Emerging technologies – the future of business

October 2021
Read time: 6 minutes

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BDO Partner and R&D expert, Eyad Hamouieh delves into the vast and exciting world of emerging technology, exploring the growing innovation opportunities available for forward-thinking businesses, along with the associated risks and benefits.

 

 

Why are businesses investing in emerging technology? 

Now is a really exciting time for the emerging tech landscape. Not only are the technologies themselves accelerating and becoming more varied in scope, their accessibility in terms of funding is improving. Today, there are a whole host of programs in the UK and globally that allow growing businesses to access to grants and funding, especially businesses that are looking to adopt new and emerging technologies or invest in R&D. 

Another reason for investing in emerging tech is the ability to diversify. There’s never been more competition in the marketplace, and businesses today are very aware that they need to stay relevant and up to date in order to remain competitive, even in the short term. Emerging technologies provide this opportunity to offer something different and implement it at ground level. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t risks attached. By definition, many of these emerging technologies aren’t concrete, and there’s a lot of trial and exploration involved. Funding has the potential to run out very quickly, so while investing in emerging tech is, on the one hand, a progressive and potentially ground-breaking route forward, it’s also something that businesses need to consider very carefully from a risk-benefit perspective. 

What are the most exciting emerging technologies in the space right now?

This can be broken down into two categories: First, the technologies that people are already talking about and implementing; and second, the ones that are yet to fully show their true potential.   

Emerging technologies of today 

The two getting people most excited at the moment are artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. These are the technologies primarily aimed at minimising the time it takes to execute daily tasks, taking over some of the simpler, more mundane jobs, all while reducing errors and lowering costs. Businesses of all sizes are already starting to adopt these technologies, particularly within the finance and accountancy side of businesses, where things like tax operations can be better streamlined and monthly data can be collated on a more real-time basis, allowing for more accurate projections and better reactivity to changing climates.

"Another area that a lot of people are excited about right now is cryptocurrency and blockchain technology."


Crypto is attractive because it gives investors the ability to buy, sell, spend and trade on digital, decentralized assets. This means they can trade seamlessly from anywhere in the world, bringing us back to that same key point – it’s a technology that makes trading easier. Blockchain is the technology that enables cryptocurrency, and can be further extended to other digital assets, encrypting data for cybersecurity or healthcare in order to reduce risk, stamp out fraud and ensure complete transparency across a data supply chain.

There are also some renewable technologies that I’d call emerging – electric vehicle and charging points, for example. There’s a big push there in terms of investment in renewable energy with current issues such as gas shortages, spikes in fuel prices and changes in legislation around the use of petrol and diesel cars driving uptake, but I think we can all agree there’s still a long way to go.

Emerging technologies of tomorrow 

A great example of an so-far underrated technology is quantum computing. This gives the ability to multiply the capabilities of our processors – whether handheld devices, PCs or larger machines – and use enhanced processing to drastically increase storage capacities as well as identify and solve complex problems that would otherwise take significant time. 

However, it’s Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) that are the real ones to watch. In a time where we’ve got increasing numbers of people working full-time from home, the big question to everyone is, how do we interact? And how do we maintain solid business structures in a virtual space? There’s so many things to consider with this, and it’s not just about re-creating face-to-face meetings. There’s also things like training – how do you deliver training to juniors and immerse them successfully without bringing them into the office? And, indeed, could this eventually be extended to schools – emulating a classroom experience without the teacher being there?

There’s a lot of research going into this. Perhaps the most interesting being studies looking at how our minds actually perceive VR – considering how far these realities can go in creating the same sensation as actually going to an office, or experiencing something outside the room you’re in. 

Of course, the biggest sticking point with VR and AR in terms of uptake as an experimental technology, is the hardware entry restriction. The cost of the hardware needed to make this viable across an entire company could be huge. But it’s easy to see how it could really benefit us in the future. 

What do businesses need to consider when looking to invest in emerging technology? 

Technology is constantly moving forward, and businesses have no choice but to follow if they want to keep up. Today’s emerging technologies, at their most basic level, give businesses the ability to speed up their daily processes, reduce costs and minimise the risk of human error. 

"Meanwhile, technologies such as VR and AR offer the potential to give a competitive edge in terms of enhancing customer and employee experiences."


However, these are emerging technologies. And therefore the risk of implementing them is slightly higher than it would be if you were investing in something that is tried and tested. Any money that you put into something that’s still in development could end up going to waste if that technology turns out not to be viable for your particular business; if the provider (most likely a start-up themselves) goes under, or possibly worst case scenario, the technology is so unstable that it leaves you vulnerable to a security breach. Due diligence prior to investment should involve thorough research to identify any requirements for implementing the new technologies (whether that’s additional hardware, increased data requirements or employee training), along with any disruptions this may cause. It should then consider any associated risks and weigh these up against the potential cost savings and benefits.

This being said, there are a number of third-party investment opportunities available that can go at least some of the way to minimising the upfront cost to your business, therefore lowering the overall risk. Government support in the form of grants is one such option (in the UK, Innovate UK, Invest Northern Ireland and Scottish Enterprise all offer subsidies or tax relief for businesses looking to invest in certain emerging technologies). It also pays to get an advisor involved early on, not only to help assess the particular risks of any new technology, but to point you towards those that might prove most profitable now and in the future.

Looking for advice around introducing emerging technologies to your business strategy? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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