For most of us, our lives are awash with technology, much of it digital. In fact, whether it be computers, smartphones, or power steering, technology has become such a mainstay of the modern era that it’s impossible to think of life or work without it. The speed, efficiency, access, convenience, and novelty of technology have captured our full attention, propelling us ever faster to seek out and conquer new horizons, and as consumers of technology, we are constantly on the watch for the next hit or update to existing tech.
We are, however, moving so fast that we are forgetting to look in the rear-view mirror and are missing the havoc rapid technology adoption is creating, both at home and at the office. The chaos, in fact, is so significant, some are even advocating abandoning certain technologies altogether, supporting their claims with valid reasons such as regaining our privacy, returning to the outdoors, healthy labor, avoiding technology addiction, gaining back time, and pre-empting health issues.
While there is merit in this thinking, we see technology not only as of the problem but also as the solution. In the following article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the primary problems created by the technology superhighway, what happens if we don’t keep pace, and how some of the latest and greatest technological advancements, especially artificial intelligence, are changing the equation in business in general, and in customs in particular.
Keep up, or pay the price – Costs of using outdated technology
With technology given in any business, commercial, or production environment, the question becomes not whether to use technology, but how often to update it. In a certain, shrinking group of sectors, businesses can get away with using older technologies, however, for most industries, companies pay a heavy toll when they don’t stay current. Curiously enough, in some sectors, including customs, a status quo has reigned for many years, in which the cost of sticking with obsolete or soon to be obsolete technology is high (think of the millions upon millions of dollars firms are penalized because of classification errors originating in outdated HS code classification technology), yet little to nothing is being done about it, causing a deadweight loss to the industry as a whole. Whether it be budgetary concerns, fear of transitioning to new systems, or simple laziness, customs, and its brethren sectors are losing head over fist for not moving to new technology.
To put things in context, here are some of the costs associated with hanging on to aging hardware, software, and peripherals for far too long:
Greater security risks: It’s simple, outdated hardware and software lack the critical security updates installed on newer components, putting the firms that own them at risk. According to Kaspersky’s Global Corporate IT Security Risks Survey conducted in June 2020, businesses with old, out-of-date software are over twice as likely to suffer a data breach. The increased risk of a breach is worry enough, but it gets worse, as the cost of recovering from a breach is much higher when dealing with outdated tech. The same survey states that large laggard enterprises pay 51% more while straggling SMBs pay 54% more.
Reduced productivity: Aging devices break down more often, run slower, require more maintenance, and often aren’t powerful enough to run current software. Older software also tends to be slower, lacks bug fixes, and is often not compliant (sometimes even loses compliance) with newer applications. All this can be a real blow to productivity.
Worker complacency: It is human nature to “get used” to things and resist change. The longer a company waits to update its technology, the more entrenched employees will become, and the harder it will be for them, and the company to make the inevitable shift to newer tech.
Competitive disadvantage – According to a Microsoft survey, “over 90 percent of people said that dealing with a company that uses outdated technology would cause them to consider taking their business elsewhere due to concerns over security, privacy or user-friendly convenience.” Quite a compelling argument, no?
Reverting to manual – Executives often claim “still getting what they need” from existing technology as a reason not to invest in upgrades. What they are ignoring is the hours poured into workarounds to circumvent the deficiencies of the legacy hardware and software.
Tougher to recruit and retain employees – Whether you’re informing existing workers that you won’t be updating your hardware or software anytime soon or need to tell potential candidates they will be working on older technology, you’ll probably lose or not-be-able-to hire top talent.
No, we aren’t referring to the evil adversaries of the Jedi in Star Wars, rather than, as with everything in life, there is always a downside.
We’ve established that we can’t do without technology, so much so that we not only need to use it but need to keep it up to date. But there are no free lunches when employing technology in your business. Here are a few examples:
From always on to turned off
Upside: Technology allows us to stay connected to our jobs 24X7 and, very often, to work remotely, allowing us to make sure we don’t miss anything and the convenience of working where we want when we want.
Downside: According to the American Psychological Association, 53% of Americans work on weekends, 52% work during non-work hours, and 54% percent work even when sick. You can imagine the repercussions of these work habits.
From stimulation to addiction
Upside: Immediate gratification from getting an email or WhatsApp with a response to your question, to find out whether you won a bid, or to see what your boss thought of your presentation. There are many other examples of how technology stimulates our pleasure centers.
Downside: Such technologies drive us to habitual behavior, e.g., constantly checking our messages, often at the expense of work, productivity, or social interactions. The worst part, many companies (e.g., social media) do this intentionally, driving us to connect to their platforms as often as possible to generate more revenue (e.g., by viewing and clicking on ads).
Additional benefits and subsequent drawbacks of technology include:
- Unlimited choice vs. choice overload.
- Ease of inviting a colleague or manager to a meeting vs. zero cost for inclusion leading to unnecessarily jammed calendars.
- Ease of performing a task vs. working continuously on tasks, even in they are of lesser priority (e.g., working through your inbox, even though many of the mails don’t require immediate or any attention).
- Instant updates (e.g., swiping-down to update) vs. obsessive checking for fear of missing out.
Beyond the work-related impacts of these and other shortcomings of our ubiquitous use of technology, are the very many, and often very serious effects these have on our physical and mental health, including poor sleep, physical disconnection, anxiety, and depression.
Bridging the gap between technology’s good, bad, and outdated.
Both categories of technology-related issues have garnered substantial attention over the past few years and much has been done to overcome them, with AI offering numerous approaches for addressing these quandaries.
Before moving to the AI angle, however, let’s take a look at some of the other technologies and solutions that have sprung up to help ease these issues, either directly or indirectly:
The Cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS):
- Software and security updates are handled automatically, enhancing security, and ensuring that you are always using the latest versions.
- Cloud technologies and SaaS programs are inherently scalable and flexible.
- Round the clock monitoring and maintenance supplied by the service provider.
A word of warning – While Cloud and SaaS technologies greatly help overcome issues with outdated technology, they can also encourage “always connected” behavior and technology addiction. While the move to such technologies is inevitable in many areas of business, companies should do well to mix their use with other solutions and AI (see below).
Better Work Environments
- Structural mechanisms, such as policies and restrictions on use of technology (e.g., barring use of company email at home, either through technology or company policy), convey to employees just how serious you are about not letting technology impact their well-being.
- Education and guidelines will help employees understand why they need to curb their use of technology, and how to do so. Of particular note is educating employees on ways to change bad work habits.
- Commitment devices, social norms, and peer comparisons (e.g., where managers do not take work home) are more subtle tools for achieving wiser, more productive use of technology.
- Suggestive mechanisms – E.g., employers can build into their email and internal systems triggers that halt an employees’ work, prompting them to decide if it’s not time to take a break.
Artificial Intelligence – The best of all worlds
The scope of applications for AI are truly limitless, but there are a few broad features of AI technologies that directly address the issues of outdated technology and its overuse:
- One of the core tenets of AI is to have machines do menial tasks instead of humans and to do them faster and with greater accuracy. This:
- Increases productivity WITHOUT further taxing employee time.
- Affords humans more time to focus on more important work.
- Relieves us of worries regarding human error. Here we should mention Hybrid AI systems, such as those provided by AIDock, in which the AI does the hard work, bubbling up only exceptions for humans to look at.
- AI flips the paradigm whereby flexible and remote work encourage overwork. With AI, we can work from home in hours of our choosing, but without being drawn in to working extra time to get more done, since its already being done by the AI.
- AI can analyze enormous quantities of data and reach conclusions in a fraction of the time it takes humans. Often, we are sucked into extra work because we are dealing with something that is captivating and / or challenging, e.g., we are set on solving a problem or developing a new idea or theory. Usually, the time consuming work involves performing analyses, something that AI is particularly good at.
- Still in its infancy, there are AI systems today that can evaluate employee behaviors and raise flags if it deems someone’s acting in a way that is potentially detrimental to their health and / or productivity.
- A last example are AI maintenance systems that make sure our computing environments are kept up to date, and that detect and deal with clashes (or provide warnings).
Of course, this all applies to the customs sector, more so because the front and back-office technologies in customs have traditionally progressed at a relatively slow pace. Here are a few ways in which AI, specifically AIDock’s solutions, are helping customs businesses contend with technology overuse and obsolescence:
Intelligent Virtual Assistants: AI-based virtual assistants, such as AiDock’s Cody and Bailey, take care of error-prone manual tasks (HS code classification and data entry, respectively) quickly, largely independently, and with unmatched accuracy. In addition to the obvious benefits, these assistants also help avoid rapid obsolescence, e.g., Cody can swiftly learn and incorporate new local and global HS code classifications, without missing a beat.
Hybrid AI: As touched upon earlier, in Hybrid AI systems the AI does the grunt work, but surfaces exceptions, bringing them to the attention of human operators who can decide how to best deal with them. After the exceptions have been handled, the AI learns how to deal with future exceptions of the same nature. At AiDock, the Webapp works this way, freeing human customs workers to do other work
and from worrying about the accuracy of the AI’s work.
Natural integration with other automations: AI systems, a form of automation themselves, work naturally with other forms of automation. In AiDock’s back office, this means that the AI component seamlessly interfaces with the system’s reporting module, notification and flagging capabilities, and periodic reviews.
AI, the future of your company depends on it
Whether your business is customs-related or not, you must be aware of the fact that you need to contend with the two major issues brought upon by technology: the use of outdated technology and the overuse of technology. Smartly implemented AI, such as that offered by AiDock, will help you avert these issues before they actually become issues.