In the age of disruption, businesses and their leaders will rise or fall based on their ability to spot and creatively respond to rapid technological change. Some companies notice an emerging technology and take a “wait and see” attitude. Others see a new technology and take action. They begin experimenting, making small bets, and learning.
Their attitude is that it’s never too early to start. It’s never too early to begin looking at what others are already doing. It’s never too early to engage the imagination to conceive of how the new technology could be used to create competitive advantage.
These “fast movers” often jumpstart creative applications by asking themselves leading questions such as:
- Where is this technology likely to be in five years?
- When will it become mainstream?
- How might it help us differentiate, and to add value to customers? To improve speed of satisfaction, manage choice and complexity, and enhance customer experience?
- How will/could this new technology help us gain productivity and become a better place to work?
With such questions in mind, what follows are eight technologies that are ripe for exploitation by your company in 2018, and beyond:
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is about to go mainstream.
Real Estate giant Coldwell Banker is experimenting with AI to target classes of likely buyers for a specific property, and piloting new AI software that helps identify likely sellers. Leading law firms use AI to scan thousands of legal documents in minutes, rather than weeks, to build stronger cases at a fraction of the cost.
While Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook pioneered artificial intelligence, AI is beginning to be deployed by increasing numbers of mid-sized and even small businesses. Here, the applications are exploding. At Coldwell Banker, when their data shows a confluence of events, the software alerts the company to a likely new prospect. For example, the homeowner’s youngest kid just went off to college. The couple has been in their home beyond the average of 10 years. And it sees that the couple has been online browsing for properties in North Carolina. AI brings these data-points together and concludes that this household is likely to be selling soon. “If we can find those people before they even know they’re selling, we’re that much ahead,” Coldwell Banker CEO Charles Young tells Chief Executive Magazine.
2. Apps are becoming essential tools for boosting customer convenience and employee productivity. What are you app to do next?
Fort Worth, Texas-based startup Booster Fuels saves time-strapped motorists a trip to the gas station. When you order fuel on your Booster app, they bring the gasoline to you. Startup businesses like Booster Fuels are taking advantage of the app trend to address unmet customer needs. And established companies like Safeco auto insurance are finding new ways to use apps to add value to customers —and improve worker productivity.
Safeco’s auto insurance customers can now report an auto accident using the company’s app. Right from the accident scene, customers can submit photos, report what happened, and arrange for a tow — all by using Safeco’s innovative app. Fast movers will increasingly use mobile apps for on-the spot-troubleshooting, managing inventory, providing on-site estimates, generating invoices, and gathering data that can be used to better understand customer preferences.
Pest control operator Rentokil uses a proprietary app to give its field technicians a productivity edge. When confused by a type of bug or rodent, they simply snap a photo and run the app, which sifts through a data-bank of pest images to quickly identify the intruder. The app even suggests remediation solutions. Voila, problem solved.
3. Wearable technology. Already enhancing guest experience at Carnival Cruise Lines.
Modern cruise ships carry over 6000 passengers and offer everything from violin concerts to bungee jumping to belly dancing classes. But there’s a problem. Carnival Cruise Lines’ research showed that so many choices were overwhelming guests and creating an anxious-prone customer experience. So, Carnival created a wearable technology to help customers avoid “over-choice.” Passengers are given the option to wear a wristband device synced with a companion app on their smartphone to serve as a kind of constant guide while onboard. As you partake of various onboard activities, the wearable tool responds by guiding you to activities that you’re bound to like, providing a new level of customized service for passengers. Result: Carnival customer data shows that guests come away happier, less stressed, and more apt to return to Carnival for their next cruise.
4. Big Data is empowering Starbucks’ location scouting. What’s your next move?
Ever wondered how Starbucks can open multiple shops in the same neighborhood without cannibalizing existing store traffic? Answer: they use big data.
Until now, big data was available exclusively to big companies. No longer. As more and more digital data gets collected (as when you give your phone number to the clerk at the grocery store), mid-sized and even small firms are now able to tap the power of big data analytics to carve out new strategic advantage: to lower the cost of customer acquisition, find new ways to cut costs, increase sales, personalize product offerings, and enter new markets.
Starbucks was a first mover in using big data to give their location scouts a tool to reduce guesswork. Big data — the technology that allows more people to analyze more information from more sources in more ways than ever before — helps Starbucks’ staffers crunch data on foot traffic patterns, area demographic trends and customer behavior profiles, greatly reducing the complexity of decision making.
5. Amazon’s Alexa is bringing the Internet of Things (IoT) to consumers living rooms. Now may be your time to jump aboard.
In November 2017, Enrichment Federal Credit Union became the first credit union in the United States to link to Amazon’s Alexa voice-controlled smart speakers. Members of the Oak Ridge, Tennessee-based credit union can now move money between accounts, make loan payments and access balances and account histories using convenient voice commands.
Enrichment’s move is just the latest application of an exploding techno-trend where tiny sensors embedded in homes, buildings, and everyday objects such as smartphones, are connected via the internet, to comprise what is being called The Internet of Things (IoT). While Alexa is out front, Google’s Assistant is coming on strong, followed by a host of others just now entering the race to wire the living room.
IoT technology first burst on the scene in 2015, when a startup called Nest reinvented the thermostat and made it “smart,” which is to say programmable, and connected via the internet to the consumers smart phone, and voice-controlled speaker. Nest went on to reinvent smoke alarms, home security and a growing list of other products, and the technology is exploding. In home security, for example, for a fraction of the cost of traditional home security- service, consumers can set up the new do it yourself system — you set up the alarm system yourself by placing the easy to use sensors and cameras and motion detectors around your home, and connect to a control hub, and an app on your smart phone.
Look for ever increasing numbers of homes to be united with the IoT, and new entrants wishing to dance in Alexa’s space.
6. Advanced robotics. Not just for factories now.
Hotel chain Aloft uses robotic bellhops to supplement their bell staff — delivering extra towels, keys and whatever else to guest rooms without delay. Suddenly, agile, trainable, lightweight robots aren’t just found on the factory floor, they’re showing up everywhere. And they won’t replace workers in most cases, they will enable smarter labor deployment by taking on repetitive, backbreaking and higher risk tasks and introducing logistical efficiency. In many a business, the question is not: will we or won’t we? The question is: where will we and when will we deploy robots, and in what kinds of uses do they make the most sense?
7. Drones. Not just for the military anymore.
While Amazon’s drone delivery seems to be stalled by regulators and other hurdles, last year, a New Zealand couple became the first persons to have a pizza delivered by drone. The successful delivery came just three months after Domino’s announced a partnership with a local drone delivery service. Suddenly drones — aircraft without a human pilot aboard — are everywhere. The commercial drone industry already touches almost every sector of the economy, 38 types of businesses have already been approved for drone operations, and the industry is poised to be one of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S. From inspecting infrastructure, to providing farmers with aerial views of their crops, to enabling rescues of swimmers in heavy surf, to allowing law enforcement agencies greater access to monitor criminal behavior, it’s no wonder businesses — small and large are clamoring to use this technology.
8. Virtual Reality. The possibilities are virtually limitless.
Home improvement pioneer Lowe’s created Holoroom, where customers plug in the dimensions of a room and can then see a VR mockup of their renovation plans, transfer design to Google Cardboard and take the VR mockup home. Cirque du Soleil’s traveling Kurious exhibit puts VR users in the center of the action via a 360-degree camera in the center of the performance. North Face brings the Yosemite wilderness to retail stores. Thomas Cook, Europe’s biggest tour operator, uses VR headsets to show customers what certain vacations would be like.
Virtual reality — computer technology that uses special headsets or multi-projected environments, sometimes in combination with physical environments or props, to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations — is poised to take off, and not just in the consumer space. Increasingly, firms are using VR to lower the cost of training.