Shiny stuff or problem solving, next up in tech…

Shiny stuff or problem solving, next up in tech…
27 Apr 2016

Technology is evolving at alarming rate and many of us are struggling to keep up with new and emerging platforms.

The introduction of drones, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and 3D printing, are beginning to shape how customers behave and interact with brands.

We are in one of the most innovative periods of all time, in fact Ray Kurzweil said “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).

The difficulty is not only in our the ability to keep up with innovation but also to ensure we are investing in the right technology and not just the “shiny stuff”

I often question clients on whether they are developing technology to solve problems or creating problems for technology to solve.

It’s important for us to understand the value of technology and how to harness that value for customers and/or employees. To step off autopilot, and to interact, learn, test and trial.  So here are some of the technologies that are currently being trialled and developed and a look at their potential value; 

  1. Drones

A drone is an unmanned device that can fly autonomously, otherwise referred to as a UAV or ‘flying robot’.

This ‘flying robot’ can fly unaided with software-controlled flight plans and works in conjunction with a GPS.

Currently, consumer drones are most commonly used for video shooting, measurement, navigation, aerial photography and entertainment purposes.

Recently, drones have also been used for humanitarian tasks such as rescue and food delivery to remote places. The response to this has been divided, between those who are concerned that these ‘flying robot’s will interfere with air traffic around airports, and invade our privacy contrasted with an excitement about the possibility of receiving parcels quickly and being able to send and receive physical goods without the need for human intervention.

  1. Artificial Intelligence (A.I)

It’s been around since the 1930’s, but AI is becoming as mainstream as Netflix. Use Siri on your iPhone? Well, that’s fundamentally Artificial Intelligence (AI) in action. The growth in computing processing power, and hyper-connectivity, has spawned a revival in a technology that was traditionally restricted to research labs with scientists surrounded by many, many, large, powerful computers.

The global technology analyst firm Gartner describes AI as:

“… technology that appears to emulate human performance typically by learning, appearing to understand complex content and engaging in natural dialogs with people..”

There are some that believe that Artificial Intelligence will replace human beings in the future, but my personal belief is that if used in the right way it will aid us from vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, lawn mowers, security to education and learning, the possibilities are endless.

AI is promising some significant benefits to retailers, Companies such as shoes.com and stitchfix.com are using intelligent virtual shoppers, they get to know you and make recommendations based on real data. Although I believe there are huge opportunities and applications for AI, computers cannot read or convey emotion and this is the reason we will always need the human factor.

  1. 3D Printing

The days of limb replacement using donated spare parts from the deceased may soon be no more. We are definitely the closest we have ever been to the bio printing of human parts.

3D printing has come a long way in the past few years. There has been much hype around 3D printing, questionably – too much. But it’s not without reason, as it is certainly a fast growing market that is extending to a number of applications.

3D printing is basically a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The current usages range from practical objects for daily use, to commercial products and parts used in manufacturing.

Even the most skeptical can acknowledge that 3D printing is capable of significant changes, globally. Not just on a manufacturing level, but more critically on the medical front.

Earlier this year Mattel revealed a 3D printer that allows children to print their own toys (The Thing Maker), the next obvious development is a shoe making machine.

  1. iBeacons

In a nutshell, the true value of iBeacons lies in its ability to transmit personalized prompts or messages to the individual customer. They are a low-cost piece of hardware ($5 – $60) small enough to attach to a wall or countertop, and use battery-friendly, low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or prompts directly to a smartphone or tablet.

For retailers therefore their potential should be huge – and it’s for this reason that iBeacons are being touted as the next big innovation in retailing technology. But it is also here where the problem lies. iBeacons, like NFC, Bluetooth and in general proximity marketing are essentially only dumb platforms. What is important in these instances is not what the technology can do but where it can offer real value to consumers and that is where the retailers generally fall over.

The temptation for any sort of location marketing has been simply to push out offers and discounts rather than to have an intelligent, thought through, appropriate content strategy that drives sales rather than undermines them.

This is lazy marketing that will devalue the brand and makes investment in technology such as iBeacons a waste of resources.   The real value will be in providing engaging content and enabling the consumer to make informed decisions in the purchasing process.

  1. Wearables

Wearables are the latest up and coming trend in the wonderful world of technology. Wearable tech shipments are expected to jump from 85 million last year to 560 million by 2021

There are many applications on the market, from devices and applications that track your heart rate and food intake to self-healing gadgets that will even monitor your mood – the ‘quantified self’ era is a living and breathing reality

Some have not only held their ground with confidence, but will continue to expand their footprint well into the next generation. The two key players in this market are the Fitbit and the Apple Watch.

The latest wearable innovations for 2016 are anchored in the healthcare and education markets. Additional metrics that will be integrated into Fitbit technology include monitoring blood pressure and stress relating to athletic performance. Later this year, Fitbit will also be forging relationships with fashion brands, showcasing a new direction yet to be seen in retail.

  1. Virtual Reality

A technology that’s quickly being extended beyond gaming, to visualise information as living, immersive experiences. Why confine your experiences to a confined area (say, a screen or projector) when you can view information in rich new ways, in true 3D?

Marketing leaders are using Virtual Reality to drive new types of experiences that encourage customers to engage with their brand in exciting and immersive ways. Perhaps you want to simulate what a customer’s new kitchen will look like in their environment? In the VR world, you can quickly determine if an alternate paint shade or tabletop material is better suited to match with all other components of the design brief.

Taryn Williams, co-founder and CEO of THERIGHTFIT, said “Innovation means not accepting the status quo. But always looking to find better, more effective and more efficient ways”

All of this technology and the possibilities are endless but unless it truly solves a problem, fulfills a customer need or provides a better, more effective way of doing things then it becomes shiny stuff that is effectively redundant.

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