Next year will see widespread application of living services and a shift towards more evolved, human-centric businesses, according to a new report by Accenture subsidiary Fjord.

According to the consulting firm’s design and innovation division, next year will further highlight the shift now taking place from a mobile-centric technological world to one based in real-life environments.

“We’re in this shift from mobile devices being the centre of our lives to what we call ‘living services’ taking over, which is essentially connected technologies and devices that have evolved and are shaped to work with customers and individuals to meet their needs,” Scott Weisbrod, group design director and Toronto Fjord studio lead, told ITBusiness.ca.

Technology such as self-driving and connected cars, connected homes and mixed reality (think Pokémon Go, which combines virtual reality with the real world, or Snapchat glasses) are three innovations that Weisbrod is particularly excited about going into 2017, and says that they will see continued application in everyday life, both for consumers and businesses. But as these technologies become more prevalent, businesses will need to change how they operate and market to consumers.

Connected cars and homes

Fjord predicts that autonomous cars will shake up just about everything they touch, from urban planning, to healthcare providers, to tax programs, and more. There will be a decreasing need for public parking spaces, as well as driving insurance as accident risks will be reduced. More self-driving cars also means fewer instances of speeding and fines for various distracted driving actions, and local governments will need to plan accordingly.

Consumers will also see the rise of in-car mobile internet, which could create new digital revenue opportunities, since “car time” will no longer be synonymous with “pointless downtime,” Fjord says.

Along with the connected car, 2017 will see the concept of connected homes mature and become more mainstream, Fjord says, estimating that the number connected homes will grow by 30 per cent next year in the US alone. Twenty-two per cent of households have at least one connected device already, and this is only the beginning, the report adds. Smart home services such as Amazon Echo will continue to grow in popularity too, as the desire for a “helping home” grows.

However, Fjord also warns that the rise of connected homes will also open up new opportunities for security threats, as seen in October’s DDoS attack, the largest in history and conducted through connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Weisbrod expects the connected home and connected car to be the biggest disruptors of 2017 for businesses. With technology integrating more seamlessly into everyday life, brands will need to be in more places at once to connect with consumers.

“Brands need to understand that it’s not a one size fits all situation; they will need to deconstruct their apps and/or websites, repackage the algorithms and design their services for what we call ‘invisible interfaces’ that work through voice interactions, whether it’s in a car or home,” he explains to ITBusiness.ca. “This has huge implications for companies and they need to be prepared to respond to this evolution.”

Evolving businesses and new marketing techniques

Businesses themselves will need to become more agile to keep up with innovation and technology as well. Fjord says that as technology becomes more integrated into every position at every company, many digital-focused positions will become obsolete. And fitting in with the overarching theme of 2017 bringing a more human-centric shift, Weisbrod suggests that businesses invest in emotional intelligence training for their employees, such as the program FedEx implemented this year, in order to succeed at putting people first.

“Companies should be making human centricity a mandate within their organization, which will allow them to organize more effectively and make better investments, whether it’s through qualitative research or better data aggregation,” he tells ITBusiness.ca. When asked if this would bend too much to the will of the customer, Weisbrod says “it’s ultimately a balance” between consumer wants and what businesses can actually manage.

Expanding on this, Fjord predicts that marketing and branding will need to become more casual and humanized in order to fully reach consumers. Weisbrod points to the strength of social media as the reason behind this, which has allowed everyone to become their own storytellers. It has also redefined expectations of what consumers want to see in terms of content.

“We’re seeing tension between delivering classic brand storytelling, which is highly refined and packaged in the way that it’s delivered to customers, versus the very human raw authentic stories that we as individuals are sharing on social media,” Weisbrod explains. “Consumers want to see brands loosen up a little bit and think more authentically and raw in the ways that they’re telling stories that have little to do with the brand itself.”

He says the success of platforms like Snapchat, and now Instagram stories, which are often used to show ‘behind-the-scenes’ activities, have proved that consumers respond well to this more authentic way of getting a message across and want a more meaningful connection with the brands they love.

‘Social media isn’t going to go away and brands should jump on board quickly in order to test and refine what works and what doesn’t for their customers. Then they can establish guiding principles to apply to all their storytelling and ‘storydoing’, as we’re calling it, going forward,” he advises.

Mixed reality and the rise of robots

The report also mentions the emergence of mixed reality, which combines virtual reality with augmented reality. Alibaba in China, for example, launched a virtual shopping experience that allows customers to explore and buy products in New York department store Macy’s, thousands of miles away. As businesses learn how to harness these technologies, countless new integrated experiences that bridge the gap between physical and digital worlds will enter the market, Fjord predicts.

And in what we hope is not another sci-fi movie that ends with self-aware robots wiping out humanity, the Fjord report expects artificial intelligence to make leaps and bounds in 2017. Consumers will see the arrival of AI with the ability to understand and respond to human emotions, and businesses can expect data-crunching AI machine learning software to begin replacing the role of financial analysts on Wall Street and beyond.

“The overarching lens we’re looking through is the rise and dominance of ‘living services’ technology, and the implications that come from that,” Weisbrod concludes. “Organizations will need to rearrange and reevaluate how they operate, governments will need to take a closer look at how they plan cities, and consumers will need to be wary that a more connected life means more security risks to be managed.”

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