This phrase first appeared in English in the 1600s, and versions exist in French, Italian, German, and many other languages – so the concept is not new. In fact, the ancient Greeks had a similar saying. Innovation is part of human nature: when we see a problem, we look for a solution. Solving one problem frees us to focus on other problems that were overshadowed by the first — innovation is never-ending. The pandemic has presented numerous opportunities for humans to innovate, especially in the area of information technology.
Social distancing requirements quickly changed working from home from a luxury to a necessity. Video conferencing and collaboration tools were the leading edges of this new wave of innovation. Zoom went from a small company with an easy-to-use video conferencing solution to a generic term for a video conference call in just a few months. Solutions to pain points such as controlling access to conference calls, “muting” the camera, and conference call etiquette quickly developed. As other pain points were exposed by remote working, solutions appeared. Instant messaging solutions adapted to blur the line between internal and external contacts. File sharing solutions evolved to allow for large files to be easily shared without emailing copies back and forth while also controlling who had access to the document and tracking changes and versions. As businesses begin to transition to a hybrid work model that blends working in the office with working remotely, expect to see further innovation in the tools we use to work together.
Another driver of innovation has been the move to the cloud. The initial impetus was to improve data center operations and allow IT to easily add computing capacity when needed. That led to a lot of applications being hosted in the cloud. Once there were a lot of applications in the cloud, engineers realized that if they could connect those different applications, new solutions could be delivered that leveraged the power of several different companies. The simplest example is when you purchase a product online. You see product information from a supplier, inventory information from the vendor, and shipping data from the package delivery company – all linked to your order. Rather than having to visit the website of the shipping company to get tracking information, that data is retrieved by the seller and automatically presented as part of your order information. The tools used to accomplish this are called Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs. APIs allow you to easily harness the power of another company’s software development without having to reinvent the solution. Moving forward, to truly harness the power of the cloud, companies need to harness the power of APIs. The challenge is knowing what APIs are available, what capabilities they have to offer, and how to integrate that into your internal applications. It’s critical to have someone who can help you architect a solution that leverages the power of APIs to radically transform your business capabilities while also keeping your data and business safe.
One of the biggest drivers of innovation over the next decade will be Artificial Intelligence. The ability for machines to see patterns in large sets of data and make intelligent decisions based on those insights is already transforming technology. It’s even running in programs you’re using today. Microsoft Office 365 has been adding AI capabilities that learn how users work and can accurately predict what they will do next. This allows the software to make intelligent suggestions that speed up the work process. One simple example: you receive an email asking you to send the PowerPoint file from yesterday’s meeting. The AI engine can read that email, cross-reference with the calendar to see which meeting is being referred to, and find the PowerPoint file used in that meeting. When the employee reads the email, the software can offer to automatically attach the correct file – saving the employee from having to search for the file. Simple automation like this will add up over the course of the day to increase productivity and allow employees to stay focused on high–value activities.
Sometimes new solutions lead to new problems. The increase in video conferencing from home led to a new problem: background noise. Whether it’s dogs barking dogs or children playing, business meetings are now exposed to distractions that weren’t a problem in the office. Video conferencing solutions like Microsoft Teams have recently added AI capabilities to remove background noise by filtering out obvious distractions like a barking dog. AI is also being used to blur the background of a video image, so the audience pays attention to the speaker and not the contents of the house in the background. These are just a preview of the new capabilities that will be unlocked by AI in the future.
AI is also already being used to improve security. Traditional security scanning looks for viruses that have already been identified. The problem is that malware authors have adapted and now write their software so that it changes its appearance ever-so-slightly to avoid detection. It’s like Superman putting on a pair of glasses and suddenly no one notices that Clark Kent is really Superman. Security companies are now using AI to get around the Clark Kent problem. Instead of looking for an exact match, AI-based security tools look for similarities, so a slight change to the code of a virus won’t fool it. Security companies are also leveraging AI to detect cryptojacking – when malware silently steals your computer resources to mine cryptocurrencies. Rather than trying to identify every unique piece of cryptomining malware, the AI security tools look for the patterns of behavior when a processor is mining cryptocurrency, and once it detects activity that looks like cryptomining, it can kill the process without knowing exactly which cryptomining malware it’s dealing with. These same techniques are also being used to protect against ransomware attacks. By using AI to detect generalized behavior rather than looking for specific versions of malware, security software will be able to better protect your business against zero-day attacks, which are exploits that take advantage of software vulnerabilities that security companies aren’t even aware of yet.
When we look at the innovations currently in development and those being proposed, we’re excited for the future. Each year moving forward, we’ll be able to offer customers upgrades and new technologies that will remove productivity-draining barriers, unleash the creative potential of employees, and enable companies to develop and deliver products in ways that were impossible and even unimaginable just a few years ago. In fact, the future is so bright, we’ve started wearing sunglasses at work (gratuitous 80s music reference).
While the past year has forced companies to adopt new technologies faster than in the past, it’s unlikely business will revert to a slower adoption of technology once the pandemic has passed. This accelerated rate of technology adoption and innovation is the new normal. For those that choose to keep up with this new pace of innovation, it will be exhilarating and transformative – and Clare Computer Solutions will be there to guide you along the way.