We’re reaching a new frontier when it comes to controlling our physical environment. With software becoming enmeshed in the world around us, we’ll soon be able to command what we see. Vitalie Schiopu, Data Science Senior Manager, and Yoann Hertienne, Associate Manager at Accenture Luxembourg, explain how businesses can take advantage of this new programmable world.
What are the opportunities for businesses and consumers?
The second trend in Accenture’s Tech Vision 2022 – “Programmable world” – will enable us to make our physical environment as smart and customizable as we expect the digital one to be through technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), VR and AR. As Schiopu explains, “there is increased focus from the digital world to the physical world and how we can mesh the two and make the transition more streamlined.”
This blend offers opportunities for both businesses and consumers. According to Hertienne, businesses “will be able to create a new business model and a new experience for the consumer” via customizable products and services. Consumers will not only benefit from more personalized offerings from their favorite brands, but also gain greater control over their environment. As Schiopu points out, “by bringing programmability into the physical world you can choose what to use and how to customize it. Having more digital technologies allows you to control and personalize the physical world according to your individual needs.”
Three requirements for a programmable world
For a truly programmable world to exist, you need the right infrastructure. As Schiopu explains, this is built on three layers: the Connected, the Experiential, and the Material. In terms of connectivity, 5G provides the foundation, capturing people’s interactions with their surroundings through computer vision, speech recognition, wearables etc., and enabling connected devices to exchange and interpret data more easily. According to Hertienne, Luxembourg is well prepared for this. “There are plans to convert the full territory of Luxembourg to 5G in 2023. This will increase the connectivity of all devices.”
“[…] thanks to new technologies such as low code/no code platforms, even children will be able to build algorithms using drag-and-drop blocks. This is something we expect to see more of in the future.”
Yoann Hertienne, Associate Manager at Accenture Luxembourg
The experiential layer will fall to companies themselves. “It’s about offering experiences built into digital products that are connected or make use of the physical world,” explains Schiopu. VR and AR, for instance, are already being used to add more interactivity in the professional training experience. Devices such as Microsoft’s HoloLens support this. And the use of digital twins – an accurate, virtual representation of the real world – will enable companies to proactively monitor different aspects of their operations, such as machinery maintenance.
The material layer refers to new materials with programmable interfaces. These could transform the fashion industry, suggests Schiopu. “In five years or so, the industry will be using fabrics that dynamically change on the catwalk.” Whilst this is a long-term trend, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has already developed materials that can change shape or color and adapt to different environments.
New world, new challenges
Despite the opportunities a programmable world offers, there are a number of challenges to overcome. According to Hertienne, user adoption is one. “The idea of a programmable world can be hard to grasp, nevertheless, we already see interest among consumers. Fifty-six percent of consumers surveyed as part of Tech Vision 2022 stated they would find personal value in using it today or in the near future. This suggests we will achieve user adoption eventually, but not tomorrow.”
Another challenge is interoperability. As Schiopu explains, “an increasing number of interconnected devices and products are available, and you need them to communicate with each other, so interoperability between different companies’ products will be key. For example, you can use your smartphone to unlock your car, but this function shouldn’t be limited to one brand of phone.” To support the adoption of these technologies, it’s important to “agree industry standards and encourage companies that create these devices to collaborate.”
One final challenge is around privacy and security. As Schiopu points out, “the more devices we have, the surface of attacks increase exponentially as does the seriousness of consequences.” To protect themselves, businesses need to build in security and privacy by design. “It’s about the brilliant basics. You need to control access to and visibility of mechanisms around security operation control centers, for both reactive measures and proactive monitoring of how data is used, and by who.”
Preparing for the programmable world
So how should businesses prepare for this new world? For Schiopu it starts with those brilliant basics. “Security and privacy need to be in place, and you need to ensure the devices you work with enable cross-device interaction. From there, you build an environment to explore, experiment and develop services around the three layers: connectivity, experience, and materials.” Organizations will need to have the skills and structure to experiment with new technologies then scale up to tackle key business use cases. For Hertienne, training is essential. “This will help people without a technical background to test and experiment. And, thanks to new technologies such as low code/no code platforms, even children will be able to build algorithms using drag-and-drop blocks. This is something we expect to see more of in the future.”