10 tech trends to watch out for in 2017

With 2016 now out of the way and 2017 in full swing, it’s time to look ahead to the trends you should be watching out for in the coming 12 months. The way businesses work and think will be deeply impacted by changes in technology in a variety of areas, and we’re expecting to see the following topics in particular dominate conversation.

The Internet of Things

While the Internet of Things has been a hot topic for many years now, it’s important to remember that it is still relatively early in its development; however, 2017 looks set to bring a number of real-world, commercially-available applications across industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture.

And as IoT technology continues to advance, it will bring with it unparalleled levels of connectivity, automation and information-sharing – not to mention reductions in energy demand through ultra-efficient micro integrated circuits.

Of course, there are challenges around data and device security that are still to be resolved (discussed in further detail below), but with so many positive benefits it’s unlikely that this trend will go away anytime soon.

Security

As this infographic shows, the scale and volume of data breaches has grown exponentially in recent years, and they’re likely to only expand further in 2017. This is particularly pertinent when combined with the growth of IoT technologies, which place the same hardware and software solutions in millions of homes across the globe – making providers of these products tempting targets for hackers.

Big data

Another knock-on effect that the Internet of Things will have in both B2C and B2B environments will be in the (big) data capture of both structured and unstructured data, with significant growth expected in this area during 2017 and beyond.

It’s not just capturing this data, either, that must be considered, but also the analysing, interpreting and acting upon it. B2B organisations will have to take their lead from the transactional nature of B2C in prioritising this.

Fundamental changes will be required in the way that organisations think too – siloes will need to be removed to enable a holistic and wide-ranging view, with data made available across all departments and functions so that the maximum possible value can be derived from it.

Telematics

It’s not just big data that will grow in prominence – the availability of real-time data will continue to increase too throughout the year. In fact, the application of telematics is already evident in several areas, such as insurance verticals where vehicle and personal tracking supports dynamic pricing models, and sporting and fitness-related fields where data on athlete performance is being used to inform real-time adjustments to personalised training plans.

There will, however, need to be major developments in the field of data analysis and predictive analytics in order to make the most of this valuable information. The provision of this data is going to create a data explosion that will require more sophisticated data models; ones that use only critical data for key analytics to drive decision-making that’s dynamic, personalised and in real-time.

Another key technology challenge is how to make the data more accurate. Wearing a belt, for example, or having a box fitted to your car can help achieve this, but they are currently much more cumbersome than just using an app on your smartphone.

Automation

As the cost of living continues to increase, traditional cost-reduction models such as offshoring are becoming a less attractive offer than they once were. Organisations are therefore looking for alternative opportunities to drive efficiencies, with many focusing on the potential offered by automation and machine-based learning techniques.

As a way of removing headcount, it’s likely that these trends will become prevalent in 2017, as robots learn to interact and make decisions in specific circumstances.

Automation will come to the fore in the home too, driven by greater access to ultra low-power connected micro computers, which will make it possible to manage most (if not all) essential home services remotely and automatically. 

Artificial Intelligence

As mentioned above, the rise of machine-based learning is in turn driving advances in the field of artificial intelligence; just think of the current buzz around self-driving cars. These advances will undoubtedly provide organisations of all kinds with access to vast amounts of data, including those that may previously been limited by a lack of testing capacity or user feedback.

And when taken together with the IoT technologies, AI is also helping realise a new breed of intelligent home automation systems that can collate, process and analyse vast sums of data from connected devices.

Using this data, these systems then predictively select the patterns they think will best suit the user/s in the room/home – an application that is, unsurprisingly, attracting a lot of interest among suppliers of new-build homes.

Virtual and augmented reality 

Once seen as a fad, watching virtual reality (VR) move from niche early-adopter status into mainstream use will be interesting – and very exciting – this year. It’s becoming increasingly easy for people to try out VR for themselves, with Oculus, HTC and Sony having recently released their Head-Mounted Displays (HMD), and Google entering the mobile VR field with their phone-based Daydream HMD.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) will also likely become more prominent in 2017, with Microsoft’s Hololens leading the way in blurring the lines between the virtual and the real.

Currently these technologies are focused on gaming, but we’re more excited to see them applied to other areas of our lives; particularly following the astronomic success of applications such as Pokémon Go. For example, there are already experimental talk shows being conducted in VR, with game makers interviewed inside their creations so that viewers can be right there with them. 

Conversational UX

As all the above technologies enter the mainstream, there will undoubtedly be repercussions in the field of User Experience (UX), particularly as more organisations recognise the value of the discipline and pump budget into this area accordingly.

A key development in 2017 looks set to be the rise of ‘conversational’ UX, which automates interactions based on information about a user’s prior behaviour and actions. This is especially relevant as a wave of hands-on, always-on devices enter the home, borne on by the popularity of the experiences provided by applications such as ‘OK Google’ and Siri.

Amazon Echo, for example, made a big UK splash in Autumn 2016 (heavily discounted to get into UK homes), while a similar device from Google, Google Home, is expected to be launched in the UK early this year.

These devices have also been instrumental in the rise of chatbot functionality, which in 2017 will continue to converge with voice user interfaces in apps for the home that can be initiated and navigated vocally.

Indeed, this trend can already been seen in apps from JustEat and Uber that allow you to order takeaways and taxis with your voice (via the Amazon Echo device), as well as applications that control your lights, play music and more.

Efficient design

As mentioned with regards to automation, opportunities to minimise risk and reduce waste are becoming a priority, in the face of a great deal of economic and political uncertainty. A response to this from the field of design comes in the form of modular design, which bases content and display patterns on reusable components, rather than using traditional templates.

As a result, the design and build process is much leaner and faster, with the flexibility to allow products to evolve even once the initial work has been completed – critical in today’s fast-moving digital landscape.

Similarly, a shift in the tools preferred by designers is also taking place, with ‘hotspot’ tools such as InVision, Marvel and UXPin growing in popularity; as these allow designers to create a navigable journey from static designs, both designers and clients can in a very short space of time get a feel for what the final product might look and feel like.

By contrast, names that have traditionally dominated the design space such as Apple and Adobe are starting to struggle, with designer loyalty to the brands in doubt as other organisations such as Microsoft launch truly innovative products like the Surface Studio, and competition comes from low-cost software such as Sketch, Affinity and Principle.

Emma Willis is marketing executive at Box UK, a company with operations in Wales.

Image credit: Kristine Full