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2016 will be year of digital transformation (think wearables, bigger data, the end of apps and the rise of VR)

Amidst the rapid pace of innovation and changing consumer expectations, Accenture’s ninth annual digital trends report, titled Fjord Trends 2016, indicates that design-led thinking is set to transform business, government and society in 2016.

The report says there is a drive towards dynamic ‘living services’ which can respond to user requirements in real time, changing APIs delivering smaller content at ever increasing speeds, and the urge – in some organisations at least – to recruit design-thinking philosophies to promote social change.

We spoke to Michael Buckley, managing director of Accenture Interactive Australia and NZ, about the report, and how the following 10 digital trends are likely to shape the year ahead.  

  1. Wearables and nearables

Vast amounts of data are being generated via responsive devices that can ‘listen’ and respond to our behaviours. Data that was previously kept private no longer is, and that’s providing companies and institutions with the ability to tailor the customer experience far more precisely than ever before.

“We’ve gone through the web age, and the mobile age, and we’re now in the ‘living services’ age,” says Buckley. “Living services technology is that technology that responds to our behaviour and makes living just that little bit easier.”

These new, everyday interactions with smart technology encourage us to share data previously kept private, and offers companies effortless and detailed insight into how we live and consume.

  1. The etiquette of big data

With the surge of opportunity offered by the above listening technology, comes an extraordinary level of responsibility, and the ability for organizations to leverage these vast data sets in an ethical manner is more important than ever. While the collection of personal data is nothing new, in the post-Snowden era the public is aware that businesses and governments are accumulating these massive data sets.

“Certain data is very sensitive,” says Buckley. “In health for example, there’s a very real concern about that data being online. People ask, and rightly so, ‘could it be tampered with?’ Likewise, think about the evolution of online banking. Storing that data in the cloud, that would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but now we’re often comfortable with that. It depends what kind of data it is, but these days, it’s often not something that’s considered an issue by many consumers.”

  1. The B2WE movement (and the rise of employee experience design)

Consumers demand best-in-class service in their private lives and that expectation is being carried into the workplace, with employees demanding tailored experiences and flawless performance from their work tech.

“Look at the way we think about email,” says Buckley. “Unless it’s a brilliant experience, we’re disappointed. It can feel like we’re adding hours to our day. If you know the technology from outside the business, there will always be that expectation there. Consider timesheets – if it takes 15 minutes, that’s too long and businesses are struggling to keep up with this expectation because they’re using legacy software.”

“There’s a reason Google are always voted the best employer. It’s because of that technology.”

The report also predicts that, over the next 10 years, a philosophical ‘tug-of-war’ between four generational mind-sets will become a reality. On one side, Gen X and baby boomers adhere to more traditional forms of career progression. On the other, millennials and Gen Z, who tend to be more transient and idealise jobs where social impact plays a role. These two subsets will shape the future of the companies they work for.

  1. The case of the disappearing apps

The flood of single-use apps in our daily lives is about to disappear as platforms become ‘atomized’ or ‘super distributed’ across platforms and third-party services.

“The days of toggling between apps are numbered,” says the report, “and the next wave may not even require human interaction to activate.”

  1. The flattening of privilege

In the past, highly tailored experiences were reserved for the very wealthy, with costs and scale being the main barrier to entry. With digital technology enabling highly scalable yet personalized experiences however, the luxury service industry has been opened to the masses.

“It used to be that only the richest in society could afford a chauffeur for example,” says Buckley. “Uber has shown us that that doesn’t have to be the case. It’s used to be the same with financial advice. Now a bank can use your data to not only manage your money, but actually manage your wealth. Xero has gone down this road too. Citizens from all walks of life can now take advantage of these sorts of technologies that three years ago were unimaginable.”

  1. Approachable government design

Governments are rethinking the citizen experience from a one-size-fits-all approach to finely-tuned services tailored to individual needs.

“The New Zealand government has been working on developing an integrated delivery model, that is, integrating social into their service platforms, for some time,” says Buckley. “After all, a website, the way governments and businesses traditionally presented themselves, is really just a brochure. Now the challenge facing governments is ‘how do we become more approachable?’ The answer to that question is through design. If you can lead with design thinking you can reimagine products and services in a very different way, and governments around the world, especially New Zealand, are taking this approach.”

  1. Healthy is the new wealthy

In an era of flat incomes, uncertain job prospects and rising healthcare costs, a new set of currencies is being created that may actually be worth real money: health data.  

For example, American insurance firm John Hancock has created an Apple Watch app where customers can record their activities and earn up to a 15 percent discount on their annual premium based on healthy patterns of behavior. Similarly, Cigna released a pilot program in 2014 by giving a wearable-based body monitoring system to thousands of employees.

The results showed that employees at high risk of contracting diabetes have improved their risk profiles since the pilot was launched. “Health is no longer a complex cost managed by a closed set of entrenched players,” says the report. “It is now something we can all keep track of, learn from and reward.”

  1. Virtual reality’s dreams come true

VR will make its mainstream debut in 2016 with the first consumer versions of Sony, Oculus, and Samsung products expected to hit the market. Expect designers to think beyond gaming and put VR to novel use in everything from scientific studies and virtual tourism, to immersive learning.

  1. Taking things off the thinking list

The speed of innovation and the never-ending glut of options we are now exposed to have had an unintended consequence: It is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to make sense of all the ‘noise’.

“An increased demand for decision-making takes a physical, mental and emotional toll, yet we’ve continued to demand more attention, decision-making and interactions from people throughout the day.”

Now retailers will look for ways to ‘take thinking off the list’. Take, for example, Amazon’s Dash Button, and the subscription box craze, offering curated surprises while taking the chore of choice out of the equation. Data is the engine driving the movement.

  1. Design from within

Corporations are investing directly in business incubators and innovation labs, bringing design thinking and problem solving in-house.

“Arguably it’s harder than ever to gain sustainable differentiation from technology and business-focused innovation alone,” says the report. “Culture – as experienced through design-led innovation – may be the best way to claim sustainable territory, because it is so much harder to copy.”

By taking a human-centered approach, these companies are using design as an agent for problem solving across the entire organization; “but it’s an emphasis on design doing that will bring the promise to life”.

The full report can be read here.

Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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