It probably seems crazy to think that there was ever a time when the internet didn’t exist, yet the World Wide Web only became publicly available in 1991 and in the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t long ago at all. It’s equally crazy to think how far we’ve come since then, and how much of an impact technology has had on our day-to-day lives. Connecting with friends, family, colleagues and clients can be done at the click of a button, as can ordering clothes or gadgets from your favorite online store.
New technologies, software and applications are being developed all the time, with big brands such as Amazon, Google and Tesla leading the way when it comes to showcasing and being at the forefront of innovative advancements. Businesses recognize that consumer habits are changing, perhaps as society becomes more fast-paced in general, and are finding ways to make the customer experience as good as possible. Amazon, for example, now offers same-day delivery on millions of items, and is likely to be the first company to deliver packages to our front door via drones.
These global brands can certainly act as an inspiration to smaller businesses, encouraging them to either develop innovative solutions themselves or to become an ‘early adopter’ of the latest trends in technology. Doing so can put you miles ahead of the competition and in some cases can even be the difference between success and failure.
The company I co-founded, VIA, was one of the first to recognize a need for a single, cloud-based platform that helps businesses streamline all of their communications, including voice calls, instant messaging, email and video conferencing. Despite the fantastic feedback we get from our customers, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels - it’s imperative for us to follow the latest trends and to continue to improve our product offering.
I was recently presented with an opportunity to speak to other ‘early adopters’ of technology, and to discuss with other businesses how they keep on top of the trends and what they think could be the ‘next big thing’. In light of this, I wanted to share some of the common themes I found.
What technologies are the businesses of today adopting?
Many of the businesses I spoke to have invested in some form of artificial intelligence (AI) and/or machine learning technology. It’s not hard to see why - not a day seems to go by without something AI/machine learning related hitting the headlines. On the morning of writing this article, I discovered that Alibaba (China’s biggest e-commerce company) has launched its new robotic butler, which will soon start delivering meals and laundry to guests in selected hotels. It also comes equipped with an Alexa-like voice assistant called AliGenie.
One of the companies I spoke to, Cruise1st, recently implemented an AI-powered chatbot to handle customer queries through machine learning technology. Its benefits include being available to customers 24/7 and being capable of handling hundreds of conversations simultaneously. Global head of digital and e-commerce Simon Hoe told me it’s already had a positive impact on the firm’s bottom line, with an eight-fold increase in lead capture, 3% revenue growth and nearly 50% increase in profit per basket. Businesses including Lovethesales.com and Comgem are also utilizing AI and machine learning to improve their day-to-day operations.
Virtual reality (VR) and cloud-based technologies were also well mentioned. In addition to AI, Cruise1st has implemented VR as part of its physical sales efforts at its store in Manchester, while CertifyMe.net is now offering its customers a VR-led program that goes alongside its online forklift operator training.
Cloud-based technologies such as communication platforms and Platform-as-a-Service offerings are being utilized by businesses looking to update and streamline their existing infrastructure.
How are businesses keeping on top of new and emerging trends?
It was great to hear other businesses agree that it’s important to stay on top of new and emerging trends - but how do they do this? Most of the companies I spoke to cited social media platforms as the number one way to stay up-to-date, including Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Others, such as Risc IT Solutions and Comgem look to specific tech news sites to keep them in the know. Comgem’s founder Dani Attard told me:
“We tend to review technology publications as well as attend key exhibitions which focus on emerging technologies and trends. It’s important to know what’s available and how they can help businesses improve productivity and ultimately save money.”
A few companies said they quench their thirst for knowledge by engaging with new start-ups and professionals in the field and working with a handful of trusted third-party specialists.
What could become the ‘next big thing’?
When it comes to new and emerging technologies, most businesses said they’re keeping an eye on continued advancements in AI, machine learning and VR.
The team at Lovethesales.com are particularly interested in how robotic warehousing and automated systems for picking and packing will advance over the next 5-10 years. CMO and co-founder Stuart McClure also told me that he wouldn’t be surprised if delivery drones become the norm in the future - something which, according to this article, could become a reality from next year.
“Payments is an area constantly being innovated by tech and I think this will continue, too. Things like retina, facial recognition or DNA payments are all very interesting. And we are already seeing checkout free stores - a trend that will likely continue.”
Peter Noble, director of Noble PR, also reckons that soon it will not be uncommon to go into restaurants where all the food is cooked by a robot and transactions are made without any human interaction.
Other entrepreneurs believe the future is in ‘the cloud’ with more and more businesses investing in cloud technology as a way of improving functionality and facilitating flexible working policies.
Looking at what’s ‘hot’ in the world of technology and assessing whether it could be right for your business could make all the difference when it comes to improving your day-to-day operations and overall customer experience. Failing to move with the times can lead to your customers becoming frustrated and dissatisfied and can result in you losing out to competitors.
Small steps such as monitoring social media, digesting daily news bulletins and attending industry events can be a great place to start; you’ll soon pick up existing trends and what could be the ‘next big thing’.