Opinion: Exploring New Technologies in Business Models

Over the last few weeks, we have explored the different facets of digital transformation.

In the last article specifically, we looked at some of the technologies that companies have been using over the last five to ten years. In this article, we are going to explore some of the newer technologies that companies explore and use within their business models.

Technology used in operational models

There are two technologies that businesses have started infusing into their operational models to become better, faster, and cheaper. The first one is the Internet of Things, also known as IoT. This is essentially a network of connected objects that are aware of their environment, autonomous, and actionable.

Case study of IoT

To illustrate this, I will use an example of a client of ours, a large-scale commercial farm, which operates within the SADC region. They have a large plot of approximately six hectares, all housed within a greenhouse environment. Within this greenhouse environment, we have placed multiple sensors and multiple platforms that are powering these sensors. These sensors record fundamental data, including the soil level, the water levels in the soil, and oxygen levels on a daily basis. This data is collected and sent to a platform that analyses this data in real-time. Hence, if the water level is too low for a particular plant, it then instructs the water pump to activate the sprinklers and water that specific plant. This ensures that every single plant is accounted for in terms of what it needs to grow.

When we look at the Internet of Things in organizations, we will find that organizations are using and leveraging these kinds of platforms to ensure that they are able to do away with repetitive tasks that individuals had to do in the past. They are now able to have sensors and autonomous platforms that do these tasks instead. This kind of technology can also be seen in the use of self-driving cars. These cars have distinct types of sensors that sense what is going on in their immediate environment, process those observations, and make decisions autonomously.

IoT as a Tool for Growth

How can organizations leverage IoT to find and capture their value and increase growth? Many different organizations have used this technology in diverse ways. But typically, IoT is most prevalent in manufacturing companies, where there are numerous different variables involved that determine the total output. IoT has been noted to work successfully within farms, and, as of late, in insurance companies. I will give a good example once again with a client of ours from the insurance sector. They have recently implemented a platform that allows them to determine how much in premiums their clients should pay monthly depending on their behavior. This platform monitors the clients’ driving throughout the month, records the data, and then analyses the good and bad behavior and produces the monetary value the client should be charged in premiums for the respective month. This kind of technology will continue to evolve as years go by, with different organizations using it in different contexts and in diverse ways. However, organizations need to be very careful when implementing this technology because it is still very new. Due to this novelty, very few parts of the value chain will be easily interconnected. As a result, organizations need to ensure that whatever IoT platforms they integrate have a modular architecture that enables them to make edits and modifications, as well as platforms with easy-to-use APIs, which will ensure that they are able to connect these platforms to other platforms as they become available.

Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

The next technology to explore is additive manufacturing, also known as 3D Printing. 

It is essentially the creation of three-dimensional products using Computer-Aided Design, layering, and the use of different types of materials. This type of manufacturing builds on various layers of materials until a finished product is created; where traditionally, if you wanted to make a table, you would use a large block of wood, cut out the necessary parts,  and assemble the table, leaving out the wood you do not need anymore. Additive printing focuses on creating the specific object that you would like to create using fine powder and the design that you input into the machine. Therefore, where organizations would normally have to wait for large sums of materials in manufacturing, they do not have to do so thanks to this technology.

3D Printing in Construction

To illustrate this, I will give an example of an organization in Zimbabwe. This organization is a large cement manufacturing organization that has traditionally made most of its profit in the household market. However, they realized that with the advent of 3D printing, they would have found themselves entrapped in the past and barely surviving the future. This prompted them to transition toward 3D printing. Today, they use 3D printing to create Computer-Aided Models of houses and print them. It sounds ridiculous, how organizations and people can now print an entire house, but it has been tried and tested multiple times. Organizations such as this one are saving approximately 40 to 60% on the costs that they would have traditionally had. This novelty has completely demolished traditional business models that organizations had before. 

3D Printing in Health

Another great example is organizations in the United States of America that are currently using 3D printing to create body parts. Yes! Body parts! For example, if an individual’s arm has to be amputated, now they are able to use 3D printing to create a personalized arm for the individual to use. All this has been made possible by the fact that 3D printers have become cheaper, more accessible, and more affordable for individuals and organizations to use.

How it affects your firm

So, how does this affect your business? Say, for example, you work at a manufacturing company, and you would like to introduce a new array of products. Normally, with traditional printing, you would have had to order the different supplies you needed, and then use them to create a prototype of what you want to build. However, with the advent of 3D printing, you can simply create a 3D model of what you would like to build and print this model from your 3D printer if you have the materials required to make this model. This means that your firm can create prototypes at a much cheaper price and produce different prototypes much faster than it would have been in the past. Furthermore, because this kind of technology makes it easier and faster to manufacture, you can easily personalize products for your customers, and reduce your total costs in manufacturing, since additive printing uses only the material that is required to create that one product. The reduction of costs is from the reduction of wastage in the printing process. However, organizations need to note that this kind of technology is not yet working at an optimal rate for large-scale manufacturing businesses. It is still in its infancy. This technology is most useful in organizations that need a high degree of customization to their product, a high degree of flexibility to their product, as well as a high degree of specificity in how it is designed and created. As a result, organizations that have adopted these technologies in these markets have seen up to 60% reduction in costs over time, leaving their competitors far behind in terms of their production rate and from a cost perspective.

Now that we have looked at some of the technologies that organizations are using now, the next stage is to look into the future and determine what technologies organizations will be using tomorrow. These are some of the things that we at Xavier Africa Technologies are experimenting and tinkering with on a regular basis in our various products. Join us next week as we discuss some of these experimental technologies that we have been using, as well as how they can be able to help you and your organization thrive in this environment.

By Tavonga Muchuchuti

Tavonga is the Managing Director of Xavier Africa, a software development agency based in Gaborone, Botswana

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