Cisco’s GM, Garsen Naidu, shares 10 technology trends soon to be affecting our lives

Emerging technologies will limit the physical contact people have with each other.

By Garsen Naidu, General Manager of Cisco for sub-Saharan Africa.

After a year and a few months of facing the pandemic, there are new experiences, new norms and new priorities that have emerged.

New Experiences
1. Online has become the frontline and they blend into a hybrid experience

Even though e-commerce has been increasing, eating into the sales of brick and mortar stores, the onset of Covid-19 meant that even more sales were conducted online.

According to a recent study by Mastercard, 68 percent of South African consumers have been shopping more online since the start of the pandemic. This might mean a change in job profiles for those working in retail as they will now be expected to process orders, work in customer care or warehouses, and of course in delivery.

Retailers are finding new ways to attract consumers by bringing new experiences; from providing vegetable boxes with online cooking tutorials that can be watched by scanning a QR Code to virtual dressing rooms for those aiming to buy clothing. IT teams will be forced to prioritise application performance now more than ever.

The most digitally advanced retailers are also looking into how the online experience can be carried into the physical space. This may include consumers checking in the store with their smartphones, receiving individual recommendations based on recent online or offline purchases, or recipes translated into grocery shopping lists.

At Cisco we believe that it will be blended, and our role is to create a simplified application experience for our customers and their journey to cloud.

2. Interfaces and interactions go contactless
Emerging technologies will help limit the amount of physical contact people have with surfaces and each other.

Over the last year, we have seen a surge in the usage of voice and machine vision interfaces and contactless payment options. We have already started to think about a safe return to work, including how people can move through buildings by using only their smartphones or voice commands.

We have sensors in Webex collaboration devices that can detect the capacity of meeting rooms and announce if social distancing guidelines are not being met, for instance because there are too many people. The system offers an alternative conference room with a map showing the route and offers the option to automatically reserve it for the meeting.

In factories or retail environments, WiFi-connected surveillance cameras can send alerts if people don’t wear personal protective equipment or keep social distancing. Integrated with building automation systems, you can even program doors not to open if someone wants to enter without a face mask.

3. Virtual health here to stay
Remote care, telemedicine and virtual consultations will all revolutionise healthcare.
The use of sensor-based technologies for remote health monitoring will complement the current video consultations, giving doctors more specific data to diagnose patients. 3D bioprinting, digital replicas and the use of 5G, artificial intelligence and virtual and augmented reality will define the path towards the future of virtual health.

The new norms to expect

4. The future of work is distributed
Cisco’s research conducted among 400 enterprises by WorldWide Worx, shows that 38 percent of employers are prepared to allow staff to continue working from home after the crisis is over.

Meetings will have at least one remote participant and the reasons for going to the office will also change. Both our experience and research show that the main motivation for people to go to the office has and will continue to be about meeting and collaborating with colleagues.

As a result, office layouts will change, with more community space for meetings and teamwork, rather than individual working areas. And the technology we use must support a focus on people and experiences.

5. Learning to e-learn
As a result of schools being shut all across the world and more than 1.5 billion children being out of the classroom, education has changed dramatically.

While teachers, children and parents have shown amazing creativity and adaptability over the past year, we have also seen the many challenges our society was facing when schools closed. And we learned a lot during this time, building a better understanding of the benefits and challenges of remote education.

As a parent, I’ve seen my kids growing up tech-savvy, but more recently, I’ve seen them acquire digital skills of a different kind, using video conferencing and productivity tools like a pro.

As I think about the future, I believe improved connectivity, more inclusiveness through distant learning and the development of engaging digital content will be paramount.

6. The day of hybrid events has arrived
For event hosts, the future seems a balancing act between experience and value for their audience and requirements for safety and security.

At the same time, we have learnt a ton about digital events over the past year. As predicted, we will see a steep rise in hybrid events where parts take place in-person and others are delivered digitally. Attendee ratios may vary – from as much as 80 percent of attendees online, and 20 percent physical, and virtual and physical attendees may even rotate, to allow for socialising and networking.

7. Experiments move to strategic choices
Leaders need to develop strategic roadmaps towards their next normal – and creating more resilient and agile business models will be front and centre of that.

For the future, one thing is for sure: the need for connectivity will grow as will the reliance of businesses on Cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. As CIOs prepare their organisations for a digital future, they are increasingly looking for flexible options and “as a service”, paying for the features and capabilities they currently need, with the option to scale.

8. Digital infrastructure must be strengthened
Over the next decade, we need to get prepared for future generations of applications – driven by virtual and augmented reality, 16K streaming, AI, 5G, 10G, quantum computing, adaptive and predictive cybersecurity, intelligent IOT, and others not yet invented – and a complexity beyond the capabilities current internet infrastructure can viably support.

9. Cybersecurity is at the forefront
Organisations need to be even more vigilant and the need for networks to have robust cybersecurity baked into their design is critical.

Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation are strengthening the cyber defence capabilities of organisations. In addition, the wide availability of biometrics in both consumer and business devices means we can start exploring what a world without passwords could look like.

10. Increased reliance on data, automation and robots
I believe in the role of technology in assisting us in using data and automation or in taking more informed decisions, building more energy efficient data centres and devices that power down automatically, the use of smart sensors or contributions to a circular economy.

We know that the best ideas come from the most unexpected of places and solving sustainability challenges will be no different. I’m an eternal optimist and am immensely proud to see how technology has shone a light on what is possible in so many industries this year.