Accenture’s design firm predicts IoT, high consumer expectations will drive 2016

Accenture plc division Fjord has released its 2016 trends report, 10 elements the international design consultation firm expects to influence users, businesses and society over the next 12 months, and it gives IT developers and employers alike plenty to think about along the way.

The trends, which among other topics outline the impact of quick, impulse-driven service transactions, the importance of streamlining choices for consumers without sacrificing breadth of quality, and how best to adapt to the sheer volume of consumer-submitted data – and how comfortable or uncomfortable they may be sharing it – were developed by Fjord’s international team of more than 600 design and innovation experts, based in 19 studios around the world, including Toronto.

“We see a continuing drive toward the goal of constantly changing services, dynamically responding to user needs and context in real time,” the report says. “Smaller, faster, flatter. We see an acceleration of services moving toward faster delivery in smaller chunks of activity and content, enabled by APIs [application programming interfaces] and the rise of platforms.”

Underpinning the report is a demand for what Fjord calls “living services,” the organization’s take on the Internet of Things that imagines smart devices quickly responding to the ever-changing needs of users, who in turn are driven by “liquid expectations” created by the delivery of disparate services in an increasingly similar way: for example, the Uber user who easily orders a ride expecting the same level of service when ordering dinner through Just Eat.

According to Fjord, the increasing demand for living services will require businesses – technology-based businesses in particular – to place consumer-driven services front and centre as they develop new strategies for what the organization calls the “third wave” of digital technology (after the desktop Internet in the 1990s and mobile in the 2000s), while making sure that whatever services they offer genuinely add value to consumers’ lives, rather than amplifying the virtual white noise that already surrounds them.

Hence the 2016 trends, which serve as guidelines for design and innovation, and unsurprisingly include the suggestion that an in-house innovation lab might be a good investment.

For the companies that can’t afford that step, yet are reluctant to procure Fjord’s services, here’s a rundown of some of the organization’s other trends for 2016:

Watch. It listens… the power of “micromoments.”

Those quick, impulsive tasks that smartphones, websites and wearable devices make easy serve as the beating heart of new technology, and represent a company’s best opportunity to shape user habits, according to the trends report.

Instead of immersing themselves in long-term research, consumers are increasingly seeking out narrowly focused activities that are satisfied with short-term actions – and if your company doesn’t take advantage of these “micromoments,” Fjord says, someone else will.

At the very least companies must be able to hear the messages that consumers send through their actions, the report says, while creating designs that make it clear they are listening.

“Services with manners” – big data etiquette.

Smart technology has resulted in companies having access to unprecedented levels of health, population, transportation, environmental, and commercial data – but with this surge comes an equally unprecedented level of responsibility, with the ethical handling of data crucial to the internet of things’ success.

The report notes that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has already released a report outlining steps that businesses can take to protect the privacy and security of personal data.

Fortunately there are also signs that the abundance of data is a good thing, with the report citing one study that found 64 per cent of consumers in the U.S. and U.K. preferred receiving personalized shopping experiences based on past consumer behavior versus non-personalized experiences in exchange for retailers not tracking their data.

Fjord suggests that companies incorporate privacy standards into the design process, while being transparent about the role data collection plays in their users’ enjoyment of the final service or product. And while the experience should be seamless, transitions are important – though many consumers are happy to receive discounts, content, convenience or personalized services, they also want to know when they’re being locked in, and why.

Disappearing apps – the atomization of services.

An earlier report from Fjord, “The Era of Living Services,” offers a fascinating theory: that similar to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar‘s conclusion that we cannot maintain meaningful social connections with more than 150 people, the maximum number of apps that users can engage with is around 25.

The most useful apps, the 2016 trends report argues, have evolved from simply being user-controlled programs to third-party elements of larger programs that now permeate every aspect of consumers’ lives. As an example Fjord cites Spotify, which can be accessed as easily from your car as from your desk as from your television at home. Not only does Chinese app WeChat serves as an instant messenger and internet browser, it contains 10 million third-party apps that allow users to do everything from take photographs to control the lights, temperature and settings of a hotel room.

The future design of apps, Fjord says, will be counterintuitive, focusing on interactions instead of service transactions. Focus on making the interaction, or “point of x,” as smooth as possible, the report says, and the transaction will naturally follow.

The flattening of privilege – how technology is making luxury services mainstream.

You may not realize it, but a surprising range of once-luxury services, from chauffeurs to personal shoppers to home maintenance, have been democratized thanks to technology. You can even get your laundry picked up, cleaned and delivered to your door, or have a personal stylist put together a new wardrobe for you.

As an industry example the trends report mentions education, with digital platforms such as Coursera, edX, Khan Academy, and Udacity competing with universities by offering free, high-quality programs in highly demanded fields.

What this means for companies is that any industry which relies on privileged expertise, from education to banking to health care to shopping, will be challenged as ubiquitous data and the explosion of technology-driven services make it available to the masses. In this environment, Fjord suggests building multidisciplinary teams composed of business analysts, designers, marketers, and product and service managers, creating an intangible asset that will help companies better predict user demands in the future.

For the people – approachable government design.

Governments are not immune to the demand for living services, Fjord says, with the smartest of them recognizing the need for digital government services that are consumer-driven, easy to understand, and tangibly benefit their citizens.

In fact, both the U.S. and U.K. digital government departments have already published digital design guidelines that are simpler and more sophisticated than those of many commercial organizations, the report says.

Not only is this trend expected to continue, but whenever it doesn’t – as during the recent Syrian refugee crisis – private citizen-led initiatives, such as the Berlin-based Refugees Welcome, or the Mobile Justice app, which was developed in response to the rising mainstream awareness of conflict between police officers and African Americans in the U.S., will step in.

Taking things off the thinking list – simplicity wins in an era of all-you-can-choose.

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, psychology professor Barry Schwartz argues that although modern Americans are faced with more (and often higher-quality) choices than any group of people in history, it’s more likely to produce anxiety than happiness.

It shouldn’t be surprising that this effect extends to digital technology, Fjord says: the average person faces more than 200 decisions a day based on food alone, the Apple Store has more than a million apps and, as mentioned above, the average user can only concentrate on 25. Recognizing this foundation, what is a company to do?

The best course of action, the 2016 trends report argues, is to identify and deliver only what people need, while reducing the amount of thinking required from consumers. That doesn’t mean skimping on quality: Fjord sites numerous examples, from the Amazon Dash Button to Spotify’s curated premium playlists to digitally-powered surprises offered by box subscriptions such as Powell’s Books, Bitsbox, and BarkBox.

Services that anticipate needs by providing personalized messages, suggesting high-quality options, and automating low-maintenance decisions will play an important role in digital technology’s future, the 2016 trend report says, and the companies that adapt best will be the once that can strike a balance between lightning-fast algorithms and expert curation.

After all, who wants a music service that limits your playlist to the Billboard Top 100, or holiday music? We have 79-year-old technology for that.

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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