While futurists and analysts can show us some exciting – or scary – visions of the future of technology, during a panel at the Channel Innovation Awards event, moderator Bill Steed, vice-president, sales and business operations at Ingram Micro pointed out that there are no future facts. As we’ve seen during the past year, something as simple as a virus can totally disrupt even the most carefully crafted plans. He sat down with four channel leaders to discuss opportunities for the channel in this new world.
Panellists Ted Maulucci, president and co-founder of SmartONE Solutions, Alex Miller, president & founder of Esri Canada, Jason Cassidy, chief executive officer at Shinydocs, and Rob Lee, director, information technology at Ingram Micro shared their thoughts in a lively discussion.
Steed kicked things off by asking the panellists to identify one tech opportunity that they believe the channel is overlooking.
“The biggest opportunity that I believe is overlooked is that of collaboration,” Maulucci said. “Just as we talk about network effect. With one person in a network, as soon as there’s a second, we increase the value, as soon as there’s a third, we further increase the value. And I think that’s very true with a lot of the technologies and the innovation, specifically when we get to AI. The more data sets, the more things you combine together, the greater the value creation is.”
He thinks that there is a general need for more industry collaboration, more openness, and more companies realizing that they can’t do everything, and when they combine offerings, they can create something of greater value to the customer.
Lee pointed out that companies already know how valuable many emerging technologies can be. Things like artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, and blockchain can be leveraged to enhance functions within a company.” Streamlining processes and functions, automation, faster processing can be beneficial for every company looking to either save costs, or do things faster and better,” he said. “I would think that anything, any one of these items can help.”
Miller revisited the idea of collaboration, noting that while there’s plenty of person-to-person collaboration, organization-to-organization collaboration is lacking.
“We’re seeing a lot of people-to-people collaboration with things like Microsoft Teams, or in the consumer space, Facebook,” he said. “But when it comes to an organization sharing its database and sharing its transactions, that’s not happening.”
Cassidy took a different tack. “The thing that we’re ignoring most often is the actual value that we’re trying to achieve out of technology and an innovation,” he said, citing the example of bitcoin. “The value that I perceive in this is the fact that my customer if they’re going to pay me $5 or $5 million, they can have that money to me within five minutes to 20 minutes, and there are no intermediaries for the transaction, there is no bank to say that you’re not allowed to do that, and there’s no government that says, ‘I’m going to scrutinize it.’ That is the true value of that technology.”
Steed then redirected the discussion to address ways of harnessing the data from the expected 850 million smart connected devices we’ll see within five years.
From a technology point of view, Cassidy said, we are focused on where the data should be put, which he thinks is the wrong question. “The data use should come first,” he said.
Maulucci agreed. His company is collaborating with four Canadian universities to combine their data in one location. “The power becomes the fact that now we have data from different sources all sitting in one spot that can now be integrated and work with together,” he said. “The key to this, though, is that people can collaborate, share a data set, label it in a meaningful way, apply machine learning in AI, and then the world opens up.”
“Data growth has been nothing short of astounding,” Miller added. “I think we’re just at the end of the beginning. We’re now reaching the point where there’s going to be lift-off.”
With all of the recent talk about AI top-of-mind, Steed asked panellists for their thoughts on its importance, and where the immediate opportunities are for the technology. Each had a slightly different way of expressing similar views: AI is for what Miller called the “wicked problems”, things we can’t solve today with current resources, and to speed up processes by automating them. But, noted Maulucci, “The worst thing you can do with AI is look at it from one single problem perspective, versus how do I create the structures that enable, because it’s literally limitless. So you start from the understanding that you’re trying to create something that’s limitless, versus I’m looking at one specific scenario, and you start to design to that.”
The discussion concluded by briefly touching on two issues: the use of voice technology in the workplace (privacy is a huge issue) and remote work technology (the consensus was that we will revert to a hybrid work environment rather than exclusively working remotely).
Steed wrapped things up with a call to action.
“Rather than viewing digital disruption is worrisome and challenging, embrace the uncertainty and potential that advances in new technology and analytics and artificial intelligence will bring,” he said. “The pressure to innovate and the technological progress pose an opportunity for us all to rethink the work that we do and the way that we do it. The question for you is, are you prepared?”