As 2017 draws to a close, we can take a breath and look back at what has been a topsy turvy year both inside and outside of business. Within the first three months of the year, we saw the inauguration of Donald Trump as US President and the triggering of Article 50 to formally begin the process of the UK withdrawing from the European Union. Both have had major implications for the economy and the business landscape - most of them negative - and companies have had to navigate stormy, uncertain seas throughout the 12 months.
To say that this isn't an ideal environment for incubating corporate innovations would be an understatement. To many C-suite execs, even ones that claim to have bought into innovation as a business driver, putting innovation into practice only adds to the uncertainty inherent in a time of political upheaval. It would only be sensible to put ideas on the back burner, ready to press play if and when the environment settles. Even so, 2017 saw important steps forward in areas like artificial intelligence and the gig economy, with both taking a more defined shape in terms of actual business impact. And, though 2018 will doubtless be as unpredictable as the 12 months just gone, there are some technologies primed to make a significant impact in the coming year.
So, before we wave goodbye to 2017, we took a look at the areas anyone working in innovation should be up to speed on.
In the digital age, the sharing economy is likely to be a permanent fixture in business innovation. The unbelievable success of the likes of Uber and Airbnb is founded on the idea that, through a central digital hub, anyone can offer up their assets for use. If you have a spare room in a city, you can rent it out direct to visitors. If you have spare time to drive people around, you can make extra money on the side working for a company like Uber or Lyft. In many ways, the sharing economy is the natural conclusion for a hyper-connected society, and brands that fill a need people didn’t even know existed can make a killing facilitating the deals. The fact that Uber, Airbnb, and Lyft have a combined market capitalization of $106 billion should give you an idea of the scale of opportunity.
In 2018, the sharing economy will continue to boom. As more companies follow the likes of Uber and Airbnb, all that remains to be seen is which industries it is that are turned on their heads. Just as only a lucky few had the vision for a new kind of taxi cab that relied on mobile connectivity and GPS, it will be only the most innovative entrepreneurs that can envisage other areas for mobile data and other new tech to have a major impact. The sharing economy is here to stay, and it’ll be interesting to see how it continues to take shape throughout the coming year.
Seamless customer interaction
Despite its billing, we can comfortably say that the chatbot failed to live up to expectations in 2017. They were supposed to be everywhere, with many commentators predicting that dealing with a human customer service agent would be almost a thing of the past by the end of this year, and that messaging apps would be stacked with new ways to communicate with brands. This, ultimately, hasn't happened. There is evidence to suggest that consumers are ready and willing to deal with chatbots, though, and 80% of brands say they plan on using them in the coming four years.
The global market size is predicted to be $1.23 billion by the end of 2025, and 85% of customer relationships will be performed using AI by 2020. The general consensus is, then, that 2018 is the revised year in which chatbots will make their seemingly inevitable impact. Natural language processing is improving, and brands will be keen to employ their own software quickly, as soon as the cost savings become clear. By the end of 2018, expect to have had multiple interactions with bots, though don't be surprised if not all of them are smooth - it will be a year of ironing out creases.
Up until now, the most high-profile applications of augmented reality (AR) have been in gaming. The major success of Pokemon Go brought the technology to the fore as the smartphone emerged as the technology’s most likely host. It’s still unclear just how big an impact AR will have on the average business, but there are so many potential applications for it that it’s difficult to imagine many industries in which it couldn’t be utilized. From content experiences and data visualization to dynamic physical world mapping, AR is certainly one to watch over 2018.
And the figures are there to back up the hype. On top of the key players already building capable AR technology for the smartphone, there are a whopping 336 startups that list themselves under ‘AR’ on Angelist. With this many young companies looking to muscle in on what is destined to be a huge market, expects AR products to proliferate in the coming 12 months. It is predicted that something like 24 million AR devices will be sold in 2018, as consumers realise there is far more to the technology than catching Pokemon.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Ultimately, AI is the battleground on which long-term business success or failure will be decided going forward. Given how broad and fundamental an impact AI can have on the working practices of a business, there is already a significant gap developing between companies with developed AI programs and those lagging behind. Those that went all in on the technology early on are finding that their algorithms are of a high enough quality that they can be scaled out across the enterprise - with solid managerial support, AI can streamline just about any area of business in some way.
It's the scale of AI's potential that makes it an enduring trend for 2018. Not only can it revolutionize internal data analysis and reduce costs across the board, but it can also have a significant impact on product offerings themselves. In fact, 72% of respondents from the technology, media, and telecommunications industries told Forbes they expect it to impact their products within the next five years. As we've already noted, AI is set to change the face of customer service in the coming year, and 75% of companies say it will allow them to move into entirely new areas of business. AI isn't just about vague promises to 'streamline processes'; it's developed clear business applications that companies will be desperate to put into place in 2018.
After years existing as a well known but often poorly understood fringe technology, the coming year could very well see Blockchain make its first big splash. The market is set to hit $548.2 million in 2018, and 2/3 firms say they expect Blockchain to be integrated into their systems by the end of the calendar year. Despite the average investment in Blockchain projects sitting at around $1 million, though, 39% of senior executives told Deloitte they have 'little knowledge' of the technology itself. This is a serious and strange knowledge gap, given that 42% believe Blockchain will disrupt their industry and 55% admit they will lose competitiveness if they fail to adopt it.
The advantages are broad but persuasive. Executives expect it to bring with it better security and a speeding up of processes, along with new business models and revenue streams entirely. The obvious applications are in finance, where Blockchain is already making waves and forcing banks to reconsider their products. Throughout the course of 2018, though, it could have ramifications in social and even in political matters. Whatever industry you're working in, being aware of the potential impact of Blockchain can only be a good thing.