These concepts are included in the Strategic Business Leader syllabus. This article will look at some key applications of these technologies in our homes and in the travel industry. It will explore the benefits these technologies offer and consider the disadvantages they pose.

A second article is also available which looks at some key applications of technologies in the retail and banking sectors.

Technology in our homes

A major application of new technologies in our homes is smart technology, which continues to grow in popularity. Smart technology is an example of the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is the name used to describe physical objects with internet connectivity which allow them to connect and exchange data with other systems and devices. Commonly used smart devices include lighting, thermostats and home security systems that can be controlled using smart speakers or hubs, such as Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod. They can also be controlled remotely via apps.

Smart home devices offer a number of benefits to users, including:

Remote access:
Smart home devices are connected to the internet, either directly or via a hub, meaning they can be accessed from anywhere in the world, for example:

  • Users can see and communicate with visitors at their front door via two-way audio regardless of whether they are at home or not.
  • Users can control the temperature of their home from anywhere.
  • Users can turn lights, televisions, sound systems and other devices on and off while on holiday.

Energy and cost savings:
Smart devices can improve energy efficiency, helping to save energy and reduce costs to users in a variety of ways:

  • Smart plugs can provide energy usage reports for devices allowing greater control.
  • Smart thermostats can learn schedules via machine learning allowing them to automatically adjust the temperature. An example would be using heat only if necessary while the users are out of the house, then warming the house for their return.
  • Smart thermostats have a ‘vacation mode’ to keep the temperature at an efficient level while users are away from home, preventing it from becoming too hot or cold.
  • Smart devices can automatically switch off lights and electronics when not in use.

Ease of use:
Once connected, smart devices are very easy to use, often they operate on a ‘hands-free’ basis via voice control and remotely from a smartphone. This means that smart devices can be operated effectively by people with physical injuries or mobility issues.  

Routines can also be established so that a number of smart devices can be set to operate in a sequence. For example, a wake-up routine might activate an alarm, provide a news update on a smartphone and then automatically start the coffee machine.

Enhanced home safety and security:
Smart devices are useful for improving home safety and security in a number of areas. Examples include:

  • Smart smoke detectors which notify users of issues and the location of the problem.
  • Video doorbells which allow users to see who is at the door without having to open it. Video doorbells also record movement providing clear videos of any potential criminal activity. They are therefore an effective deterrent against criminals.
  • The ‘vacation mode’ allows smart homes to replicate normal activity, so that a home appears occupied even when the owners are away by, for example, randomly switching smart plugs and lights on and off.
  • Smart door and window sensors send an alert if they are opened or broken.
  • A garage door can be raised automatically when the user enters their driveway through the use of geofencing technology, which tracks smartphone locations.

Maintenance monitoring:
Large smart appliances, such as refrigerators, notify users when they require maintenance and detail exact problems, making repairs easier and faster.

However, there are also some disadvantages associated with smart devices:

  • Smart devices and appliances are more expensive than their non-smart counterparts.
  • Smart devices are reliant on the internet so will not work if connectivity issues arise.
  • Set-up and configuration of smart devices can be time consuming.
  • There is no global protocol for smart devices so compatibility issues can arise, and multiple apps may be needed to control them.
  • If the manufacturer of a smart devices goes out of business the device may no longer work. Even if it does still work the user will no longer have access to support or be able to buy replacement parts.
  • Privacy and security are a risk as anything connected to the internet can be hacked.

Technology in the travel industry

Technology is used in a variety of sectors within the travel industry, including automation at airports, smartphone tickets on trains, and travel information apps that display real time data to users.

- Airport automation:
Airport automation has been made possible by the development of self-check in and bag drops.

Airport check-in is the process through which an airline approves passengers to board a flight. It has traditionally been handled by the airline at check-in desks at the airport. During this process, the passenger’s luggage will be weighed and handed over to the airline and the customer will receive a boarding pass allowing them to board the flight. The purpose of this process is to:

  1. Accept luggage that is to be placed in the hold of the aircraft, and
  2. Issue boarding passes to the passengers.

Technology developments have allowed this process to be automated through:

  1. Online check-in, which will allow the passenger to print off their boarding pass at home prior to coming to the airport. This process may also allow the customer to select their seats, choose meal options, and provide details of the number of bags to be checked into the hold.
  2. Mobile check-in has been introduced in recent years as an alternative to online check-in. The process is similar but is carried out on a mobile phone. At the end of the check-in process either:   
       
    - An electronic boarding pass will be delivered to the mobile phone, or
    - A barcode will be sent to the mobile phone to present to check-in staff, or scan at a kiosk, to have the boarding pass issued.

  3. Automated baggage drop located in airports allow passengers to weigh luggage, print and attach tags, then place the bags on the baggage drop belt with no input from airline staff.

Automation at airports presents benefits to both the airlines and the passengers:

  • It is fast and convenient as automation allows passengers to avoid airport queues. In some situations, customers may still have to visit a check-in counter for document verification, however a dedicated lane is usually offered to minimise wait times.
  • More passengers can be checked in and ready to go through security in a shorter timeframe.
  • These efficient processes allow airlines to cope better with increases in passenger numbers.
  • It reduces the amount of procedure passengers need to complete at the airport leading to a less stressful environment.
  • There are operational savings for airlines as fewer staffed check-in counters are required.
  • Staff and resources can be redeployed to other areas of need, enhancing customer service.
  • Space is saved as kiosks need less space than check-in desks, this is useful with passenger numbers growing.

Disadvantages:

  • If a person’s flight is changed the ticket coupon must be "opened" again prior to any changes being made, this may take some time to arrange.
  • Bottlenecks can still occur at self-service bag drops if the airport gets busy enough.
  • There are operational issues when self-service bag drops are first introduced as airline staff and passengers become familiar with the system.
  • Safety risks can increase, for example children jumping onto the automated conveyor belt. This risk is mitigated by manual emergency stops at bag drop stations and the use of sensors that detect human intrusion and immediately stop the system.

- Smart ticketing in the rail industry:
Smart ticketing uses digital barcode technology to allow rail passengers to travel with an e-ticket on their phone, or a travel card held on their smartphone, rather than a paper ticket.

Benefits:

  • Customer convenience:

    - Tickets can be purchased in advance avoiding queues and long wait times.

    - The smartphone device can be quickly scanned to gain entry to the platform.

    - Tickets are available for inspection at the touch of a button.

    - Multiple tickets can be stored on a single smartphone device, removing the problem of managing multiple paper tickets during a journey which may involve numerous changes.

  • The technology facilitates better journey planning by displaying the details of the journey.
  • The technology can ensure a competitive price is paid by automatically selecting the cheapest ticket for a particular journey.
  • There are lower operating costs as fewer staff are required in ticket offices.
  • The technology can provide operators with data about usage, which can be used to inform operational and planning decisions and to increase customer satisfaction.

Disadvantages:

  • The system could be hacked, resulting in the loss of customer data.
  • It may be off-putting to those uncomfortable with smartphone technology.
  • The barcodes on some smartphone tickets can be copied which may facilitate fraud.

- Bus and train apps showing real time data:
Some travel operators have equipped buses and trains with GPS trackers that transmit location information to apps. This provides passengers with real time updates about arrival times.

The primary benefit to customers is reduced wait time as they know when they need to leave to arrive at the stop or station in time. The trackers also link to smart signs at the stops themselves ensuring that passengers already waiting know exactly how much longer they will have to wait.

Internet connectivity issues can, however, prevent the system from working correctly, which may cause frustration for passengers.

Conclusion

Innovations in technology are affecting different aspects of everyday life. Some of the technologies that are mentioned in the Strategic Business Leader syllabus have been discussed here with examples to illustrate how they work in the home and in the travel industry. Although these technological innovations offer a number of benefits, there are also some disadvantages and additional risks to consider.  

A second article considers the application of technology in the retail and banking sectors.

Written by a member of the SBL examining team