If Deloitte’s right, four disruptive forces will shake up Canadian business

Artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing and collaboration tools may catch firms here unprepared. Consider this a wake-up call

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You should really meet Ross, who works as a legal assistant. You can simply ask him a legal question in plain English and he will instantly provide an answer along with relevant case references. Ross also updates his database in real time and notifies users about any new cases related to their original question.

Ross isn’t a real person, he’s an app. University of Toronto students created the app during a contest that gave them cloud-based access to IBM’s Watson supercomputer. In an in-depth report, Deloitte Canada cites Ross as one example of how advanced technologies (in this case, artificial intelligence) are disrupting various Canadian industries (in this case, the legal profession).

Deloitte explains how AI and four other technologies – advanced robotics, 3D printing, Internet of Things and collaboration/crowdsourcing platforms – are disrupting industries around the world.

AI: AI can help businesses solve problems faster than ever before and “is now capable of displacing human workers” in accounting, engineering and law, according to Deloitte.

Advanced robotics: Robots can “perform many increasingly complex tasks 24/7 without the need for breaks, holidays, insurance or contract negotiations…(Their) impact on sectors like agriculture, energy and security is only starting to be understood,” Deloitte says.

IOT: The ecosystem of real-time sensors and mobile networks will allow businesses “to provide products and services that adapt immediately to their customers’ needs and preferences” instantaneously, the study says.

3D printing: Businesses will be able to fabricate customized products for consumers on-site and on-demand, “reducing companies’ need for factories, warehouses and shipping agents,” Deloitte predicts.

Collaboration/crowdsourcing: Companies can tap into a truly limitless pool of talent and ideas, cutting their hiring and travel costs while extending their creative brainpower.

All wildly promising. The thing is, Deloitte says a staggering 87 per cent of the 700 Canadian businesses it studied “are unprepared” (“woefully so, in many cases,” it adds) for the technological disruption headed their way. Deloitte makes the dire prediction that “many of the unprepared won’t survive.”

The gist of Deloitte’s research is that these disruptive technologies can provide incredible upside opportunities for Canadian businesses … but only if they’re prepared for that disruption.

Deloitte does suggest steps Canadian firms can take to prepare. Learn about disruptive technologies. Adopt them. Invest in R&D. Focus on national and international markets vs. just local ones. Encourage and reward innovation internally; seek it externally through crowdsourcing and collaboration. Be organizationally agile.

Again, all good stuff. Yet I can’t help wondering if those are realistic goals right now, given the situation many IT managers are currently facing. In keeping with the legal theme I started off with, here’s some evidence that may cast at least a tiny bit of reasonable doubt on that.

Exhibit A: IT budgets are shrinking and shifting. Gartner Inc. predicts that 50 per cent of all IT spending will take place outside of the IT department budget by 2017. Even if you interpret that as IT becoming decentralized and better aligned with business, Gartner says global IT spending will likely dip by 1.3 per cent overall this year.

Exhibit B: CIOs are pressed for time. Although Gartner suggests CIOs should focus more on visionary leadership and less on “running the IT shop,” its 2015 CIO survey found today’s CIOs spend 5 per cent more time than they did in 2011 just to keep the lights on.

Who doesn’t want to tap into a disruptor like Ross for their own organization? Tapping into the time and money needed to develop or deploy a Ross, however, may prove challenging, at least in the current IT environment.

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