Check Call: Embrace the risk

Looking out a window situated 51 floors above street level should provide a spectacular view of the city skyline, but when the fog rolls in, it’s hard to see what should be right in front of your eyes. Making predictions about the future is a bit like attempting to peer through the fog: it’s obvious that changes will be coming, but it’s pretty hard to see exactly what they are or how they’ll be implemented.

Recently, IBM Canada Ltd. hosted a discussion about cloud computing, connected technologies and smart cities. With no formal agenda or presentations, it was more of a cocktail party in a fancy restaurant attended by old colleagues and fascinating new people than it was a typical industry briefing.

The rain and the fog prevented the view from the high-rise eatery from being as spectacular as it could be, but the inclement weather didn’t do anything to dampen the enthusiasm in the room as conversations leapt from the computing and database power required to enable online gaming, to the reasons why smart utility meters aren’t that smart, to the reluctance of Canadian governments (of all levels) to participate more fully in the open data movement.

Transportation and logistics were also popular topics as people talked about augmented reality (AR) systems—DHL, for example, thinks that AR could be used to help drivers find their way while performing last mile navigation and last metre delivery. The company also believes AR could offer enhanced traffic congestion information, and  expects it could assist in the cargo completeness check process—predictive traffic light synching (measuring the flow of traffic, analyzing the data and then using the results to adjust the timing of traffic control signals to ensure the traffic will continue to flow as easily as possible further along the routes), networks of Wi-Fi connected vehicles sharing information with each other, and of course self-driving vehicles (see cover story, page 20).

Despite many of the attendees making their livings by developing and promoting new technologies, everybody had a realistic view about how easy it will be to export the high-tech solutions from the engineering labs to the real world. They understand that there is an inertia hurdle to overcome. John Longbottom, IBM Canada’s national program executive for smarter cities, described the problem in terms of risk, reward and failure. The more technologically advanced or complicated the project is, the higher the possibility of failure is. If it goes wrong, then the people responsible for it take a hit to their public image, which is a serious problem if you’re a politician looking to get re-elected or even a company executive who has to answer to shareholders. This creates a risk-adverse climate, where a reluctance to try anything new is bred and fostered.

Despite the play-it-safe attitude Longbottom believes that society will be driven to adopt new technologies, as you and I—everyday consumers and citizens sporting multiple devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops, maybe even smart watches)—will push for more and more mobile-accessible services. We will want access and answers at our fingers instantaneously, no matter what the device or platform.

Organizations, be they small municipalities, provincial government ministries or businesses, will eventually learn to adapt more quickly and more efficiently to fast-moving technological changes and will start to create strategies and protocols that will hasten adoption. They’ll figure out how to best manage the volumes of data that will be generated and will then figure out how to tap those goldmines of information and extract value from them.

In order to prepare for this eventuality, Longbottom suggests positioning your business as one that can be part of the value chain: figure out a way you can piggy back off the new capabilities and technologies and offer your customers a way to be part of the coming future. Show them you are a leader in your space, and they can count on you to pull them along and prevent them from being left behind with all of the rest of the dinosaur businesses that can’t evolve.

As to exactly what technologies or systems will become the next big thing, that’s almost impossible to say, just as it’s impossible to see past the fog bank and view the city below. So in order to put yourself in the best position to take advantage of whatever is to come, Longbottom says businesses—including trucking companies—should focus on “shortening their time to action.”

By becoming nimbler and quicker to respond to change, by having procedures for evaluating new technologies and implementing pilot testing projects, by having proven and effective means of educating employees and introducing new concepts to them, and by having marketing and sales departments that are able to quickly craft messages to explain how your business can utilize the next technology to save your clients time or money and offer better service, your fleet can put itself in the best position to grow and thrive in the future.

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