The Internet continues to change the everyday activities of consumers and businesses. This may not appear to be on a grand scale—sure enough, most of us get up, have breakfast, and go to work in much the same way we always have—but there is no denying the impact the digital world has on our global culture.
For example, social media and online reviews have given consumers a louder voice than ever before, with a reach beyond anything we might have imagined twenty years ago. Research shows that more than 88 percent of consumers are influenced by the online comments of fellow buyers—while advertising undoubtedly still has a powerful effect, customers no longer need to take a company’s products or services at face value. Now, we can see what likeminded people think of potential purchases within just a few taps of our keyboards or screens.
In the world of business, companies across all sectors must stay abreast of technological changes to maximize their reach, appeal, and ROI. As online tools, platforms, and software continue to evolve at a staggering rate (try to imagine a world without Facebook, Twitter, or blogging platforms and you will see just how embedded these are into the everyday lives of billions of people), companies must concentrate their efforts to avoid missing out.
Competition is fierce, but with the right mindset and approach, the latest disruptive technologies can enhance customer service, conversion rates, and workplace processes. Let’s take a look at the forthcoming technology trends that stand to impact businesses in 2016.
1: Ambient User Experiences will Become More Important
Many of us use multiple devices during the day: we might use an app on our smartphone in the morning (perhaps checking emails or reading the news) before using it again on our tablet during the train ride to work. Once in the office, we might visit the same app multiple times throughout the day and enjoy a seamless experience regardless of the screen size or input methods we use.
The ambient user experience provides a smooth, continuous service across all devices, crossing boundaries of the manufacturer, processing power (within reason), and time. A user should be able to expect the same level of performance and function on one device as on another.
In the business world, such cross-device versatility is essential, allowing employees to access emails, analytics data, presentations, documents, spreadsheets, project management apps, and more, wherever they are. With smartphones and tablets becoming more and more important to getting online, the ambient user experience will become bigger in 2016.
2: 3D Printing Materials
Anyone who has worked in an office knows that a number of people still struggle to operate a 2D printer. This group might be horrified to learn that 3D printers are becoming more affordable and more commonplace, though they are still something of a novelty for the average person.
Businesses can harness the power of 3D printing by offering downloadable plans that customers can then use to print their own products, parts, and components for bigger items. This may seem problematic at first, as the business will no longer be supplying direct to the consumer, but there are multiple benefits.
For example, customers based in other countries will be able to access specific items without having to pay for expensive international delivery, which may provide incentive to purchase from a particular brand rather than seeking out a local alternative of poorer quality.
3: Machine Learning will Enable Businesses to Streamline Processes
Deep neural networks (DNNs) are a huge step beyond the computers most of us use day in and day out. This transcends classic computing and information management, building systems that learn autonomously and perceive the world independently.
As the complexity of information and the variety of data sources increases, DNNs automate tasks by allowing machines to learn the features for themselves. This means businesses will be able to sidestep many smaller maintenance and administrative processes (such as updates, installations, and data management) and focus on tasks that demand human involvement. VPAs (Virtual Personal Assistants) like Siri will also become more advanced, allowing us to use platforms and devices with a minimum of physical interaction.
4: Real-Time Communications become Embedded
VoIP (voice over IP) and, most recently WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) have revolutionized global communication for businesses, consumers, vendors and service providers. The latest evolution is embedding communications directly into everyday apps, allowing users to enjoy video and voice communication with their friends, associates, and clients around the world, without leaving the context of the specific mobile or web applications they are using.
Regular businesses can now harness communications technology directly into their own business and consumer apps, with the use of software development kits (SDKs) like Agora.io. This technology makes the integration of easy-to-use video calls into a business’ own apps feasible and simple. The strength of Agora’s global Communications as a Service back-end network ensures a high quality of experience over mobile 3G/4G and varying quality International networks. The network is able to identify and maintain connections across the strongest connections to keep communication crisp and clear, minimizing problems such as voices cutting out and stuttering video. These technologies are giving smaller businesses the ability to embed true professional real-time voice and video communications into their apps, a functionality that was once only reserved for industry leaders, going into 2016 and beyond.
5: Adaptive Security Architecture
Hacking continues to become a bigger problem for businesses and consumers alike. The threat of unauthorized access to personal and financial data is monumental for companies—not only could a breach potentially impact services (if the company website is disrupted), but there is also the lack of trust customers might feel in the business itself.
Security is paramount for companies of all sizes, but the complexities of digital commerce mean some businesses may not have in place the protection they need. Simply depending on rule-based security and perimeter defense is no longer enough, particularly with more cloud-based services employed. IT specialists must concentrate of identifying and responding to threats while still using standard blocking techniques to combat attacks. Self-protecting apps and user-behavior analytics are integral to adaptive security architecture, and businesses should be willing to experiment with this in the forthcoming year.
6: Immersive Technology as a Marketing Tool
Augmented and virtual reality technology stands to transform the ways in which businesses demonstrate new products, tour locations, and exhibit innovations without needing to create prototypes.
At expos, for example, companies will be able to use virtual-reality headsets to guide users around their offices or R&D departments, offering a first-hand insight into their processes without actually visiting the location itself. Depending on the quality of the media created for the VR experience, users may be able to gain real value, such as exploring a new product’s full range of features or seeing every single floor of a potential new venue.
Augmented reality can be used in a less expensive, more immediate way. Integrating this technology into an app allows businesses to provide users with specific information or services, such as providing data or product details when scanning a barcode with a smartphone. This is quick and convenient for users, eliminating the time-consuming process of getting online with a weak signal or trying to find information on an item right in front of them.
Going into 2016 these technology trends will be driving business to move forward, expand and innovate. While not all of these trends will affect every business, the possibilities and reach these technologies offer is too powerful to ignore. Everything from mundane tasks to marketing and customer interaction stand to become simpler and more engaging, allowing businesses to invest more time where it is needed most.
Which trends are you most excited for in 2016? Which do you believe will be most effective for your business?