So, yes, the shock of seeing a self-driving car might still be a phenomenon exclusive to the Bay Area, but the forward thinking businesses that recognize the trend, and start developing digital technology as a core competency, are going to have a significant advantage when the day finally does come that you can take a nap in your car – and still get to work on time.

At the rate the world is going, projections show that by 2020 the installed base of the Internet of Things is estimated to reach approximately 212 billion in 2020. This explosion of connected devices, which includes an expected 30 billion “autonomous things” that same year, is the first driver for the “digital-physical” trend. Everything is coming online, everything is being connected, and businesses need to be ahead of the curve in determining their strategy for how to use this technology to their advantage, rather than be disrupted by it.

Consider how Google Fiber is now in a number of cities, with plans for expansion, providing internet speeds orders of magnitude faster than what the regular household receives. The increased levels of bandwidth we will see over the next few years is another factor that is facilitating this trend. Global IP traffic is expected to nearly double between 2013 and 2016, with broadband speed going up more than twofold.

All of this connectivity means that data sources are growing at an unprecedented velocity. By 2017 more than 50 percent of analytics implementations will make use of event data streams generated from instrumented machines, applications, and/or individuals. The ability to take this data and loop insights immediately back into the decision process is supporting automating responsive actions like never before.

We are at the beginning of a wave that will bring a new world of user experiences. Already we are seeing the advantages of workers having faster and better access to data and information that enhance their ability to make decisions. Look at Champaign, Illinois and Grand Rapids, Michigan, were paramedics are using their own smartphones to increase access to medical information, find drug dosages and interactions, and share insights, with the destination hospital while a patient is in transit. In a time sensitive situation of the greatest degree, the paramedics are now empowered and able to quickly make critical (and potentially life-saving) decisions with the information they need right at their fingertips.

The implications to the enterprise are more than just updating BYOD policy. It begs strategic, innovative, leaders to ask the question “how can I leverage this technology to empower employees, deliver better information, and ultimately enable more effective decision making across the organization?” Undoubtedly it will take a lot of work to get there, but the rewards in efficiency will be undeniable. Like all disruption, there will be a change in users’ attitude of what is normal and acceptable. Businesses of any industry, and any side, should be working hard to be the drivers of that change in attitude, rather than trying to keep up with demand.

For more, check out the 2014 Technology Vision at www.accenture.com/technologyvision

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