As we step into the new year, what shifts will we see in digital?

Call them trends if you like, but what follows is a distillation and extrapolation of 6 observations and prevalent themes I expect to emerge in the coming year. This is not an exhibition of the latest technologies or buzzwords to impress your friends with, this is about the real impact I expect to see for consumers and businesses in 2019.

This article represents just one viewpoint. I encourage debate around these topics, particularly if you disagree or think I’ve missed something, I’d love to hear your perspective.

1. Hype hangover

There’s been a lot of noise about new technologies over the last couple of years such as voice services, blockchain and 5G. Yes there will be incremental progress for each of them in 2019 but I don’t believe we will see significant change in the coming year. The hype surrounding such technologies far exceeds the reality we’ll experience.

  • Voice – Ok so we pretty much all have a voice assistant in our homes now, but the oft misquoted prediction that 50% of searches will be voice by 2020 is clearly not going to happen. It’s not going to revolutionise e-commerce either.
  • Blockchain – Everyone’s been trying to think how they can weave blockchain technology into their industry or products in 2018. In reality, very few examples exist where it’s actually going to add value. Even advanced blockchain solutions have shown to yield no evidence of success in a recent study.
  • 5G – It will transform the speed and quality of streaming and generate virtual worlds on the fly with no lag but will we see it in 2019? There are trials and new devices launching that will support 5G but for most of us it’ll be 2020 before we experience it.
  • Autonomous cars – The technology is still experiencing teething problems and Uber still hasn’t fully resumed its testing programme since the fatal accident in March 2018. The legal and safety implications are huge, so don’t expect to see a robot driver in 2019.
  • Augmented Reality – It’s in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ in Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2018. This means we might start to see more credible applications emerge in 2019, now the hype is over.

2. Data is more like blood than oil

“Data requires consent to collect and must be handled with great care. In this way data is more like blood than oil”

2018 was a turning point in how organisations use our data. Not only did GDPR put regulatory controls in place but our trust in how our data is used hit an all time low.

Facebook allowed our data to be deployed by Cambridge Analytica for political targeting; TSB’s bungled IT upgrades exposed personal data to other customers and the Marriott hack revealed details of up to 500m guests.

Data used to be touted as the new oil. Today, such an analogy doesn’t seem appropriate.

Data is something much more personal. It’s something organisations must earn from each of us, not blindly mine like a shared resource to plunder. It requires consent to collect and must be handled with great care. In this way data is more like blood than oil.

As individuals, we have become much more aware of how our data is being used by organisations. In 2019 we’ll exercise greater control over it, choosing how we share it and what we expect in return for doing so. Organisations will be forced to make a clearer case for using our data and will be expected to take greater responsibility of it than in the past.

There will undoubtedly be further breaches in 2019. The consumer backlash and regulatory impact on those organisations will be felt in greater magnitudes.

3. Machines pay their way

Technology has long been seen as a cost to businesses but it’s now starting to pay back.

More organisations are turning to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to reduce or eliminate tedious tasks that would normally consume costly human resource.

Lemonade, the US InsurTech that recently announced it is coming to Europe, uses an ‘Automation Index’ to demonstrate how its use of technology and automation supports scale and efficiencies.

Beyond simply automating tasks, organisations are using cognitive technologies like machine learning, speech recognition and natural language processing to handle higher-order activities.

Algorithms now rival radiologists in screening X-rays for diseases.

Ocado’s automated warehouses pick and pack orders in minutes and around the clock.

These are examples of Artificial Intelligence (AI) but we’re a long way from Artificial General Intelligence where machines are as smart as humans.

Expect to see more applications of machines supporting business operations in 2019, largely enhancing people’s effectiveness rather than replacing them. We certainly won’t be seeing the first AI CEO for some time.

4. Realtime product evolution

We’ve long talked about personalisation – tailoring digital experiences to reflect the explicit and implicit preferences of each individual. We’ve seen examples of how data has been used to improve and personalise physical products too but we’re now entering a different era entirely. We’re starting to see physical products adapt dynamically in realtime to data.

Reebok’s PureMove sports bra adapts to your movements, tightening up when you’re moving fast and relaxing when you’re not.

Puma’s Deep Learning Insoles collect biological information about the wearer to measure fatigue among other factors that can then trigger responses.

These insoles use bacteria and a layer of electronic circuits to detect chemical changes in sweat both in the short-term and long-term

Expect to see more examples of physical products that collect, analyse and act on data to truly realise the power of personalisation.

5. Open for business

Organisations in all industries are seeing the benefit of sharing data and services.

It’s no longer effective to build and maintain entirely bespoke, proprietary technology. Even Microsoft and IBM have admitted this. Open sourcing promotes innovation, enables industries to grow faster and individual organisations to focus on what’s different over what’s the same.

Tesla open sourced its vehicle security software this year – supporting industry-wide safety but also enabling greater improvements to emerge.

In finance, Open Banking – where institutions share access to consented customer data – has given rise to significant product development by both incumbent banks and fintechs.

Barclays now supports ‘8 banks in one app’ as part of its Open Banking implementation.

Expect to see more open initiatives in other industries in 2019 and organisations recognising the benefit of sharing and collaborating, even with competitors.

6. Digital maturation not transformation

Organisations are moving beyond one-off digital transformation programmes to continual, deeper and more effective incorporation of digital.

CEOs are becoming more involved, recognising the enterprise-wide impact of digital.

Roles like Chief Digital Officer (CDO) are less about evangelists selling in digital, more operational leaders making digital scalable and sustainable.

Businesses not maturing digitally will increasingly struggle. Retail is a critical sector in 2019 – it’s not a case of just being online, but continually adapting. ASOS’ recent results give a stark warning to all businesses.

Those at the top can’t rest on their laurels – digital is continuing to change as is consumer behaviour and businesses need to shift too.

2019: the year digital grows up

A boring year for digital? Well it may be more about practical applications of existing tech and business models than exciting new innovations. But that’s where the real value is – less hype, more hope.

As more organisations move from recognising to realising the continuous opportunities of digital, it’s a year where digital grows up, gets a job and becomes a respected mainstay of the boardroom.

Those were my 6 themes for digital in 2019.

What do you think?

Score your organisation’s digital maturity and effectiveness with Rewrite Digital’s 2019 ‘True Digital Index’ – over 40 individual measures updated to reflect the latest advances in digital tech and business models.