Over the coming year, what will be the most important developments in disruptive technology?
When we think about technology, we often think about physical devices that are electrical or digital. In fact technology encompasses far more than that. The dictionary definition refers to Technology as, "methods, systems, and devices which are the result of scientific knowledge being used for practical purposes." As we look to the year ahead tech disruption will be driven as much by the methods and systems as it is by the devices we associate with tech disruption.
It’s impossible to predict exactly which trends will become the most disruptive over the course of 2018. That being said, there are a number of developments that have and will continue to shape business strategies. From automation to sustainability, organisations are adapting to a whole new wave of consumer preferences. So, this year, which themes can we expect to see influencing businesses and consumers alike?
1. Mobile-first to AI-first
A major shift in business thinking has placed Artificial Intelligence at the very heart of business strategy. 2017 saw tech giants including Google and Microsoft focus on an"AI first" strategy, leading the way for other major corporates to follow suit. Companies are demonstrating a willingness to use AI and related tools like machine learning to automate processes, reduce administrative tasks, and collect and organise data. Understanding vast amounts of information is vital in the age of mass data, and AI is proving to be a highly effective solution. Whilst AI has been vilified in the media as the enemy of jobs, many businesses have undergone a transformation in mentalities, viewing AI as enhancing rather than threatening the human workforce.
2. Personalisation & Customisation
In consumer goods, life sciences, aviation and financial services in particular, businesses will continue to personalise products and services to satisfy individual consumer needs without unduly increasing costs or waste. This will positively impact end to end supply chains, data flows and encourage capital investments. Personalisation has become a key customer requirement that companies need to offer in order to remain competitive.
3. Meatless meats
Until recently, the options for plant based alternatives to meat have been pretty limited. For those following plant based diets, tofu and Quorn were often seen as the best options for protein substitutes. Now, a new wave of food producers are creating meat alternatives that look, feel, smell, and most importantly taste just like the real thing. Companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and Memphis Meats have attracted huge interest, not to mention investment from backers including Bill Gates and Richard Branson. The growth of meatless meat companies reflects environmental concerns surrounding meat consumption, as well as consumer demand for greater choice
4. Personal data value platforms
Personal data has become an economic asset. However, a lack of consumer knowledge about exactly what it is used for and how much it is really worth could lead to a reluctance to share data. Personal data value platforms will help to inform individuals about the value of their data, driving a wave of new products and services aimed at helping consumers to take ownership of their personal information. The introduction of legislation like GDPR will also contribute to this goal as organisations will have to comply with strict data protection rules.
5. Huge growth in the as-a-service model
The growth of the as-a-service business model has resulted from changes in both corporate and consumer needs. Customer demand for resources has triggered innovation in the reuse and remanufacture of goods, reflecting the trend of environmental awareness and a preference for access over ownership. For businesses, as-a-service solutions cut costs by simplifying IT infrastructure. Between 2016 and 2020, the global XaaS (anything as-a-service) market is forecasted to grow by 40 per cent each year.
6. Sustainability becomes a major feature in innovation
According to a report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, sustainable business has the potential to unlock $12 trillion in new market value. Companies have recognised the importance of pursuing sustainable development to create maintainable strategies, answering consumer demand for environmental awareness and supporting the implementation of the circular economy. This willingness has run alongside the efforts of official powers such as national governments and collective international bodies like the United Nations. The organisation’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will increasingly feature on the innovation agendas of businesses.
7. Voice based virtual assistants become ubiquitous
The wide uptake of home based and virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home have built confidence in conversational interfaces, familiarising consumers with a seamless way of interacting with tech. Amazon and Google have taken prime position between brand and customer, capitalising on conversational convenience. The further adoption of this technology will enhance personalised advertising and sales, creating a direct link between company and consumer.
8. Steps towards Industry 4.0 and the factory of the future
The installation of smart sensors and the application of data analytics will deliver further steps towards the factory of the future. The wider use of automated processes powered by AI, advanced robotics, and IoT connectivity will contribute to realising the ambitions of Industry 4.0. Otherwise known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0 promises a more connected world in which machines carry out mundane tasks. Many companies, such as Amazon, have taken tangible steps to implement this in automated warehouses.
9. Blockchain comes of age
Organisations across a wide range of sectors are already experimenting with blockchain technology to establish trust networks, improve transparency, and reduce friction and costs. Despite fierce debate, interest in cryptocurrencies powered by blockchain remains strong. More commercial businesses are accepting cryptocurrency payments, starting of course with Bitcoin and Ethereum. Industrial applications will expand, encompassing the obvious financial uses as well as innovative solutions for energy, trade, marketing, healthcare, security and more.
10. Improved decision making with Prescriptive Analytics
The emergence of smart data discovery capabilities, machine learning, and the automation of the entire analytics workflow is enabling organisations to handle vast amounts of information. Smart data discovery capabilities in particular are driving huge advances in how we understand unstructured and dark data. Using this data organisations are able to predict market developments bringing greater depth to prognostics. Prescriptive analytics goes beyond knowing, providing recommended actions based on prior outcomes. A recommended course of action to achieve a specific outcome.
Growing interest and investment into gene editing technologies will allow research teams to precisely alter, delete, and rearrange the DNA of nearly any living organism. Synthego’s 2017 Future of CRISPR Research survey found that 87 per cent of new CRISPR users were also new to gene editing, showing that CRISPR’s simplicity has catalysed the further development of the scientific technique itself. We will see CRISPR’s use cases expand, battling disease and world hunger.
As emerging technology and new business models transform sectors, the lines are blurring between what were previously seen as distinctly different industries. The convergence of industries opens up huge opportunities for organisations to evolve, offering new products and services to their customer bases. Automotive companies, for example, are investing in ride sharing apps as they look to reinvent themselves as mobility solutions, and banks are working with FinTechs to evolve alongside consumer needs.
13. Commercial drones and UAVs
Moving beyond the hobbyist and warfare applications, commercial drone use has begun to grow across a wide range of industry sectors. Drones are a relatively cost effective solution for surveying physical processes, whether they are happening on a construction site, in a field, or to aid security control in urban centres. No longer a novelty, drone application is set to balloon – provided that suitable regulations can be made.
14. Diversity becomes a major boardroom issues
If 2017 was the year we woke up to the lack of diversity and equality across the world, 2018 will be the year that individuals and organisations begin to address the problems leading to increased diversity within major organisations. Diverse teams have been shown to achieve greater productivity, and are naturally more innovative due to their varied backgrounds. Whilst scientists have shown that a lack of diversity has the potential to create AI programs exhibiting racial and gender biases. This, along with fulfilling a moral code of fairness and equal opportunity, will lead businesses to take steps to address the lack of diversity within their organisations. This includes (but is not limited to) a wide spectrum of age, education, gender, race, and sexuality.
15. Growing interest in digital twins
A digital twin is a simulation model that updates and changes in accordance with real world assets to enable better decision making and improve understanding of the state of systems. A digital twin could be used to simulate a piece of complex machinery, for example, predicting how it will respond in certain scenarios and how best to optimise performance. Digital twins will provide businesses with the ability to respond to changes, improve operations and add value to the Internet of Things.
16. Spatial Computing augments the real world
High quality Augmented and Mixed Reality is here, and it’s not just for industrial workers wearing Google Glass. Notable steps by major companies – such as MagicLeap’s long awaited headset release and Apple’s commitment to mobile AR – are opening up previously unimaginable opportunities for corporations. Advances in Augmented and Mixed Reality technologies will see an explosion of commercial applications way beyond entertainment. We are on the cusp of a major shift in how we interact with the real world, with our smartphone or smart glasses as our gateway and guide.
17. Renewables and Clean Energy near tipping point
The cost of renewables is plunging faster than anticipated as the efficiencies of wind turbines and solar panels increase. This, coupled with huge advances in energy storage, will see the continued decline of fossil fuels. Incumbent businesses like Shell and BP are shifting their focus to renewable options as consumers gradually adopt clean energy options. One of the most notable triumphs of the renewable cause has been the manufacture of economically viable electric vehicles, and the implementation of an infrastructure to support them.
18. Increased cross sector innovation
Convergence, collaboration and the open source movement have all contributed to the encouragement of cross sector innovation. Companies are looking to businesses in other industries for insights and expertise that can enhance their own products and services. AgriTech and FinTech, for instance, are developing alongside each other to tackle financial issues within farming. As cross sector innovation becomes the norm, we will see the greater application of successful strategies and business models from one industry to another.
An exciting year ahead. . .
Whatever happens in 2018, we can be sure of exponential growth in disruptive technologies and that the business landscape will shift faster than any year previous.