ID@A 2018, Accenture’s Digital Innovation Forum hosted by Vlerick Business School Brussels in March confirmed that innovation is not slowing down. To be successful, we need to harness its power.

This inspiring – as Félix Amez (Accenture Innovation Lead in Belgium & Luxembourg) termed it – ‘Innovation Festival’ was the ideal setting for innovation-minded business leaders to discuss emerging tech trends and advances. To kick off the session, I took the audience on a deep dive into Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018. Let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights.

Technology as such is not the most important thing, but rather how it can be used to bring about positive change for people

Each year the Technology Vision unit teams up with Accenture Research in an attempt to delineate the latest developments in IT that will have an impact on companies and governmental organizations over the next three to five years. The in-depth study is based on market research and more than 5,000 interviews with business, industry, thought and innovation leaders across the globe. The aim is to boil findings down to the five most important technology trends of the moment. What emerged from preceding studies is that business is getting increasingly personal: Technology as such is not the most important thing, but rather how it can be used to bring about positive change for people. What we see today is that this trend has continued, and even increased in importance, with a myriad of organizations and companies having a major influence our daily lives, i.e. the way we learn, work, and live.

  • Technology and Learning: Just think about the way we learn languages: from relying on traditional classroom teaching to mobile apps, we have evolved to companies like Liulishuo, a world leading AI + Education IT company, which offers its customers online language training with embedded Artificial Intelligence (AI), guaranteeing instant and customized feedback.
  • Technology and Work: The effect technology has on the way we work is also changing: General Electric (GE) have equipped their fieldworkers carrying out repairs on wind turbines with Extended Reality (XR), which allows them to access all the information required to investigate and solve any issue they might encounter. They are even able to dial in specific subject matter experts when facing a challenging situation. This way, a problem can be dealt with efficiently in real-time, while cutting back on travel time.
  • Technology and our Way of Life: A further telling example hails from the world of retail. In November 2017, electronic commerce and cloud computing company Amazon launched Amazon Prime in Belgium, a paid subscription service that gives users access to free two-day delivery for a monthly or yearly fee. The company is now pushing the boundaries even further by promising one-day or even same day delivery, which is set to transform the way we shop in our convenience-driven world.

Users have come to expect that the relationship they have with technologically advanced organizations is no longer a one-way street

Whether we realize it or not, companies and organizations are becoming a crucial part of our day-to-day lives. Allowing companies that rely heavily on ever-advancing technologies to enter our lives, requires us to trust them. With that trust, however, comes a certain degree of risk. Take Facebook, for instance: more than two billion users share their personal information with the company, and trust Facebook to deal with those data responsibly – we only need to watch the news to see that gaining – and keeping – this trust is not an easy task. At the same time, those users are turning to social media for information, on which they base their opinions, be it completely or partially (in)correct.

Intelligent enterprises figure out a way to redefine their business and their ways of working to build and maintain trusted relationships

Due to the growing importance of such technologically advanced companies, users have come to expect that the relationship they have with these organizations is no longer a one-way street. Instead it has to become a two-way street, and a trusted one at that. Intelligent enterprises are businesses that figure out how to redefine their business and ways of working to build and maintain trusted relationships with their employees, customers and partners.

Five Technology Trends of 2018

1. Citizen AI: Raising AI to Benefit Business and Society

AI has now become part of nearly every segment of our lives; whether we are using Google Translate, listening to tracks recommended via Spotify, or relying on autopilot when driving our cars, AI is the driving force behind it. This intense use of AI has taught us a few important lessons. Continuously teaching and testing AI can help to ensure that these solutions adhere to the values companies hold true and treat people with respect. Additionally, we should create transparency around AI, allowing customers to understand how certain decisions have been reached. ‘Raising’ responsible AI with these pointers in mind will help it grow into a strong business partner.

2. Extended Reality: The End of Distance

More companies are experimenting with immersive technologies, which change the way we connect with people, information, and experiences. Some are turning to Extended or Virtual Reality (XR/VR) to deliver training. Companies that build heavy industrial equipment are offering VR training that is both realistic and content rich to future users. The benefits go beyond cost reduction; using XR/VR in this way also affects safety, timing and scalability, because these training sessions can be carried out whenever, wherever for whomever, allowing you to train a vast workforce before the equipment has even arrived. Another example is the international courier service DHL, which has provided its warehouse workers with XR-glasses, enabling them to carry out tasks hands-free, increasing both employee satisfaction and productivity. Finally, real estate agent Redfin makes looking for a new home a breeze by providing virtual visits to the properties of your choice.

Immersive technologies change the way we connect with people, information, and experiences

3. Data Veracity: The Importance of Truth

Data is the lifeblood of any intelligent enterprise. On the one hand, this allows companies to be better informed, make better business decisions and recommendations. However, if the data are wrong or incomplete, this can lead to the wrong conclusions, with costly results. Drilling companies are a good illustration of the possible dangers. Whereas before, criminals wanting to hurt a drilling company could hack into its system and shut down the drill for a couple of days, today they can do more damage by tampering with company data and making it purchase drilling licenses for areas that have absolutely no potential. To counter this threat, Siemens is working with many drilling companies to embed sensors in their equipment that collect and cross-reference data to detect any unusual patterns. Organizations need to start thinking about how they can use analytics and cybersecurity technologies to safeguard data from inaccuracies, manipulation or bias, which can lead to misguided business insights.

Organizations need to start thinking about how they can use analytics and cybersecurity technologies to safeguard data

4. Frictionless Business: Built to Partner at Scale

In today’s digital economy, technology-driven partnerships are the way to drive growth. To fully exploit those external technology-based partnerships, companies must move on from internal legacy systems and re-architect themselves. Companies should set themselves up to partner at scale. Many such collaborations are already emerging: Walgreens, the second-largest pharmacy store chain in the United States, offers its customers a service to refill prescriptions, eliminating errands to the pharmacy while guaranteeing customers never run out of important medications. Since Walgreens had more than 275 third-party partners, they had to re-architect their entire IT landscape into a microservices structure that they could scale up rapidly and add partners on a regular basis. Another technology that will become critical in this kind of ecosystem is blockchain. American multinational retail corporation Walmart, for example, is experimenting with blockchain to trace food back to its origins in a matter of seconds, and with a high level of accuracy. As these technologies become more widespread in the next two to three years, businesses must adapt. Not doing so is a surefire way to end up being shut out of certain market segments.

Technology-driven partnerships are the way to drive growth. Companies should set themselves up to partner at scale

5. Internet of Thinking: Creating Intelligent Distributed Systems

We are all familiar with the Internet of Things, i.e. the concept of connecting any device with an on/off switch (including machine components) to the Internet. Because of technologiacl advances, extended battery life, more computing power, miniaturization, etc., these ‘things’ or so-called ‘edge devices’ are becoming more intelligent and able to accomplish a lot of tasks on their own, without a central system assisting them in any way. One such example is NeuroPace that has developed an implantable electrical stimulator for patients who suffer from seizures. This device continuously monitors the patient’s brain activity, detects abnormal patterns, and in response delivers electrical pulses to normalize the activity before the individual experiences a seizure. The fact that these edge devices are gaining intelligence and autonomy does make cloud computing obsolete – on the contrary. The hallmark of the successful intelligent enterprise of the future will be finding the right balance between what is done by intelligent edge devices, and what is done centrally on cloud platforms.

So-called ‘edge devices’ are becoming more intelligent and able to accomplish a lot of tasks on their own

One thing is for sure: innovation is not slowing down. This implies that companies aiming for success in today’s digitally-driven world need to harness the power of innovation, both internally and externally. By focusing on the emerging tech trends above, the future seems bright.

Read the full Technology Vision 2018 report.