The top digital trends expected to influence the next generation

Bronwyn van der Merwe
By Bronwyn van der Merwe | 28 January 2016
Bronwyn van der Merwe

Consider this: the pace of change will never again be as slow as it is now. This quote from Matthew Bishop, an editor for The Economist, at the 2015 Innovation Forum, is a startling clarion call.

Amidst the rapid pace of innovation, changing consumer expectations, and the plummeting cost of advanced technology, there is immense opportunity – for organisations, governments and society.

Digital is having a profound effect on business, disrupting traditional business models, ousting incumbents and changing consumer and citizen behaviours.

Here’s a closer look at 10 digital trends expected to influence the next generation of experiences in the year ahead, and how organisations can use them to stay competitive.

1. Watch. It listens.

In today’s society, something is always watching or listening. Watches encourage us to run further, fridges notify us when we’re out of milk, and televisions alert us when our favourite show is about to begin. The latest crop of Wi-Fi devices and listening technologies, such as Amazon’s Echo platform, have created a wealth of data, allowing devices to respond in real-time through intent-driven, increasingly effortless, ‘micro moments.’ These ‘moments’ fulfil immediate needs and have changed the way we consume.

This personalised approach to consumer purchase behaviour has resulted in a reduction in the time spent per visit when purchasing products and services online. As shorter interactions increase competition between brands, organisations need to learn to better aggregate listening data. Organisations can deliver on ‘micro moments’ by considering who to partner with to distribute a product or service, reassuring consumers they are being heard and considering concerns around privacy and data protection.

2. Service with manners.

With great power comes great responsibility. As smart technology evolves and big data exponentially grows, an organisations’ ability to leverage vast data sets in an ethical manner is more important than ever. In a data economy, the most successful organisations appreciate that digital trust must be earned.

‘Privacy by design’ is being embraced at companies like Microsoft, embedding privacy standards and a human-centric approach into technology and product design from day one. Organisations should ensure the intent of a data exchange is upfront, friendly and clear, and act out interactions as if they were a ‘conversation on stage’. Imagine a stranger on the street is being asked for private information. How would you go about it in a way that would make the individual comfortable?

3. B2We.

Consumer experiences are converging with the workplace. Simply put, the personalised, efficient and seamless digital services we enjoy in our personal lives have created higher expectations in the office. The contrast between consumer-facing software and clunky workplace tools for anything from time entry to procurement or travel booking, is stark for employees. Companies need to move fast to re-imagine the digital services and touchpoints that their employees use.

The expectation for tailored experiences, fast evolution and personal connection has seen the emergence of employee experience (EX) design, where workplace processes, structure and culture are all reimagined at an organisational level. EX design incorporates the development of employee-centric tools that blend functionality and empowerment.

4. Disappearing apps.

The dominance of the standard, single-use app is about to be broken. This change is occurring in reaction to the proliferation of touch-points and modes of interaction, where services appear to offer themselves intuitively to consumers in real-time and according to place or situation. In a process described as ‘atomisation’, brands are engaging in the ‘super distribution’ of their products and services across various platforms and third-parties, while still holding on to their brand identity. As apps atomise and collect more data, they become more integrated and intelligent.

Today, we’ve reached a point where all the technologies and services can intersect and interact with each other autonomously and independently of hand-held devices. Looking ahead, organisations can transition to ‘atomisation’ by designing for humans and focusing on interactions instead of transactions. By focusing on understanding human intent, context and needs, whether the user is in a car, at home or at work and deliver smaller parcels of content and functionality in an effortless way that’s integrated into the environment around them.

5. The flattening of privilege.

Digital experiences have democratised luxury and elevated our standard of living - bringing luxury services like personal chauffeurs (Lyft) and virtual assistants (Facebook M) to the masses. Data ubiquity and evolving technologies have become fuel for the democratisation of services in banking, healthcare, education, shopping and more.

As the lifestyles and benefits of society’s elite suddenly become mainstream, any industry with traditional roles and privileged expertise will be challenged. To meet these challenges, organisations are required to build collaborative and diverse work environments aimed toward understanding the users of the future. Organisations should seek to transform one-directional businesses into scalable platforms and consider what it takes to remain a true ‘luxury’ brand in an era of digital democratisation. Amid rising customer expectations, what exactly is luxury and high-end? 

6. Approachable government design.

Cost saving considerations, in addition to the incoming generation of digital natives entering junior ministerial ranks, have brought an understanding of liquid customer expectations and design-led thinking into government.

Overall, government is beginning to rethink the citizen experience from a one-size-fits-all approach to finely-tuned services tailored to individual needs. From connecting communities around a cause, addressing asymmetries of information and giving the underrepresented a voice; there has been a great leap forward in terms of how governments are thinking about the citizen experience. The private sector are also stepping in to provide apps and services for social good, at times collaborating with government. For example, the White House brought together the U.N. Refugee Agency and Kickstarter, known for crowdfunding creative projects, to raise money for the Syrian relief effort. Governments can utilise a research-led approach to generate rich insights that can then be used to spark innovations and ensure meaningful and straight-forward interactions with citizens.

7. Healthy is the new wealthy.

With the speed of technology innovation driving down the cost of personalised health monitoring, the ‘quantified self’ is no longer the domain of a small, tech-savvy customer segment. Newly empowered consumers are embracing innovation in the health space to measure their wellness, particularly as overall health costs continue to rise. Health is no longer a complex cost managed by a closed set of entrenched players. It is now something everyone can keep track of, learn from, and reward.

The customer journey has to be rebuilt from the ground up, moving the ‘point of care’ from costly hospitals to the patient’s home and the ‘level of care’ from specialised care to new levels of empowered self-service. Organisations are beginning to open their platforms to third parties to enable them to build new offerings through wearables and digital services like telehealth, wellness programs, connected devices and smart pills.

8. VR’s dreams come true.

No longer a futuristic fantasy, virtual reality (VR) will make its mainstream debut in 2016 with the first consumer versions of Sony, Oculus, and Samsung products hitting the market. Designers will think beyond gaming and put VR technology to novel use in everything from scientific studies and virtual tourism, to immersive learning.

As VR finds its place in our work and at home, business practices will be deeply impacted. Beyond advancing how we meet and collaborate, new ways to enhance individual productivity will also be realised. The key will be to identify VR’s place in business. Although it may be difficult to know where to start, organisations need to think about how the overall user, business process and customer experience could be supported by VR technology.

9. Taking things off the thinking list.

With rapid speed of innovation comes a never-ending cycle of decisions and choices. From more than a million apps in the Apple Store to thousands of t-shirts on ASOS; today we are surrounded by a glut of never ending options. In the midst of this noise, organisations can satisfy consumers’ desire to take things off the ‘thinking list.’

Data is the engine that powers the action of crossing off items from the ‘thinking list’. It anticipates needs, provides personalised messages and suggested options, and automates low-maintenance decisions. For choices and decisions that require greater knowledge of a product or a clearer articulation of the consequences and outcomes of any given choice, expertise (human or digital) and well thought out design will be required. Looking ahead, successful organisations can filter products and services to suit customer preferences, incorporate gestural, environmental or ambient interactions to interpret an input and provide a response, and experiment with algorithms and expert curation.

10. Design from within.

With the pressure to innovate at an all-time high, corporations are embracing design thinking to catalyse change for their customers and their employees. It’s a growing trend for businesses to invest directly in incubators and innovation labs, bringing design thinking and problem solving in-house. Design-led innovation fosters a human-centred approach, as companies use design as a method of problem solving across the entire organisation.

To embrace human-centric design across the board, the executive leadership will need to spearhead initiatives. Leaders will be responsible for cultivating a culture whereby employees are nimble at facilitation, concepting, prototyping and experimentation.

By Bronwyn van der Merwe -  Fjord Australia director - which is part of Accenture Interactive.

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