We aren’t all walking around with computers in our bodies (though some people think that day will come), but people today rely on mobile technological devices for many things. The lines between the physical and digital worlds are blurring faster and faster, so much so that it might make sense to talk about a new hybrid digical world.
There’s a term in use about this change – digital disruption. This term describes the changes that occur when new technologies and business models affect the perceived benefits of goods and services that already exist. Examples of recent disruptions include Uber (disrupting the taxi industry), Netflix (changing the way video and on-demand content is delivered), AirBnb (affecting the hotel market) and Skype (the world’s largest phone company). An article by SiliconRepublic makes the interesting point that none of these companies actually own any physical assets – they simply use digital technologies to facilitate their services. Yet they operate in the real, physical world.
Rather than being a disruption, this is really more of a digital opportunity. The ubiquity of technology has made it possible to communicate with more people in more interesting ways than ever before in human history. Agility is key for modern-day businesses and organizations. If you can’t keep up with the changes happening right now, then you will fall behind. That’s why it’s vital to take a bit of a long view and think about what’s coming down the line in the near future.
To do that, you also have to take a quick look at the past: the World Wide Web was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, introduced to the public in 1991 and took off in 1995; computers got smaller and faster, mobile phones started becoming commonplace in the mid to late 90s (as did broadband networks), Wi-Fi was introduced in 1998, cloud computing really started in 2006, and smartphones exploded onto the market in 2007. Today, three-fourths of Americans own a smartphone (which is predicted to rise to over 80% by 2022), and rely on it for everything from work to private and social life.
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Forbes contributor Gil Press recently outlined a summary and analysis of Forrester’s report “Top Technologies for Digital Predators, 2017”, which includes a chart showing four types of technological systems and the scope of change they initiate. We have things like insight platforms, security automation, customer journey analytics, and personal identity and data management giving companies that use them a major advantage over their competitors. Whole industries are being changed right now with the increase of cloud-native app platforms, real-time interaction management, edge computing and IoT analytics (the Internet of Things used to analyze patterns of data for market insights).
And the world as we know it will change drastically with hybrid wireless networks, interactive digital environments like augmented and virtual reality, cognitive computing models and artificial intelligence, intelligent agents (AI-like solutions that interact with users and learn their behavior, even making decisions for them) and IoT software solutions that map the physical world into a detailed digital one, with connected devices constantly talking to one another everywhere.
All these new tools are blurring the lines between the digital and analog worlds. These technologies are not just ideas – they are coming, right now, and will most likely be commonplace within ten to fifteen years. By the middle of this century, everything we do, everything we interact with, will get communicated to a vast, world-encompassing mind-like digital system of intelligent programs that will use our past behavior to guess what we want next, and offer it to us before we even know we want it. By the end of the century, this will be so pervasive and commonplace that people will wonder how on earth others survived without this technologically-networked system (much how, in 1999, we looked back at the pre-automobile era and wondered how people survived with just horses and trains for travel).
And while much of this upcoming change is digital, it’s really about people. Organizations are not going to become soulless places where people are some sort of hindrance to the efficient workings of technology. Instead, companies, schools and other facilities people spend time in (either physically or online) will become communities in themselves, and not just tied to a single venue. What is most important for organizations today, at the beginnings of all this change, is to see this as a real opportunity to humanize their offerings. Corporate culture needs to become human-focused – that is the real meaning of a digital-savvy organization in the 21st century.
To reman relevant to their audience, organizations need to start embracing the blurring lines of the emerging digical world, even encouraging it. How can organizations today cope with this sea change? How can they begin to humanize their environments and culture? One answer already exists in the lobby, in the corridors, in the cafeteria – digital signage.
Digital signage is everywhere your audience is. Hopefully, they’re used to getting valuable information from your screens, and techniques such as gamification and limited-time offers keep them engaged and following your calls to action. Now it’s time to ratchet things up a notch by including things like online content, mobile interfaces and interactivity.
Using online content means pushing information that’s already on the web or network to your displays, through the use of RSS feeds, webpages, and real-time data – information like local weather and traffic, as well as internal metrics displayed as easy-to-read graphs. Social media boards are another way to bring part of your online presence to your digital signs. And you can also get people to interact with your online offerings by using short URLs and QR codes that take people to a dedicated webpage for more information.
An easy-to-use interactive interface let’s people sift through enormous amounts of information quickly and intuitively. If you have interactive touchscreens, people can simply open a browser window with the touch of a button right there at the display. They can view webpages specifically built to be used in conjunction with your digital signage (so you can control exactly the information available, as well as track how many people take advantage of the online information), or fill out forms, surveys and questionnaires, see training videos, etc. You can even ask them to post on your social networks, and they’ll see their comments immediately on the big screen.
Allowing people to take information with them on the go is another way to blur digital and physical lines. Literally anything with a screen is a digital sign, and that includes the smartphones and tablets people are already carrying around with them. An app that shows your digital signage playlist means that they don’t even have to be near the actual screens – just somewhere with a web connection. Wayfinding apps with turn-by-turn directions sent right to a smartphone also help make people’s lives easier and get them where they need to go. Adding beacons and geofence technologies lets people have locally-relevant data instantly.
Basically, we need to stop thinking of digital signage and these emerging technologies as a push system. They aren’t. These are tools to help people communicate across boundaries and are becoming another facet of everyday life.
You want to create an environment that immerses your audience in your organizational culture and offers rich and deep information for them to choose from and interact with. And as the technology evolves, the people who use it also evolve. You want your digital signage and communications – both internal and external – to evolve as well.
That’s how organizations of all types can turn digital disruption into digital opportunity, and remain at the cutting edge as the digital and physical worlds continue to blend into a digical one.