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All companies in all industries should be thinking of how they'll redefine their vertical PHOTO: Tim Bartel

With technology advancing at a breakneck pace, companies must change their vision of the future — and their strategies for getting there. 

It's no longer about keeping up, it's about breaking new ground and working smarter to create smart products. 

The Future Is Now

Smart technology may have room to grow, but this isn't some distant notion or abstract concept. Two harbingers of smart technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), are already taking shape in our lives. 

We may not be at the level of having a Mr. Data or the Synths of AMC's "Humans" walking among us, but AI has long since left the confines of science fiction. 

For example, IMB just announced an interactive whiteboard with AI, created in partnership with Ricoh Europe. Anyone in the meeting room, whether physically or remotely, can add to the whiteboard via voice commands. The whiteboard can capture sidebar conversations from breakout sessions, and can also display words translated from other languages. 

David Mills, CEO at Ricoh Europe sees AI as a guide for analytical decision-making. "Intelligently adding to discussions and suggesting relevant information represents real value in a business setting,” he says.

This is to say nothing of the convenience and freedom that come with AI-inspired products designed for everyday life. Think of how quickly we've come to rely on voice assistant apps like Siri and Cortana. These are being expanded through devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, which allow you to do things like order meals from restaurants from home, and make other purchases, in addition to simpler commands like playing music and announcing the weather. 

How long before Alexa, the voice service behind Amazon's Echo, becomes a walking, talking humanoid assistant, able to interact with the growing contingent of "smart" appliances, from refrigerators to home security systems? It's not so far off considering the growth in AI and robotics individually, it's just a matter of the two integrating as seamlessly as sci-fi predicts. 

Tomorrow Is Built on Intention

All companies in all industries should be thinking of how they'll redefine their vertical by layering these technologies into new consumer-centered products that fit into the new world being created. 

Whatever product or service you offer, it's smart to make it … "smart." Just as stubbornly relying on the Yellow Pages instead of embracing the web killed many a business a couple decades back, refusing to embrace growing technology like the IoT and AI could be equally disastrous.  

You've got to evolve — intentionally.

The key to wrangling your intentions and making them real is also rooted in technology, the type smart (and "smart") workplaces are already putting to use. Here are some options to consider as you move your business forward: 

Idea Management Software

Forward-thinking businesses are focused on innovation because they understand they have to stay a step ahead. Waiting for ideas to happen means they won’t. Not in time at least. 

So they’re embracing idea management software to power their efforts and help identify and move forward the right ideas, fast. It’s a way to put ideas through a vetting process designed to harness all of your best thought leadership, while still keeping other ideas potentially worthy of further exploration, on your radar. 

Technology is advancing, with or without you. The market is global, and competition is fierce, so if you're not innovating, your brand can be easily displaced by another that is taking a measured approach toward innovation.

It's not about having a lucky "lighting in a bottle" moment of discovery, it's about actively pursuing it. Consider the ramifications for Apple if it had let the Blackberry stand untested. Who would have created the smartphone if it hadn't? Rest assured, somebody would have. 

And what of Blackberry? It's embracing the IoT, with all its opportunities — and rightly so. 

The point is, adopting IoT and AI strategies into your product line — or proceeding with any innovative endeavor — requires intentional, incremental effort. An idea management platform keeps you organized enough to do that. 

Social Analytics Software

The power of social analytics as a marketing tool are well documented by now, and most organizations use social listening in some capacity to power their own social presence. But there's so much more you can do. 

Social analytics tools offer a chance to do serious competitive intelligence, monitoring both your competitors' strategies, and their audiences' responses. After all, their target audience is also yours, so understanding where they're succeeding and failing saves you the time and money of experimenting on your own. 

Social monitoring also lets you follow short-term and potential long-term trends as they emerge and shift, providing crucial data about where your company should be innovating next, which you can then keep track of in your idea management software. 

That information is gold. Don’t lose it.

A Connected Approach

Life in the digital age is about connection: to the world at large via the web, to our friends and family via social media, to our homes and appliances via the IoT. Internet of Things. If you're going to create a product based in connectivity, you've got to embrace connectivity at every level. 

Think of IBM and Ricoh's AI whiteboard, able to display the contributions of anyone participating in a virtual meeting, wherever they are in the world. Connection is the key to success now. It's why crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are so popular. It's why businesses are knocking down silos and letting ideas flow freely. 

Is your business one of them? If not, it's time to make that adjustment. And then take it a step further. Find the people who are right for the task at hand, whether they are "your" people or not. Connect, collaborate, form partnerships and thrive. The lines are blurring, and going it alone is rarely the better option. 

Smart technology is one part of the equation — as something to create, and something to apply. Smart thinking is the other. 

So smarten up — before someone else beats you to it.