While memes and popular music remain relevant for extended lengths of time, digital technology trends move with the quick pace of innovation. In this post, we’ve compiled a list of digital technology trends that we think will be profoundly relevant throughout the 2020’s.

While these trends can enhance your ability to enable digital operations, it’s important to note that pairing ERP software with these trends is one of the best ways to create new operating models.

4 Digital Technology Trends for 2021

1. Augmented Reality​

Augmented reality is one of those trends that seem like a non-essential gimmick, but in actuality there are many practical applications for it. Augmented reality (AR) has shown significant value within the field service, manufacturing and retail industries.

2022 Top 10 ERP Systems Report

This report is relevant to organizations across industries and outlines the top ERP vendors that we believe will help organizations prosper in 2022.

In the retail industry, there has been a surge in the AR trend when it comes to eCommerce. Customers now have the ability to see goods, like furniture or home décor, in their own homes, before making a purchase. In fashion, consumers are given the ability to virtually try on goods, like sunglasses.

For field service applications, AR can enhance the technician’s ability to service equipment. For example, put yourselves in the shoes of an HVAC technician. You don’t know the specs of this particular model of air conditioner by memory, so you need to rely on the manual to troubleshoot issues. After some investigation, you determine that the issue is underneath a panel. You need to point a flashlight at the equipment and use a screwdriver to tighten a loose contact, but you’re not entirely sure which contact is the correct one. Seeing as you only have two hands, referring to the manual will be a difficult task.

However, a technician wearing an AR compatible device can view the AC unit’s schematics superimposed on the physical hardware. Since the schematic is in the cloud and collaborative, it may even include notes from other technicians who have solved similar issues.

It should be noted that the usefulness of AR relies on access to AR-friendly data. Schematics for equipment should be available in a central repository that allows remote access by AR-equipped devices. This product information should be managed in a consistent manner.

This is an area where AR can leverage ERP functionality. ERP systems are already central to business operations, but ERP plus AR is a digital technology trend we think will stick around.

2. Advanced Analytics

Companies have been using data analytics to predict market outcomes and other forecasts for decades. What makes this digital technology trend different is that popular advanced data analytic techniques are taking advantage of other trends (such as ERP data management) to provide deeper insights.

For example, let’s say your business intelligence team uses a regression analysis algorithm to predict what other items an online shopper may be interested in based on his or her order history on your eCommerce site. In the past, one particular online shopper bought a nine-iron and a putter from your online golf shop.

This shopper is now browsing your site again and based on your data from other shoppers who have made the same purchase in the past three months, your data analytics algorithm predicts he might be interested in a new hybrid club. Your eCommerce site receives this insight and displays an ad for the popular hybrid club.

This scenario requires quality, real-time data from an ERP solution to provide these insights. If you’re implementing new ERP software, we recommend focusing on ERP data migration as early as possible to ensure accurate customer insights.

A popular subset of advanced data analytics is artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. While AI is the brain behind those humanoid type robots that we see in science fiction films, in more practical use cases, AI can help companies transform the way they interact with potential and current customers.

For example, the use of chatbots has been on the rise to supplement level 1 support in customer service desks. If the data collected from your company’s help desk has found that more than 90% of calls taken could have been answered with a simple response, a chatbot may be a good solution to aid in shorter wait times when customers call.

AI models require clean data to learn and grow from. This is where data from an ERP system can be taken to the next level to provide richer insights and enable customer experience transformation and supply chain optimization.

3. Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT is an acronym that was frequently heard in the late 2010’s and continues to be a digital technology trend on the rise. It was not invented, per se, in the past decade, but it did gain popularity during this time thanks to innovations in miniaturization of modern electronics.

IoT can be defined as a system of devices connected via a network with the ability to transmit data across the network without human interaction. There are many use cases for how IoT can transform business models, in almost every industry.

In academia, researchers can place sensors on roadsides, on top of buildings and even in rainforests to gather data on the environment. Data from these sensors can transmit to an ERP system where the information can be analyzed and turned into meaningful statistics.

For everyday consumers and in the public sector, “smart homes” and “smart cities” are becoming less science fiction and more like reality. For example, the IoT digital technology trends allows for sensors and devices in a home to self-regulate temperature or lighting. Companies like Fitbit and Apple leverage IoT to collect data from their devices that provides consumers with insight into their personal health.

In operations management, IoT increases efficiency by helping to streamline or even automate mundane tasks. A famous example of “smart warehouses” leveraging IoT devices are Amazon’s fulfillment centers. As orders are placed, the location of the inventory is found on a pallet somewhere within the warehouse. Small robots then drive pallets of inventory to where warehouse workers will pick the exact product. These robots use QR codes on the floor to determine their path of movement.

Once the items are picked and packed into boxes, they are placed on rolling conveyors where scanners automatically scan barcodes to determine which shipping label to affix to the outside of the box and which direction to sort it.

While many modern ERP systems have IoT functionality, it’s important to gather your ERP requirements first to ensure the ERP system’s basic functionality is a good fit for your processes across business units.

4. Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

In addition to IoT, smart warehouses leverage another trend – robotic process automation (RPA).

According to CIO.com, RPA is defined as “an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, aimed at automating business processes.” Basically – tedious, routine tasks that have been done by a human in the past can now be processed automatically by software or a robotic machine.

This can range from the simplest of tasks, like approving an invoice for payment automatically if the dollar amount is below a specified threshold, to extremely complex actions like the Amazon fulfillment robots driving pallets of inventory to warehouse workers.

RPA by itself is a tremendous advancement in technology just in the past few years, but when RPA is leveraged within an ERP system, this is where serious digital transformation can happen.

Why? Well, ERP vendors design ERP systems to run a company from end-to-end, so imagine if these end-to-end processes could be several times more efficient by using RPA to automatically complete standard business processes.

For example, in a standard procure-to-pay business process there are several steps where purchase requisitions require approval or orders need to be sent to the vendor for fulfillment. When the mundane tasks like approvals are automated, your workforce is freed up to focus on tasks that involve critical thinking, like negotiations or human relations.

How to Find the Right Digital Technology

The last decade demonstrated that many companies are achieving significant benefits from ERP implementations and digital transformation. This is at least in part due to the capabilities of augmented reality, advanced analytics, IoT and RPA.

How will your company transform in 2021? Panorama’s business transformation consultants can help you determine what technology aligns with your digital initiatives and is cost effective. Request a free consultation below to learn about our digital strategy expertise and ERP selection experience.

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