It’s a brave new world this year, in more ways than one. As well as obvious shifts in social and political paradigms, there’s been constant evolution within the technology sector that could mean an entirely new way of doing business for small start-ups and corporate giants alike. While a number of trends have emerged over the course of recent years, I’ve highlighted four technology trends that look set to make headlines in 2017 as the changing face of technology in business.
Environmentalism & Renewable Energy
Environmentalism has hit the spotlight of late, and it seems that big businesses are catching on to the trend. Even Pantone’s color of the year – traditionally a big indicator of the colors and styles that can be expected to be seen in the upcoming season – was Greenery, a choice influenced by nature and the natural world.
It’s a trend that’s taken a foothold in a number of different industries and locations, and it has manifested itself in a variety of ways. Amsterdam recently announced its plans to become a zero emissions city, while big airlines such as Jet Blue have shifted towards integrating renewable jet fuel in their flights. Meanwhile, in Africa, the introduction of pay-as-you-go solar energy has revolutionized areas that before lacked access to reliable means of electricity and power.
Retailers today are more frequently turning to solar power as a means of not just contributing to reducing their carbon footprint but also as an efficient and economical alternative to fossil fuels. Internet giant Google announced their plans to operate on 100% renewable energy from 2017 – an indicator that modern markets are likely to be taking steps towards making their businesses more eco-friendly. One of the biggest surprises of 2016 was India’s national action on implementing solar power, with the government issuing its first ever call for solar panel projects and setting aside $3 billion in funding to support the cause.
Of course, the biggest obstacle blocking the development of environmental policy in 2017 seems to be the change in US government, with the official party line shifting to climate change denial. While that may slow progress in some areas, it’s also triggered a backlash that may in fact have a reverse effect, with many consumers actively seeking out businesses that are continuing ahead with green policies.
Drones have been hovering on the cusp of the public spotlight for some time now, but 2017 may just be the year that we see all the long-awaited plans come to fruition. We’ve already seen some successful ventures deploying drones, such as the Rwandan charity Zipline which uses drones to deliver medical supplies to otherwise inaccessible areas, but this novel new delivery method now seems set to hit the mainstream, employed by e-commerce retailers around the world as a means of making their deliveries faster and more efficient.
One of the most talked about drone delivery services has been Amazon Prime Air, which was first reported to be testing out drones in February 2016. Because the retail giant initially struggled to get approval in the US, the first testing sites were Canada, the Netherlands and the UK. The company’s vision involves a 30-minutes-or-less delivery service that will utilize unmanned vehicles. While the service has yet to go live, excitement was reignited when an advertisement appeared during the widely-watched Super Bowl, so it seems developments can be expected to be announced in the near future.
Yet it seems, for all the hype, Amazon may have been pipped to the post by an unexpected competitor – 7-Eleven! In 2016, the company reported that 77 of its customers received deliveries by drone in Reno, Nevada – although all the customers lived within a one-mile radius of the store from which they ordered.
The use of drones for more efficient delivery may be indicative of the growing demand for immediate gratification amongst shoppers. With same-day delivery now so common as to seem passé, businesses are on the lookout for the next big hook. Even amongst high-end retailers, the demand for fast fashion has hit an all-time high, with Fashion Week designers even introducing a “See Now, Buy Now” option at the catwalks that used to be exclusively reserved for previews. It seems that drones may be able to deliver not just a most cost-effective service, but one that’s best suited to meet the expectations of today’s internet customer.
Perhaps one of the happier news crazes of 2016 was the emergence of Pokemon Go – an app that played on the nostalgia of millennials to take the world by storm. The game employed novel augmented reality technology to place pokemon characters in the room with players using their smartphone cameras. The craze marked the start of a new top trend in technology: augmented reality.
Virtual reality has often been the focus of both the technology world and science fiction writers, and this sometimes causes confusion between the terms virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). While the former replaces the world around us, usually with the use of headsets and sensors, the latter uses the existing world and adds an extra element, as seen in Pokemon Go. And if recent developments are anything to go by, it seems that AR might be overtaking the formerly dominant VR in favor both amongst customers and retailers.
There was some skepticism about the future of AR following the failed launch of Google Glass, which met a frosty reception despite a much anticipated build up. But since then, augmented reality has demonstrated that it’s a popular lure in today’s tech-based games, and it’s also carved out a place in the business world. In the past, one of the most notable uses of augmented reality by a business was when IKEA allowed customers to see what furniture would look like in their homes through the “virtual preview” feature on its catalogue app.
Facebook’s recent acquisition of Oculus implies big things to come in AR technology for the social media site. The company has already announced its intentions to begin creating interactive experiences for its users starting in 2017, and with the site influencing so many other similar social media platforms, we can expect to see the trend trialled in a number of different places.
And it seems the technology may be set to connect offline and physical stores soon, with a rise in the use of augmented reality maps in both retail locations and attractions such as art galleries and museums. Bringing maps, features or interactive tools to life helps businesses create a more immersive customer experience.
In the past, any mention of artificial intelligence seemed like the stuff of science fiction novels. Today, it’s becoming an increasingly valuable tool for businesses, with available technology improving every day. I’ve previously explored Artificial Narrow Intelligence (or ANI) and its use in developing more sophisticated search engines, and it seems that the trend is also advancing far beyond Google.
New industries are introducing AI in increasingly novel ways. In 2016, reports circulated about an advanced cruise missile system in China that employed high levels of artificial intelligence. In Canada, start-up company Infra.AI is developing intelligent sensors that can provide real-time information about Montreal’s street conditions. Even in our pockets, we find increasingly sophisticated AI systems. Virtual assistants such as iPhone’s Siri have seen regular updates, each bringing it closer to human-like intelligence, and developments show no sign of slowing down. And those virtual assistants are widening their net – 2016 saw more companies than ever using virtual sales assistants as a way of making their process more efficient.
The fascination with artificial intelligence and its potential for the future has seeped into not just boardroom meeting but pop culture. The hit UK television show Humans takes a futuristic look at AI technology taken to the extremes, and the vision it conjures up seems not far outside the realms of reality – possibly in the very near future. The show centres around so-called synths, human-like robots that have been incorporated into everyday life, from the home to the office. The show became such a success amongst the audience that a spin-off documentary was produced to see how close we really are to bringing these fictional robots to life. While experiments proved that we still have a way to go, it also demonstrated that we might be far closer than many believe.
Have any of the above trends already affected your business? Or do you think there’s a trend I’ve missed that’s going to be big news this year? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments section below.
Related Read: Best IT Trends 2016