Gartner's Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2019 is a list of new applications enabled by advances in raw computing power. Besides IT, they also drive innovation in engineering, design and medical research, to name a few areas.
For businesses, voice interaction, AI-powered services, data privacy and the ongoing shift to mobile should be key drivers in 2019. Read on to see how they might impact your business and to benefit from their use.
A year ago, GM announced its self-driving cars would operate transportation services in some US cities in 2019. Autonomous delivery programs are already disrupting local grocery and restaurant deliveries in several US cities. GM isn't alone. Ford and Toyota are in the game too.
Self-driving cars became more of a reality in 2019, at least on American streets. Last year, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) came out in support of fully autonomous vehicles. It outlined its vision of the US as a global leader in a 2018 report. Despite all the excitement, Consumer Reports takes a more cautious approach to the idea of the technology.
Google's self-driving cars had logged five million miles as of February 2018. And late in 2018, Uber got the green light to continue its autonomous testing program. Toronto is the only Uber test city, but the company isn't testing autonomous driving in Canada, and two people sit in the front seats, ready to take control of the vehicle.
Will all this matter if you operate a delivery company or a restaurant that dispatches orders with drivers? Not yet, although some Canadian businesses are secretly using Tesla vehicles to simulate driverless delivery. Here's an interesting question for Canadians: would the CRA allow a business mileage deduction if the taxpayer wasn't driving the car?
Major tech platforms (ecosystems) and e-commerce giants each have their own AI-powered voice assistants and devices, and they're getting smarter:
Voice recognition accuracy should continue to improve in 2019 thanks to advances in natural language processing (NLP). Deloitte Consulting explains in its Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2019 that Google's English speech recognition error rate fell to 4.9 percent in 2017, which is similar to what humans experience. Google is using AI and NLP to further lower the error rate.
Voice assistants understand human speech accurately, answer questions, provide information and execute commands on smartphones and computers.
Tech blogger Conner Forrest lists a few of the many ways voice assistants can change how you work in your office. These include converting voice to text for written communications and tasks and even participating in meetings and research projects. If you have a newer Samsung smartphone, you can also use Bixby, its voice assistant.
The number of people using voice assistants for advanced tasks on smartphones and smart speakers is still relatively small. But if you run a small business or are self-employed, any productivity boost can help.
A smartphone is a logical place for a voice assistant to call home. You carry your phone around wherever you go, it's always connected and can do so many things. Google's voice assistant can write an email and send it using your voice commands. It can also set up an appointment or a reminder, record your grocery list, call someone for you or send a text message. Check out this list of 35 Best Google Assistant Skills 2019 by Tom's Guide.
Businesses that adopt trends early have a first-mover advantage. In 2019, three technologies will be drivers of change for businesses:
D/SRUPTION's Laura Cox and Sarah Finch describe the voice economy as "an entirely new ecosystem of marketing, branding and consumer engagement with the voice." Natural language voice interaction is an easy way for people to learn about products and services.
Voice searches could become as common as typed searches by 2020, according to Chris Sherman, founder of Search Engine Land. He suggests businesses aren't prepared for the change. But taking a few steps to optimize content for voice search now will put you ahead of the curve.
How far has the tech come? In a 2018 demo, Google's next-generation Duplex assistant called and conversed with humans, without them ever realizing they were talking to a machine.
Apple, Android, Samsung, Paypal, Alipay, Square. There's a huge battle underway to capture a slice of the gigantic payment processing pie. Visa and MasterCard are the incumbents. Paypal is the king of online transactions. Mobile phone and smart watch makers like Google, Apple and Samsung dominate the growing phone and watch tap-and-pay market.
All a business needs to accept card and device payments is a tap-and-pay reader with a credit card slot. Square's debit, credit and contactless device reader handle all types of payments, using your smartphone as a terminal. One day soon, we may no longer need wallets. Wave a smart watch over the payment pad and pay. And if your business takes tap-and-pay credit card payments, that means you're already set up for phones and other devices.
The cost of cybersecurity breaches is staggering. Some estimates peg the annual costs in the trillions of dollars. If hackers can break into global corporations and governments, imagine what harm they can do to small businesses. And that's exactly what's happening.
According to Verizon's 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report, small businesses should "ignore the stereotype of sophisticated cybercriminals targeting billion-dollar businesses. Most attacks are opportunistic and target not the wealthy or famous, but the unprepared." Their data shows that cyber attacks on small businesses have grown to represent 75% of all attacks. An alarming statistic.
The newly established Canadian Centre for Cyber Security offers resources and training for businesses. The federal government also offers the Get Cyber Safe Guide for Small and Medium Businesses. There are plenty of tips and help online too, such as profitableventure.com's 50 Best Cyber Security Tips for Small Businesses in 2019.
Businesses can adopt trends early or take a wait-and-see approach, and in both cases, technology can have an impact.
New marketing opportunities with AI can deepen and personalize customer relationships. But do you have the staff you need to create a plan and implement it? And what about the costs of using augmented reality to create richer shopping experiences? You'll need the skills to create new content and apply best practices to make your products and services searchable by voice.
You'll want to know what the payback period is, and what can go wrong. And what might happen if you don't do anything? Will you lose customers or experience outages if your technology is outdated or incompatible?
Personal data and privacy are hot topics in 2019. If you run a small business and have customer data, you need to know where it's stored and whether you're protecting it properly. Data breaches can put you out of business. See the section above on Cybersecurity.
Marketing has changed dramatically with the widescale use of social media. A lot of marketing has shifted from company websites to social media and YouTube. Sharing, commenting and reviews are the new normal for small businesses. This is especially true when they serve a local clientele.
Your reputation might be at risk without your knowledge. It doesn't matter that you're known in your community as the "jovial furnace guy" who's been making customers happy for years. If you operate a business, Google probably has a page for it. It comes with reviews, your address and phone number, and pictures from your website or customer shots.
And since most people use Google for local searches, Google reviews can help or hurt you. On social media or anywhere else online, someone can post fake reviews to hurt you, or just be unfair. You might be wondering where the bad reviews are coming from. And it really doesn't matter. They could be down the street or located in another country.
Digital Marketing Specialist Betsy McLeod explains in her 6 common sense steps to dealing with bad or fake reviews, that "regardless of the type of negative review you got, respond quickly. Prompt action shows prospects that you're committed to customer service."
Social responsibility is a trend and businesses are stepping up to the plate. Not just to make themselves look better, but because they care. Climate change is a good example. Businesses have demonstrated to some extent how effective they can be at filling the gap created by government inaction through cooperation, concerted actions, and results.
Social responsibility is for small businesses too. Besides helping local causes, they can help global efforts by reducing waste and energy usage. For example, your small business can consider these 6 Ways Small Businesses Can Fight Climate Change.
Deloitte predicts the workplace will become a major user of voice assistants, as voice interaction with computers becomes easier, more natural, faster and more reliable. Voice assistants at work (like Amazon's Alexa for business) can handle repetitive tasks such as taking notes at conference calls and meetings, setting up calendar appointments and sending meeting invitations and emails.
Service industries are also using the technology. Some hotel chains have smart speakers in their rooms. Guests use them as virtual concierges to get information, order room service or make reservations. Hospitals are replacing call buttons with smart speakers. By doing this, nursing stations can listen to patients' specific needs quickly and efficiently. Voice commands can also perform simple automation tasks like turning on lights or closing blinds.
Fast food outlets use automated voice systems to speed up drive-through order taking. Other use cases include workplaces where typing is impractical, like a lab, a doctor's office or a factory floor. Finally, new and improved voice assistants are powerful accessibility tools. They can help visually impaired people use a smart speaker, a phone or a computer to access the Internet, make calls, send and read messages and use many apps.