Entrepreneur and IT expert Gavin Wheeldon, the CEO of Purple WiFi, tells Giles Crosse about how technology can transform our lives and cities and make businesses more sustainable.
SALT: Where are new IT technologies making a big impact?
Gavin Wheeldon: There are three areas where new technology has an impact on business. The first is defence. If you do nothing and ignore technology as it advances, the impact is that you lose. There is always someone else who is acting on it and they will be the winners in the end. There is no choice in my opinion but to keep up.
The second element is efficiency. Operationally, technology reduces costs, creates efficiencies and delivers better communication and collaboration tools. It gives you the edge for your customer products and services.
The third area has to do with winning. Use technology to differentiate yourself, and you will have a more compelling product than the competition.
SALT: IT is more and more prevalent in ‘smart’ cities. How will technology change tomorrow’s urban centres?
Gavin Wheeldon: Smart cities, in terms of public and customer service, mean we can reduce the city’s carbon footprint, save money and create a more sustainable economy. WiFi will play a significant part in this as everything will be connected – from traffic lights to street lighting and parking information.
Let’s take your commute as an example. Imagine a world where your route has already been planned to avoid the traffic, where you’ll be guided into the nearest available parking space and your car could arrange a mobile mechanic to change the oil whilst you’re away for the day.
Another trend will be the growth of open, accessible data used to develop the apps that deliver information to people’s fingertips, via mobile devices. This information might include real time updates for public transport across the city, interactive wayfinding to places of interest and details about services tailored to specific demographics.
SALT: How will businesses become smarter in tomorrow’s cities?
Gavin Wheeldon: Cities that don’t embrace the digital revolution won’t be able to deliver the services that people will quickly come to expect and, therefore, will lose consumer spend.
Businesses will not only save money in the era of smart cities; they’ll make money too. For example, it is predicted we will generate US$100 billion by reducing energy consumption in public buildings and lowering operating costs. This could be achieved by using sensors which automate usage of lighting, water and gas according to the number of people in the building and their precise location, as well as the weather conditions.
It’s also been estimated that smart cities could make US$42 billion by introducing smart parking and demand based pricing, and US$108 billion by streamlining operations in the gas and water monitoring industry.
SALT: Can today’s business practices be ‘future proofed’?
Gavin Wheeldon: The key issues are people not understanding that ‘The World Is Flat’, as Thomas L. Friedman wrote in his book. We are a global economy now and it’s not enough to only recognize your own country and culture. You have to reach out, put your head above the parapet and consider what else is out there, globally.
This will not only ensure that you have a bigger and better business, but you are more secure from not being reliant on one area alone. If you don’t do it, your competition will.
SALT: What are the risks and opportunities of the cloud? Is the cloud more environmentally efficient?
Gavin Wheeldon: As a cloud business, we are obviously advocates. But we also recognize that the biggest and most obvious risk is security. If you are going to engage with a cloud business, the first thing to do is to check that they have mitigated against security risks properly, as any business worth its salt will have done so in the early days.
The opportunities are cost efficient, scalable, and agile. Operating entirely from the cloud as we do also ensures that you have a truly collaborative ecosystem of staff, customers and partners. And it is more CSR positive, as with no dedicated servers there is no wastage. Plus staff who operate from the cloud can work anywhere, at home, abroad and on the move.
SALT: What will businesses look like in 2030? Will disruptive changes have made them smarter and more ethical?
Gavin Wheeldon: It’s difficult to predict the future – in fact, those who do often get it wrong. The fascinating thing about technology is that it usually evolves in a way that nobody has thought of, transforming business in unexpected ways.
There are countless examples of new technology that people dismissed, such as text messages. However, if I had to have a go, I would say businesses will evolve to be more global in nature. There will be more ‘micro businesses’ springing up, offering services that can be met 24/7 around the globe.
There will be more examples of jobs being done remotely, for example surgeons who can operate remotely using robotic tools instead of human hands. There will also be jobs specifically for undoing the environmental damage caused by people, factories and cars. In addition, nanotechnology will have a significant impact on businesses in sectors such as ICR, automotive and healthcare.
An ageing population will mean that the medical technology and pharmaceuticals market will continue to grow exponentially, with ICT and biotechnology playing a key role. Finally, robotics in general will be transformative. The Japanese aim to have a robot in every home by 2015; South Korea has the same goal for 2020.