Ian Blake, Head of IT at Port of Tyne, considers how Covid-19 is shaping the tech trends of tomorrow
Adapting extra quickly to unexpected events is something all organisations are becoming more accustomed to as a result of Covid-19. Many of the changes required of us involve embracing new technology in very different ways, creating clear cultural shifts. People working alongside automation and AI is a classic example of this in practice.
The 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub recently hosted a seminar with Accenture, to explore how they’ve revised their original 2020 Technology Vision to reflect the impact of Coronavirus. Accenture’s technology trends highlighted 5 new ways that technology is shaping our post Covid working lives, our expectations as business professionals and consumers, plus our social values.
The I in experience
This first trend is something pretty much every organisation can relate well and is something we are very focused on at the Innovation Hub. It emphasises how organisations are building personalised, interactive, and shared virtual communities. Covid-19 has transformed the role and importance of digital experiences in people’s lives but has also highlighted shortcomings in terms of the level of personalisation they receive and the customer’s need for greater control during interactions. Businesses need to get better at understanding what all their stakeholders want and providing that digitally – either individually or as part of a shared virtual community.
Many of us are working in virtual communities every day now, using tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to stay connected and hold meetings. It’s also possible to use Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality(AR) to replace face to face events, like site tours, induction meetings and health and safety inspections. We’re running onsite training and visualisations to promote learning and development without the need for a close proximity mentor. Nine months ago, virtual events like these wouldn’t have been offered, but now it seems like they’ve have been around forever.
Since March we’ve also been using virtual whiteboards and facilitation tools like Miro and Mentimeter to keep the delegate experience as close to in person as possible during meetings. Although it isn’t the same as being in a room together, delegates can participate fully and they stay engaged because they can contribute as easily as if they were seated around a physical table.
AI and me
Advances in AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) mean some job roles will be disappearing, but far more will be created that involve true human-technology partnerships. For instance, using RPA to automate pre-defined, repetitive tasks like cross checking manifests. Or using AI to make decisions based on a series of events, such as sending out automated trigger emails which free up people to deal with exceptions rather than routines. Many leading organisations are already fostering human-technology collaborations, augmenting their workforces and combining technology’s near limitless capabilities with people’s ability to direct and refine ideas. The pandemic has made this an even higher priority and human-AI collaboration for example, is even being used to find a Covid-19 vaccine.
Port of Tyne is currently testing an AI application to predict how weather patterns could impact on our quayside operations. We are also implementing AI based predictive maintenance technology to our hoppers, with smart sensors located on key equipment parts. These detect changes to vibrations, temperature, movement plus other variables and by monitoring trends over time we can predict potential failure and repairs to be undertaken before it becomes critical.
The dilemma of smart things
This trend explores how consumer trust is key if businesses are to successfully confront the ‘beta burden’ and unintended consequence of smart products that need to be updated by the customer. For example, smart devices are being used to identify symptoms, monitor patients and capture valuable health data. Robotic devices have been rapidly updated or repurposed for Covid-19, enforcing safe distancing in public spaces, dispensing hand sanitiser, and more. Businesses need to be mindful of consumer reactions to data privacy and the constant need for updates, to avoid overstepping or the benefits could be short-lived.
As part of the Port’s decarbonisation strategy, we have installed smart energy meters to monitor lighting and other energy usage, helping us to monitor consumption patterns, save power and optimise energy usage inside and out.
The Innovation DNA trend includes three different areas of innovation: mature digital technologies, scientific advancements, and emerging DARQ technologies (distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence, extended reality, and quantum computing). Covid-19 has shifted the balance, accelerating DARQ technologies beyond expectations. and speeding up innovation timelines and pushing organisations to work together in new ways. Good examples of this are competitors collaborating on projects to save resources and organisations looking for new ways to sell their services. Ports are a good example – when retailers shut down during the lockdown, their supply chains kept going, resulting in mountains of excess stock needing to be stored in containers, using surplus land available.
Robots in the wild
Like AI and me, Robots in the Wild explores the interrelationships between ‘man and machine’. To help ensure social distancing, robots are being released into the field, from controlled to uncontrolled environments. We see this in the many new “contact-less” solutions and monitoring programmes to stem the transmission of Covid-19. As robots take on new frontline responsibilities, so we become more understanding of their important place in society. Not just to control the pandemic, but for other applications in the future, accelerating the robotics ecosystem. Just like 4G networks expanded in line with the growth of smartphones, robots, IoT devices and 5G will have a similar relationship.
This is an area to be evaluated for use within the supply chain , with autonomous vehicles in operation inside the warehouses and remotely operated plant and machinery, or drones to conduct security patrols and complete inter site deliveries.
Covid-19 has shown that we are now more dependent on technology than ever before and Accenture’s excellent 2020 tech vision trend review helped put this into context. The need to apply technology for innovation is very clear – the only question remaining is whether it is possible to respond fast enough. By joining us at future 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub events and learning from experts in their fields, you can ensure your organisation will be well equipped to do so.
Ian Blake, Head of Information Technology, Port of Tyne