Each day, the chasm seems to expand between many traditional business models and new companies that use modern technology to accelerate growth and disrupt markets. The world is changing quickly and business is changing with it.
The year 2018 brings us a number of changing dynamics at the intersection of technology and business. Most notably, advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are making it easier and easier for companies to take advantage of supercomputing. But it also requires that businesses adopt the underlying technology needed to power such systems.
As a business leader, it can be difficult to stay informed about all of the changing forces in your industry. But understanding the biggest trends can help inform your future business strategy and put your company on a path for future success.
Let’s review some of the largest and most impactful digital trends for 2018.
Digital Trend #1: Digital Security Comes to the Forefront
There is no doubt that cybersecurity is increasingly on the minds of consumers and businesses.
Most recently, the massive breach at Equifax pointed to the vulnerability of everyday citizens and the need for them to be careful with their data. It also points to the massive threat that exists for businesses when it comes to protecting consumer and customer information.
This case in particular points to the enormous risk of antiquated process or insufficient investment in security.
Executives will largely play a role in orchestrating and prioritizing cybersecurity. Those who make the necessary investment will mitigate risk to the benefit of customers and shareholders alike.
As cybersecurity and defense evolves and as businesses increasingly commit to digital transformation, there will need to be commitment and investment in security and infrastructure. Demand for advanced digital security experts will rise and top talent will likely demand high earnings.
Digital Trend #2: Intelligent Conversation is the New Communications
Made possible in part by AI, companies are investing in chatbots and similar interactive technology that allows customers, prospects, and partners to interact with the company in a real-time, conversational format.
With more than 900 million people using Facebook Messenger worldwide and 570 million users on WeChat, messenger platforms and chatbots offer a way for many companies to reach most or all of their audience.
For many companies, this presents an opportunity to improve operational efficiency and reduce costs associated with customer service and support, sales, and marketing.
These interactive systems are taking a number of forms and exist as part of numerous ecosystems and platforms. Many are installed and operated from a company website. Others leverage Facebook Messenger to interact with consumers directly through the social media platform.
Digital Trend #3: Technology Drives Employee Engagement
According to Gallup, less than one-third of U.S. workers report being engaged in their work.
This presents a massive challenge as lower engagement is correlated with less productivity, lower profits, and slower growth.
Employee engagement is linked to satisfaction and motivation, which is largely driven by the type or work and working conditions that employees face.
This means that companies have an opportunity to use technology not only to improve business operations, but also to increase employee engagement. Increased use of technology, digital workflows, and digital platforms/ecosystems will allow businesses to reduce the amount of “busy work” or administrative work that needs to be done by employees. This allows workers to focus more on creative work, planning, and problem solving.
Digital Trend #4: Platforms Evolve Into Ecosystems
Digital platforms have been a growing imperative for businesses of all types. The digitization of products, services, and operations continues to be a primary driver for growth and innovation.
But, with increased digitization comes the introduction of a bigger system for such advancements.
Increasingly, multiple platforms are being designed to integrate with a bigger and broader set of other platforms–thus, forming ecosystems.
Orchestrating the design and implementation of a single digital platform requires technical talent and specialized knowledge and planning. Expanding that to build an ecosystem of interconnected platforms requires a clear vision and strategy for how the business will evolve to take advantage of digital technology.
As a matter of strategy, business leaders will need to plan and understand their services and platforms as part of a larger ecosystem, where data and functionality are shared between systems.
Digital Trend #5: IoT Drives New Market Opportunities
For years, the promise of the Internet of Things, or internet-connected devices in our homes, offices, and factories, has been an ever present prophecy. But many have remained skeptical about its arrival or its importance to most mainstream businesses.
In reality, the IoT revolution is here. Nearly any gadget, machine, or system can be internet enabled and monitored or controlled remotely.
This may seem superfluous in many use cases and for many businesses. But consider what opportunities arise from having connected, smart devices throughout your operations. Business centers can control operations remotely, and make fine-tuned adjustments to optimize for efficiency. Employees can benefit from more automated and connected workflows, giving them holistic support and resources to perform at their peak. The list goes on and on.
The ultimate promise of IoT is to provide an ever-growing set of data to power the AI and machine learning services of the future.
Businesses today generate and collect and unbelievable amount of data every year and that number is expected to continue to rise exponentially into the foreseeable future. Studies estimate that we will generate 163 zettabytesof data per year by 2025. (One zettabyte equals one trillion gigabytes.)
For businesses in almost any industry–from marketing to manufacturing–the lifeblood of future innovation and optimization is data intelligence. And this means that in almost every industry, there are new market opportunities that arise from the IoT.
There's need for software engineers to build these systems, hardware manufacturers to create them, and consultants/practitioners to design and implement strategies for how to manage and integrate this growing data set. That means that for any kind of business, there is an opportunity to expand into this ever-growing market with new products or services that will need the demands of the future.
Digital Trend #6: Data-Driven Growth
Many companies have traditionally made big, sweeping bets on the future. They’ve invested millions of dollars in broad strategies and complex technology. But the process of growth and innovation has largely been like steering a ship--once you set your course, it takes a ton of time and money to change directions.
Increasingly, companies are becoming more agile and taking smaller risks more frequently.
The “fail fast” model adopted by startups and the rise of “growth hacking” as a data-driven system of experimentation will begin to permeate even corporate cultures.
Large companies will invest in incremental improvements, optimization, and data-driven growth teams. With the introduction of better tools for measurement and as systems and processes evolve into digital versions, there will be more opportunity to capture data and make informed decisions.
Digital Trend #7: AI and Machine Learning Power Opportunity
Only some 20% of executives in one study reported that their business is currently using AI as a core part of their business. Yet, the same study found that there was an estimated total investment of $26-39 billion in AI technology in 2016.
This is telling. Not only is adoption already gaining traction and momentum, but the wave of mass adoption is already underway. Businesses are moving–quickly–toward implementing AI in any number of business operations.
For executives, this means understanding how AI will shape change within their industry. And, to have a strong and cohesive strategy for how the company will move from its current position to one where it will be able to lead through AI and technology innovation.
The foundation of any effective implementation of AI is digitization–or digital transformation. The reality is that in order to harness the power of these exponential new technologies, you need to first have the right systems and processes in place. Businesses that have and continue to invest in technology and digital infrastructure will have an easier time making the leap to AI and other advanced technologies.
As William Gibson once wrote, “the future is already here–it’s just not very even distributed.”
Most of the biggest business trends for 2018 are predicated on one thing: Digital Transformation.
Although it’s been a topic and trend for many years, some companies have been slow to move toward digitization. Companies that have fallen behind are now feeling the effects as they fall further and further behind the capabilities of their competitors.
No matter where your business is in the digital transformation process, we have resources that can help. For an introduction, read Digital Transformation: A Primer on Positioning Your Company for the Future.