Monday 22nd October, 2018
Event season is well and truly underway and last Wednesday was one I’d been looking forward to at Code Node, London for Baware Connect. Irritating then that the morning started with an unusually busy station and a screen filled with the ominous words “London – Paddington – Cancelled.” But despite the two hour journey to London Waterloo, I didn’t miss too much of the opening keynote, and judging from my vantage point at the back, the failures of Network Rail didn’t seem to have an effect on numbers.
And numbers was a topic on futurologist, Rohit Talwar’s mind. Well zeros and ones anyway – in other words data, and its impact on our lives. That data increasingly affects the way we live, is a fact that blinks from the screens of the stock exchange, with Amazon and Apple now trillion-dollar companies. And it’s likely that the next trillion won’t come in the same 25 years, but in the next 3 – 5 years. Impressive stuff when you consider that less than 1% of the global population actually understand technology, but none the less we use it to guide ever more of our private and business lives. Our world is about to be shaken up. If it is possible to 3D print a car with only 50 components, it’s worth considering how commercially viable our existing supply chains will be 10 years from now.
In order to stay ahead of the machines, humans will need to stay relevant. A fact that was brought home when Talwar explained that 30,000 jobs at Accenture had already been displaced by AI. A sobering thought, but remarkably tame when compared to our next speaker, author of “To Be a Machine” Mark O’Connell – a softly spoken Irishman with a penchant for things existential. He set out a vision of the world where, to use a grim expression, humans could be seen as “meat machines” – where our consciousness is the real us, the data of us, and our bodies the imperfect vector of that.
But given a future where we could upload that consciousness into a machine, we could effectively live for as long as we wanted to. And it may not be as outrageous an idea as it seems – not that is if we trust the investment motivations of some of the silicon-valley tech billionaires and the Transhumanism movement, currently deep in the market for life extension technology. Whether that consciousness would really be "you" is questionable, but then as O'Connell quipped - a human body is not unlike girl band, The Sugarbabes, every part is replaced every 8 years anyway.
But then when that movement leads along a path to frozen severed heads and preserved for the future bodies being referred to as “patients” you do have to wonder…But perhaps as O’Connell said, we’re already in the Singularity that the transhumanists talk about, the merging of man and machine. After all, what is an Amazon worker who collects a package under direction of an algorithm, or a banker dealing with market fluctuations caused by predictive AI?
And existential Wednesday didn’t end there as Director of Product Marketing, Lapa Palokangas introduced the idea that our reliance on data was nothing new and that Alexa or Siri are not that different to an ancient Greek's reliance on the Oracle at Delphi. But now as then, the data or information gained can only ever be as good as accuracy of the data that the technology (or Oracle) contained.
Take supplier adoption for example – to get value from the data in your P2P it needs to be complete, and you need to have it in volume, so getting as many suppliers on board is essential. And once automation is in place, better business decisions can be made on the back of it, but ultimately any system needs to be easy to use.
And that ease of use was something that Magnus Bergfors, Research Director, Gartner identified as one of the 5 things that companies should look out for when buying P2P technology, pointing out that the best tech is one that’s used. And, as also mentioned later by Duncan Jones, Vice President and Chief Analyst, Forrester, having a partner eco-system is increasingly important. Not one system that fits all, but a partnership suite of interoperative technologies.
And as he went on to say, those technologies will make use of an increasingly sophisticated blend of RPA, machine learning and data analytics to drive a user experience that will keep companies ahead of the curve. Those companies that are on the right side of risk, but still innovative will be the ones that drive that differentiation.
And after listening to Basware's roadmap, that’s where it looks like they're heading with their product suite; making sure that their solution fits those 5 areas identified by Magnus Bergfors to produce a solution that's listened and properly addresses the needs of their customers.
I've been to two or three Basware Connect events in the past, and have always come away having learned something new and interesting and enjoyed insightful conversations with the Basware team, speakers and practitioners. This year didn't disappoint and judging by the buzz at the end of the event over pizza and prosecco, the 150 or so attendees seemed to feel the same.