Today’s shortened innovation cycle brings both opportunities and challenges to businesses. The mobile revolution has taken less than a decade. We stand at the cusp of several new disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and smart devices which will shape the businesses of the future.
But there is no shortage of ideas and theories on the future direction of product and service delivery. We asked our expert panel of leading Australian entrepreneurs and investors to tell us the tech trends that entrepreneurs, business planners, and those thinking about starting new companies should be watching. The answers are varied, from the burgeoning potential of data to ever more distribution channels.
Customisation in e-commerce
Elaine Stead of Blue Sky Ventures sees one trend that has yet to run its course: e-commerce. The sector has already seen great upheaval since Amazon’s founding in the 90s, evolving from an online bookstore and “unlimited” shelf space to data-driven enterprises with express shipping. But according to Stead, there’s still plenty of change to come.
“We invest a lot in retail and e-commerce and the biggest trend that I don’t think we have seen play out completely yet is that toward personalisation and customization,” says Stead.
“Consumers are demanding a more tailored consumer experience, they actually want less but more tailored choices, and they expect retailers to predict what they need before they know they need it. They also want to be able to create a bespoke product.”
Beyond specific areas of technological change, Stead also urges constant re-evaluation of technology’s role in businesses. Innovation does not equal technological adoption alone, but intelligent use of it. And there is such a thing as too much technology. Think of all the clunky interfaces that predated the most recent touchscreen revolution.
“Businesses (even those in high growth mode) need to be constantly re-evaluating their value proposition and forcing themselves to become ‘smarter’. Businesses that experience the most value accretion are those that build ‘intelligent’ technology into their core offering (whether it’s selling wine or manufacturing shoes).”
Seek co-founder Andrew Bassat is looking at four inter-related trends that will help define success and failure over the coming years. He explained:
- Re-Investment. Rate of change in all industries is moving incredibly fast due to technology changes. If you do not re-invest you will either miss large opportunities or get disrupted. Alongside re-investment we think business leaders need to have the courage to invest for the long-term despite the short-term pressures they may face.
- People. There is a global war for talent for people with the skills and experience in product and technology. One of the biggest considerations in planning regarding technology trends is managing your talent pipeline, so you have the right people on board to collect, analyse and build technology solutions.
- Diversity. All companies need to build product for people from varied backgrounds (gender, age, race, etc) so we need teams that have diverse backgrounds, experiences and thinking, so we can create the best products for our end users.
- Data awareness. Every interaction or non-interaction signals user intent. All companies need to capture, analyse and draw insights from data so that you can assess how well your products are meeting the market’s needs and identify opportunities for growth.
The need and potential for re-investment is probably best illustrated by Amazon — which has parlayed operating profits into more and more businesses, greatly diversifying revenue streams.
But investment means more than capital allocation, and, as Bassat points out, effective management of human capital is becoming ever more crucial as the talent pool becomes global. Equally critical is the broadening diversity of the end user base which is running in parallel.
Muru-D co-founder Annie Parker is keeping an eye on two separate technology trends — those that excite her personally, and those that will likely transform the way we do business.
“With my muru-D hat on – I’m interested in all coding and development trends – particularly anything that is automating an existing process or business area, and there’s a lot of excitement around the AI and VR space,” says Parker. But there are wider advancements being caused by technology, affecting the context in which all business takes place.
“On a personal level though – I really love to see tech that makes a positive impact on society. Whether that’s improving education, better managing our impact on the planet or social impact for people who need our help the most. The tech for good movement is something I’m massively passionate about.”
The key, according to head of Asia for Braintree Payments, Tyson Hackwood, is to keep an eye on the competition. What technology are they employing, what are they doing better, and how can you adopt best practice to improve your business and knowledge of your customers. And this is happening in multiple areas.
“One the one hand you have technology that can service you as a business – programmatic media algorithms that can help you optimise your marketing dollars, logistics platforms which can basically outsource that entire function, online legal or accounting services to streamline these practices,” says Hackwood.
“And on the other hand, there’s technology that enables access to your customers. The continued rise of mobile and the increasing role it plays in our lives. The emergence of contextual commerce and how it’s enabling merchants to sell direct from social platforms.”
Benjamin Chong, partner at Right Click Capital, points out that the positive economics of computing will likely continue. Computers have been getting simultaneously cheaper and more powerful for decades, and this will likely keep going.
“I remember having to pay of racks of servers and build our own shopping cart functionality during one of the e-commerce businesses I co-founded in the mid-nineties. The cost of this was huge. These days, you can pay for computing power and storage by the hour, plus there are stacks of software as a service providers of ecommerce solutions.”
But while the economics and takeup of new technologies has never been better for startups, first adopters aren’t representative, and it can often take time for new technologies and ideas to really find a home.
“Timing matters as do cycles. While the first SMS message was sent in 1992, very few customers used SMS for communication. The take up rate gradually increased and 2000 the average number of messages reached 35 per user per month,” says Chong.
“It’s sometimes difficult to pick when users will develop a new habit but once they do, it’s very difficult for them to let go.”
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