Every year, we work to produce a checklist of digital experiences, products, services, and trends that will grow in popularity over the next year and that will have an impact on the digital landscape.
These are digital trends every business should be aware of heading into 2018.
So without further ado — our 2018 digital checklist. Here are a few things worth watching, what you can expect for the coming year, and how to be ready for it.
1. Move content beyond the blog
We’ve talked a lot about the changing role content is going to play recently, with updates about headless CMS structures, content-as-a-service (CaaS), and the future role content has to play in enterprise organizations.
All of this points to one thing that organizations need to do in 2018: change what their content means, how it’s used, and move content strategy beyond the blog.
There are a few factors driving this change, and a few things organizations can do to stay on top.
What’s driving content investment?
As services become a greater part of what most organizations do, help and support documentation and services become a lot more relevant.
The cost of generating content is climbing
The cost of maintaining, updating, and retiring content increases exponentially as the volume of content you’re handling increases
Modular design and technical structures spill over into content strategy and thinking.
What it means for you
First, organizations need to develop content in ‘blocks’ or modules, with the ability to deploy those blocks when and where they’re needed.
Second, these blocks need to be centrally linked, so that organizations can change something once and have it rolled out across every instance.
The goal is to create a single source of truth across every digital property — digital properties that are increasingly going to include things like apps, mobile sites, websites as well as wearable/VR applications, digital signage, in-store promotions and more.
2. Leverage AI to deliver better experiences.
AI is here to stay. For years now, AI has been a little like the grand unifying theory of the tech world. Everyone’s thought at some point “I wish I had a robot for this.”
The reality, however, has left end-users wanting.
But that might be changing. For a long time now, AI has been running systems and processes in the background, and as 2018 unfolds we’re expecting those systems to become more prevalent and more relevant to everyday people.
Things like deep machine learning, for instance, enables the creation of AI that are constantly anticipating end-user action and learning from the data they’re fed/generate.
Obviously, AI still has a long way to go, and is going to remain a niche skill set for a long time. It won’t be cost-effective for organizations to invest in building it internally, but it is something we’ll see more of as elements of AI and process automation are made available in third-party services.
And here’s what’s driving it: consumers are going to be a lot less willing to put up with terrible processes.
For instance, if one insurance company will complete your claims for you, and another makes you do it yourself, you probably don’t care that the first is doing it with AI or process automation. You’re just happy your life is easier.
That means organizations can either (a) expand their payroll or (b) invest in a technology solution.
As a result, organizations, regardless of industry or appetite for AI, need to be thinking about how their software can be improved with artificial intelligence or automation.
The market for quality AI software will explode as well, as an increasing number of organizations realize they need to invest in either AI or more staff to provide the service they need to stay competitive.
And in the boardroom debate of machines vs payroll, machines tend to come out on top.
What it means for you
Get a jump on things and identify potentially clunky customer processes early.
These will need to be designed out, staffed to resolve, or fixed with AI.
Start looking for AI vendors with experience in your space. Due to SaaS business models, the cost of applying software solutions might be cheaper than you think.
3. Blockchain will move from niche, cryptocurrency diehards into the mainstream conscious
Right now, despite a number of ICOs and Bitcoin’s 1 : $20k exchange rate (at the time of writing), blockchain remains more or less a tech geek technology. It’s not yet widely discussed and even less widely understood, either at a benefits level or at a technical one.
But we think that’s going to change.
We won’t get into what blockchain is here (that’s an entire subject unto itself) but we will look at how it’s already changing how users engage with the internet and how it’s going to change things over the next year.
Initial Coin Offerings
Initial coin offerings, or ICOs, are now a thing. An ICO is a tool used to raise capital without giving up equity. According to TechCrunch:
“An ICO is a fundraising tool that trades future cryptocoins in exchange for cryptocurrencies of immediate, liquid value. You give the ICO bitcoin or ethereum, and you get some of Billy’s New Super Great Coin or the infamous CrunchCoin.”
The liquid coin can be sold to hire developers and sales and marketing people, and later on the investors get the new coin back.
The idea is that the freshly-minted cryptocoins, which can be a new currency or in some way tied/used to the product at a later date for incredible value.
And what is this new craze built on? Blockchain technology.
We can already sign many different types of documents using tools such as hellosign and Docusign. But that is still fundamentally a digital scan of a paper process.
With blockchain, contracts could be created, validated, and verified completely online without the need to store or maintain a centralized database or paper “original.” Reasonable applications to expect include public-facing ownership documents like deeds, IP registrations, or birth/death certificates.
What it means for you
If you’re raising capital, an ICO is worth considering. The sheer amount you can raise gives it a seat at the table
… But move fast. Regulation may be coming in the next year.
Find out if you can incorporate blockchain technology into your existing service offering
Keep an eye out for new companies who provide blockchain services for a fraction of their paper-based counterparts.
4. Stop selling products, start selling services
The last item to check off your 2018 digital checklist is a big one: stop selling products, start selling services.
We’re expecting to see a tremendous expansion of services, as the same logic that drove the adoption of software-as-a-service moves into non-software products.
First, for many products, consumers don’t want the thing, they want the benefit. For instance, you might not want the car, you want to get to where you’re going quickly and efficiently.
Second, revenue benefits like recurring revenue, reduced costs, sticky customers, and the ability to re-invest in products makes product-as-a-service a very tempting carrot.
For instance, imagine if Ford could switch to product-as-a-service. Suddenly, they don’t need to invest in dealerships for distribution. Rather, they can focus on landing one customer for a relatively small cost, and keeping them forever.
For consumers, they can vote with their wallets to drive product innovation, preventative maintenance, and other benefits, as well as only paying for the service when they need it.
As 2018 unfolds, we expect product-as-a-service to become a more common option for traditionally ownership-based products.
What it means for you
If you offer services, try and look for ways to productitize them (and thus scale) your business, leveraging technology platforms to increase efficiencies.
If you make products, explore viable product-as-a-service options that you could deploy.
2017 was fun, but 2018 is looking even better. In the past, we’ve had creeping technological innovation. But 2018 is shaping up to be a revolutionary year.
Staying ahead will involve a lot of specialization, vendor vetting, and of course, internal policking to get the right solution in place at the right time.
But it’ll all be worth it. By the end of the year, we expect to see companies gaining efficiencies in offering their services and more to customers. We expect to see industry incumbents pressured in ways they haven’t been since the dot.com bubble, leading to a general improvement in goods and services available.
2018 brings with it a lot of opportunity – we hope these insights will help you take advantage of it. We don’t know about you, but we’re excited.