Earlier this year, Accenture released “Accenture Technology Vision 2018.” It’s the annual technology report from Accenture that predicts key technology trends likely to disrupt business over the next three years. I spoke to Michael Biltz, managing director of Accenture Technology Vision and co-author of the report, who shared insights on the five technology trends Accenture anticipates and what they mean for business.
1. Citizen AI: Raising AI to Benefit Business and Society
As artificial intelligence (AI) grows in its capabilities, so does its impact on people’s lives. Businesses are looking to capitalize on AI’s potential; hence, they must acknowledge this impact. The report asked us, as businesspeople/marketers/advertisers, to think about it in terms of how “parents hope to raise children who act responsibly and communicate effectively.” It’s up to us to teach the AI systems to reflect societal norms such as fairness and transparency.
That means AI is much more than a tool, just like our children are much more than something we’ve merely reproduced. What AI systems do will ultimately impact people and their lives. Therefore, we need to teach, guide, and provide boundaries for the AI systems we use. The report stated, “These carefully raised AIs will not only be able to scale operations, but also adapt to new needs via feedback loops from other deployed models — similar to how continuing education enables employees to adapt to new tasks.”
It’s easy to think that’s the responsibility of tech experts. However, the report defines the scope of the various types of learning that fall under the AI category. It’s on each of us in marketing to take the time to understand the various learning styles — they then become the basis for the parenting style we use with our AI children.
Talking Ads, a digital marketing agency specializing in mass-scale programmatic media buying, offers an example of raising AI to benefit business and society. As a marketing technology expert, Alon Braun, the CEO, developed a media BI AI system called 1NMAN. “Before deciding on the correct media buy channel, we trained the system with the company’s core values,” says Braun.
“We put emphasis on teaching the system to act with respect to the end customers, and we also taught the system the value of self-responsibility, which means prioritizing each action every few steps of operation. Most importantly, we have trained 1NMAN with our main core value, which is learning from mistakes, so the system and the company can evolve together.”
2. Extended Reality: The End of Distance
Virtual and augmented reality technologies are transforming the way people live and work. This technology is removing the distance between people, information, and experiences. Location is no longer as important — interesting, given how much time we’ve spent on geolocation and space in the past few years.
The report explained, “Through immersive experiences, businesses can tap expertise in thousands of skills from anywhere in the world. Across industries and applications, immersive experiences are pushing companies to not only think differently about what is possible, but also to create new solutions that bypass the distance-based challenges they face today.”
Already, brands are putting this technology to work. For example, the report noted BMW provides an AR-driven exploration of its models. This technology allows people to get “inside” the car to experience what it feels like to drive one. That provides an emotional connection that no other technology or marketing tactic has been able to deliver. There are endless applications for marketing with this technology.
3. Data Veracity: The Importance of Trust
By transforming themselves to run on data, businesses now face a new kind of vulnerability. This involves inaccurate, manipulated, and biased data. Using this data leads to corrupted business insights and skewed decisions. To address this challenge, companies must follow a dual mandate to maximize veracity and minimize incentives for data manipulation.
This trend topped my list of key trends that CMOs are most likely already contemplating. It’s great that many brands are now data-driven.
Maximizing data veracity is about making sure that you’ve verified the truth and context of the data. For example, SpaceX uses dual computers to make minute course corrections. United Airlines underwent an effort to consistently update seating demand forecasts to maximize profits. It’s not necessarily a matter of the data being wrong. It’s a matter of verifying that it’s as current and accurate as possible.”
Pixmettle founder and fintech AI expert Kapil Dhingra, who has developed enterprise AI-based tools that will help detect frauds proactively, says, “AI helps in flagging duplicate expenses and expenses with corporate policy violations early on, even before they get added to the system. This saves time, reduces errors, and increases efficiency.”
In another example, researchers at the University of Warwick found some rideshare drivers organize simultaneous sign-offs. This creates a shortage of drivers and triggers surge pricing. They then log back in to take rides at the higher fares. Systems like this that are managed by algorithms need to be designed with this in mind. In customer service environments, the more a customer complains, the more he’s appeased. Therefore, companies should make sure they’re not rewarding bad behavior. Instead, it’s about exploring ways to promote good behavior.
4. Frictionless Business: Built to Partner at Scale
Businesses depend on technology-based partnerships for growth. However, their own legacy systems aren’t designed to support partnerships. To fully power the connected Intelligent Enterprise, companies must first redesign themselves. As the report contended, “When these partnerships are technology-based, they can expand partner networks faster and into more ecosystems than ever before. Outdated, legacy systems are becoming a major hindrance to the relationships companies need to grow in order to innovate, compete, and win.”
The report cited what it referred to as the “cornerstones of technology partnerships.” These cornerstones include blockchains, smart contracts that are based on blockchain, and microservices architectures. These will develop powerful digital ecosystems. Companies can use them to evolve well into the future.
One place to start change in this area is within your organization. The report explained, “Microservices is not a single piece of technology, but rather an approach to architecture. It uses a suite of tools like application programming interfaces (APIs), containers, and cloud to break applications into simple, discrete services.”
Starting in these areas could create the domino effect necessary to start pushing change into every aspect of a company’s architecture of processes. The report provided key examples of businesses like Walgreens, which has started altering itself in a stepwise fashion internally through specific technology-based partnerships that keep the change momentum going.
Konica Minolta, an information management company specializing in enterprise technology, offers an example of a brand partnering up to boost both technology and business performance. The company’s Business Innovation Center has partnered with a wide variety of companies to transform typical business processes and platforms to create what it calls the “workplace of the future.” Its partnerships have included everything from robot development to telemedicine solutions — the brand partners with other providers to bring innovations to life and strengthen the ecosystem of all involved.
5. Internet of Thinking: Creating Intelligent Distributed Systems
That internal change will spur this fifth technology trend. Businesses are making big bets on intelligent environments via robotics, AI, and immersive experiences. Yet it’s not all about changing legacy systems. Bringing these intelligent environments to life will require adding key skills and workforce capabilities. Also, it will mean modernizing current enterprise technology infrastructures.
The Internet of Thinking is starting to appear everywhere. As per the Accenture report:
Across industries, the next generation of intelligent solutions are moving into physical environments. Improving traffic flows in smart cities, telemedicine that continuously analyzes a patient’s condition, and disaster analysis that prevents oil field catastrophes before they start are all possible with intelligent solutions. IT Infrastructures need to be developed to reach into the dynamic physical environments they want to serve–and it needs to happen now.”
Seeing these examples and applications of Intelligent Distributed Systems will help us figure out how to adapt our thinking and shift to this perspective. We need to pay attention to these early adopters and incentivize our education system. Then, we can start providing the knowledge and skill-building content to fuel this technology trend. It’s definitely one we, as marketers, want to join now rather than be left behind by.
The Shift in Leadership
Accenture noted that this rapid advancement in technology is creating more intelligent enterprises. Therefore, there’s a need for a fundamental shift in leadership, helping leadership approaches align with these intelligent enterprises. Biltz noted, “In order for companies to create the next generation of products and services, they need to become more embedded in their customers’ lives and have tighter relationships with their employees and partners. The more embedded a company is, the more opportunity it has to become irreplaceable.”
He cited how consumers are easily granting Amazon access to their homes via its smart lock system so couriers can make deliveries when they’re not home. This indicates there’s significant value for Amazon to become a preferred retailer by offering this level of personal convenience. However, to maintain that trust, it must act responsibly. Biltiz continued, “As companies make the shift and move into the center of people’s everyday lives, we’re increasingly seeing that they’re being held to a higher standard. Regulators are beginning to define these marketplaces, working with leading companies to determine how businesses and industries will work in the future.”
Ultimately, this leadership shift will be driven by either the carrot or the stick. It’s about whether companies are motivated by the value that results from being intrinsic to consumers’ lives or by the risk that will come from being left behind by competitors.
Leveraging Technology the Right Way for Marketing’s Sake
One of the key takeaways from the report is “84% of executives surveyed agree that through technology, companies are weaving themselves seamlessly into the fabric of how people live today.” I asked Biltz if we are at a tipping point or have passed that point when it comes to martech and the sheer number of options available.
Biltz believes it’s not just about using the right technology. He added, “I think the more important question is about what they are using the technology for. Instead of using technology to reach the right customer at the right time to convince them to buy a product or service, we’re seeing leading companies with the bigger objective of embedding the company, product, or service into their customers’ lives. It’s less about using technology to sell a product and more about using a suite of technologies that enables a company to partner with consumers on a daily basis to help them achieve their personal goals. That could be about saving for college or feeding a family on a budget.”
I wondered what the other 16% of executives were doing if not using technology. However, that’s another story for another time. Until then, there’s plenty to consider in these five technology trends and the disruption they will spur in all industries over the next three years.