After five years or more of major digital transformation efforts, “most organisations are done or almost at the end of their journey,” explains Accenture’s Amit Bansal.
The question now for companies is what comes next: “What is now going to cause major change in industry and businesses?” the firm’s analytics and AI delivery leader asks.
Accenture is calling this new era the ‘post-digital world’. That doesn’t mean digital is over; it is the new norm, but given most companies have now transformed, other technologies will be the ones setting the most successful apart.
Four areas of innovation have been picked out by the global professional services company as particularly transformative in the post-digital era. Namely: distributed ledger technology (DLT), artificial intelligence (AI), extended reality (XR) and quantum computing.
The names lend themselves to a new acronym coined by Accenture: DARQ.
“The base assumption is everyone is digital. The digital playing field will eventually even out,” Bansal says.
“The post-digital world is about how do you start mastering DARQ power to start leading and differentiating yourself in the market. That’s what you should use to transform your business,” he explains.
A recent survey by the firm found that 67 per cent of Australian business and IT executives believe that digital technologies ― specifically social, mobile, analytics and cloud ― have moved beyond adoption silos to become part of the core technology foundation for their organisation.
The Accenture Technology Vision 2019 report found 89 per cent of Australian businesses are already experimenting with one or more of the DARQ technologies and 22 per cent of Australian businesses believe that if all four DARQ technologies are combined it will have a transformational impact on the company over the next three years.
Distributed ledger technology and AI are perhaps the better known of the DARQ technologies. DLT and blockchain are the focus of a number of local enterprises in both proof of concept and production form.
For example, the replacement of the Australian Securities Exchange’s aging CHESS system will be based on DLT and is expected to enter production in March-April 2021. The Commonwealth Bank has also run experiments using blockchain, involving smart contracts and issuing bonds. Energy company AGL has staged a desktop trial of blockchain-based energy trading among households.
AI is also well understood and adoption of related technologies by the enterprise is relatively high in Australia. Of the ten countries surveyed in a 2018 study commissioned by SAS, Accenture Applied Intelligence and Intel, adoptions rates in Australia were the highest in the world.
The technologies’ promise is very much known. When asked to rank which technology would have the greatest impact on their organisation over the next three years, 39 per cent of Australian executives ranked AI number one in the Accenture survey.
The transformative potential of extended reality and quantum computing is perhaps less well understood, Bansal says.
But now is the time when they will “be less experimental and more reality” he says.
Accenture defines extended reality as virtual reality, augmented reality and newly-developed immersive technologies being used by enterprises to engage with customers on “deeper, more meaningful levels”, and improve the productivity and performance of employees.
Examples include the virtual reality based employee training or smart mirrors in retail stores which allow shoppers to see themselves in various outfits without needing to change their clothes.
Quantum computing is further away but already companies are exploring the potential applications.
Bansal points to the example of Volkswagen, which is working with Google’s quantum team, and quantum annealer-maker D-Wave to explore the technology’s application in solving traffic optimisation problems, uncovering better vehicle construction methods, and improving high-performance batteries.
“These tests and pilots are in early stages, but Volkswagen is gaining expertise, forming key partnerships, and building up DARQ capabilities. As the technologies mature, this early expertise and experience will give them the tools they need to weave them together creatively and strategically to solve new kinds of problems, or attack existing problems in new ways,” Bansal says.
Accenture is exploring quantum computing within its own business, and late last year was granted a US patent for a 'multi-state quantum optimisation engine'.
Now then is not the time for business leaders to rest on their laurels having successfully digitally transformed their companies, Bansal adds.
“People who do digital best can leverage that, but we also see that if you don’t leverage these [DARQ] technologies now, someone in your industry will start to disrupt you, there is the opportunity to use these now,” he says.
“We’re seeing it as a big step change,” he adds.