Thursday, May 11, 2017

Emerging Tech Fuels Digital Transformation Using Mobile

** This topic is a frequent joint presentation I do with the Xamarin Team at Microsoft and will be the focus of a webinar on 7/20/2017. **

Mobile technology, according to Forrester, is "the face of digital."  What does this mean for mobile technologists and digital product managers?  It's this:  "Mobile is [the] gateway to new interactions that are rapidly gaining customers’ mobile moments."

Emerging technologies, such as machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital reality are fueling new experiences that significantly raise the bar for enterprise mobility.  Let's dig in and look at a few examples.

First, machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence based around the idea that we can give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves.  Or, thinking about it another way, machine learning is using computing power to perform tasks that formerly only people could do but at a super-computing scale.

What makes machine learning--which is not new--especially compelling now is that accuracy has improved to a level that is on par with human cognition.  For example, speech recognition error rates are under four percent, powering not only Siri and Cortana but also "digital assistant" devices like Amazon's Alexa, Echo, or Google Home.

But digital assistants are just the tip of the iceberg.  Microsoft, for example, has created a wide range of "cognitive services" APIs based on machine learning and artificial intelligence that open up incredible opportunities to create engaging mobile experiences.

Let's look at an example.  Prism Skylabs, is a San Francisco-based company that helps customers search through closed-circuit and security camera footage for specific events, items and people.  Their Vision app uses Microsoft's Computer Vision API to return information based on visual content processing.  For a few light-hearted examples that use similar technologies, check out or  

What could you do with machine learning technologies behind your mobile apps?

The Internet of Things (IoT) isn't really new at this point, although it's still an emerging technology in that we're still figuring out what business value we can create when we add and exchange data with newly connected devices.  Three trends add texture to the opportunities IoT presents for digital in general and mobile in particular:
  • Shift of Moore's Law.  Original observation:  Every two years chips become twice as powerful.  Latest trend:  Same chip computational power but every two years price goes down by half, moving toward nearly free chips that are in everything and enabling emerging technologies quickly going mainstream.
  • Everything Connected.  IoT has always promised to connect everything; however, that's become much more feasible--and in near real-time--with the advent of extremely fast 5G Internet.
  • Program the World.  Software is eating the world, yes.  IoT will continue to disrupt industries and how we live in unexpected ways, thereby extending mobile apps' reach ever deeper into the most basic aspects of work and life.  From an enterprise perspective, every business will become a software business.
Here's a couple of examples of how mobile and IoT are fueling digital transformation: 
  • ThyssenKrupp has implemented sensor-based predictive maintenance on elevators and has reduced downtime by 50% by feeding that data via a Xamarin mobile app to technicians and management in near-real time to accelerate service and operational decision-making.
  • Schindler has built a mobile app called FieldLink using Xamarin that enables elevator technicians to optimize their day. Similar to ThyssenKrupp, Schindler has attached sensors to elevators and escalators that are feeding back important data into their systems which enable them to predict and prevent problems before they occur.  Their system in turn is sending over 200 million messages per day back out to technicians in the field using the mobile app. The app also optimizes the technicians day by pushing service incidents to the technician nearest to the customer site in real-time.
What new business capabilities could you build using data from the Internet of Things?

Like machine learning, digital reality is not new.  The Sensorama, built by Morton Heilig in the 1950s and patented in 1960, is probably the earliest virtual reality (VR) device.

Today, digital reality has subdivided into three main types:
  • Augmented Reality.  Digital content on top of the real world.
  • Mixed Reality.  Digital content that interacts with the real world.
  • Virtual Reality.  Digital content separate from the real world.
Augmented reality (AR) is the easiest of the three to implement and we see a lot of examples today--think Pokemon Go.  Another example is an aquarium in Tokyo that wanted to solve a wayfinding issue where customers had a difficult time getting to the acquarium from the underground.  To solve the challenge, they created an AR mobile app that enabled customers to follow virtual penguins all the way to the aquarium!

Mixed reality (MR) places interactive digital content in the real world.  Microsoft's HoloLens is the major MR device in the market right now, although others like Magic Lead and Meta are also innovating in this space.  For sure, the applications of MR seem to be endless.

Unlike AR or MR, virtual reality (VR) is digital content--and an experience--totally separate from the real world.  You're transported to and fully immersed in a different place.  Mobile VR, using things like Google Daydream or Google Cardboard, is pretty simple.  More complex VR experiences--for example, using Oculus Rift--are much more immersive and realistic, although currently more the domain of gamers than the enterprise.

One negative perception of digital reality, however, is that can be an isolating experience.  On the contrary, VR enables deeper connections through an immersive experience, effectively giving us the chance to almost literally walk in another person’s shoes.  Chris Milk, a filmmaker and storyteller, calls VR the "ultimate empathy machine."  He and his team created an immersive experience called ”Clouds over Sidra” which shows the story of a day in the life of a young Syrian refugee girl.  Backed by the UN and UNICEF, Clouds over Sidra proved to be an exceptionally effective fundraising tool.

So why will digital reality be a key driver of digital transformation for the enterprise?  First, even two years ago 75% of the Forbes 100 already had a VR or AR experience.  Chris Cavanaugh, writing recently for Forbes, says that "biggest trends that we are all going to see over the next year is the use of virtual reality and augmented reality."

Digital transformation driven by emerging technology always has one thing in common:  mobile.  In fact, emerging technologies are cementing mobile's position as "the one device to rule them all" rather than supplanting it.

Getting your arms around emerging technologies, how to effectively use mobile, and how to fit into your digital transformation journey is a complex undertaking.  Magenic Technologies specializes in digital transformation through technology and can guide you each step of the way.  Let's talk about how we can help you add the jet fuel of emerging technologies and mobile to your digital transformation.

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