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Which emerging technology trends will shape the business world in 2018, and how will they change consumer behaviors and expectations?

This time of the year invites tech predictions from analysts, futurists and advisory firms. For 2018, experts believe smarter, cutting-edge technology will enable companies to provide better customer experiences and get more useful insight and data.

Here’s a roundup of expert predictions on tech trends that will shape 2018 and beyond.

Intelligent apps, analytics and things

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a darling of technology forecasts for several years. What’s changed is the level of smarts. Gartner predicts that as technology develops, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will increasingly appear in a variety of objects ranging from smart health care equipment to autonomous harvesting robots for farms.

Gartner’s forecast for intelligent IoT is supported by other firms. Bain predicts annual revenue in this space could exceed $470 billion by 2020, with investments in the industrial side of IoT expected to top $60 trillion in the next 15 years. And while it’s true that consumer goods companies are already jumping on the connected device bandwagon, these brands need to gather insight on customer preferences to thrive in this lucrative but increasingly competitive space.

Edge computing

According to Forrester, as IoT devices get smarter and more powerful, we’ll see the growth of edge computing, where data is stored and processed closer to the source of information, rather than everything being sent back to a central data center and out again.

This type of computing could potentially improve the customer experience. Being able to bridge distributed applications to close the gap between data, insight and action not only takes the pressure off of data centers, but will enable companies to reach customers more quickly and efficiently.

Blockchain and distributed trust systems

Blockchain, the technology that enables the existence of cryptocurrencies like  Bitcoin, is getting the buzz that IoT received several years ago. Forrester predicts that “a viable blockchain-based market will be commercialized” in 2018, with applications going beyond cryptocurrencies to enable any market that has assets to be tracked across owners.

Regardless of the application, Gartner says if organizations are to be successful, they need a clear understanding of the business opportunity, the capabilities and limitations of blockchain, a trust architecture, and the necessary implementation skills. Blockchain will transform many industries—including big markets like financial services—so companies need to get closer to their customers to understand the impact of this technology to consumer behavior.

Insight-driven businesses continue to gain ground

Forrester says 2018 is the year organizations obsess about the customer. Insight-driven businesses are built from the top down to harvest customer insight using both data analytics and qualitative methods. This new class of companies leverage insight effectively to drive revenue and expand competitive barriers. Insight-driven firms can expect to sustain 27 to 40 percent annual growth, the research firm predicts.

Customer experience becomes immersive

Powered by cross-functional design teams that include the technology organization as well as practitioners from customer-facing teams, customer experience will become more immersive in 2018, Forrester predicts.

More retailers will launch initiatives that exploit augmented reality (AR), virtual reality and mixed reality, enabling shoppers to interact with both digital and real-world objects. According to Gartner, mixed reality is the immersive experience of choice in the next five years.

Renewed focus on the in-store experience

The mixed reality paradigm means e-commerce is not the be-all and end-all. Forward-thinking companies will double down on their bricks-and-mortar locations and leverage technology to improve the in-store experience and help customers save time and meet their expectations.

An excellent example is Walmart’s new system that uses the retailer’s smartphone app to expedite the returns process. Shoppers with an unwanted items bought online can use the app to notify Walmart they no longer want it, and then head straight to the nearest Walmart store to offload it. Combined with a dedicated express lane for customers, the app cuts the time for returning an item down to 30 seconds.

Employee experience

It’s not just the customer that will get more attention. Forrester said companies that create positive employee experiences will see gains in engagement, advocacy, retention and productivity. Disengaged workers have 37 percent higher absenteeism and commit 60 percent more errors. Companies with low engagement scores also suffer from 18 percent less productivity, according to the Harvard Business Review. Happy employees tend to be more productive.

Security becomes more people centric

Responsibility for security will continue to shift, according to Gartner. Traditional techniques using ownership and control with onerous procedures are no longer feasible as they are a barrier to getting things done. Distributed trust is essential for a digital world where data and people are mobile and multiple systems interact. Insider attacks and a less-fixed network perimeter means organizations must empower developers to take responsibility for security measures as part of a more people-centric approach to ensure more accurate detection of threats.

Voice technology will change the customer experience

Since Amazon released the first Echo in 2014, there have a been slew of devices released that will see voice-enabled technology hit a tipping point next year, according to Of course, being able to do things more easily thanks to a voice-enabled device is likely to raise the bar for customer experience on other fronts that brands will have to meet.

More seamless home delivery

Consumer expectations for home delivery will continue to rise as Amazon extends its disruption of retail and logistics with its Key project. Set to launch in several cities, it lets couriers unlock Amazon Prime customers’ doors to deliver packages. The Key service is paired with a camera, so users will have intelligence inside and outside their homes to reduce the creepiness factor.

Other retailers are planning similar ventures; in fact, Amazon wasn’t the first one out of the gate. Walmart was already testing a grocery delivery service in combination with a lock maker that puts food right into your fridge—a significant move in its battle for dominance with Amazon, which recently bought Whole Foods.

Brands must focus on the business opportunity of trendy technology

All the technology trends for 2018 highlighted by the experts require a clear understanding of the how customer preferences are evolving. While many of them do support intelligence gathering, deploying them effectively will require a solid grasp of the business opportunity and how these trends will impact the customer experience.

As Forrester notes in its report, customer-obsessed firms outperform their competitors. Becoming a member of this elite group means understanding technology trends as vital clues to your firm’s future success and, possibly, even survival.

Forrester: A $1.2 trillion opportunity - The rise of insight driven businesses

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