Digital trends: Smarter, easier, and useful in everyday life

Every year, I look forward to the new trend forecasts for digital business. I have been observing them for almost 20 years, often revisiting old ones, and being surprised time and time again by new developments I would not have expected.

Tim Struck

Reading duration: 8 minutes

Digital helpers take over everyday life

I like trends because they are always somehow true. And this is also true of their opposite: Waves of trends also loop back again, and then they create anti-trends. Fast food produces slow food, planned obsolescence strengthens the desire for sustainability … What goes ’round comes ’round.

Digital transformation and globalisation are, of course, continuing to advance in 2018. The good thing is that many of the achievements of digitisation are now used in everyday life. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is not only becoming increasingly mainstream, but now has a powerful tailwind. With planned investments of more than $5 trillion worldwide in the next five years (according to BI Intelligence), the Internet of Things will take a victory lap around the globe, penetrate more and more areas of life, and connect them with networked sensors. Smart cities are number one, closely followed by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the topic of networked health.

  • Traffic lights already react to buses and trains that are nearing intersections, thus speeding up public transport, while sensors in the asphalt provide information on free parking spaces.
  • Digital production facilities have digital twins that inform operators on necessary system maintenance and enable preventive maintenance that hinders costly downtime.
  • Nursing homes equipped with computers, cameras and sensors allow staff to hold digital visits; smartphone apps like ottonova (www.ottonova.de) or Ada Digital Health (www.ada.com) can already replace actual medical visits today in many cases.

AI in the home

The Smart Home is introducing digital assistants that ensure our heating and lights listen to us.

Since the 2017 Christmas sale, everyone knows that Google Home and Alexa can enter our homes via Amazon’s Echo. In addition, more and more speakers from leading manufacturers come with digital assistants.

These digital assistants are now good enough to benefit from the possibilities of artificial intelligence in everyday life – as well as to experience its limitations.

The exciting thing is that these digital assistants are already very user-oriented. One example: When Alexa first entered the German market, she had to be addressed using the command form, i.e. “do this/do that”. Now, the Amazon assistant understands “please” and “thank you” and reacts positively. In addition, Alexa has become a feminist.

However, it is still unknown who will ultimately win the race. Amazon’s Alexa seems to be ahead of the pack in terms of understanding the user and responding naturally, but Google is close behind. Only Apple’s Siri seems a bit slower. But no matter which digital ecosystem you choose, one thing is certain, starting this year, the AIs will move into your cosy home.

There are two other trends  to consider in the IoT environment. More computing power will occur on the periphery, i.e. on-site, because connected devices equipped with sensors are also increasingly powerful. This so-called “edge computing” ensures that data processing can be done locally rather than in the cloud – and very efficiently at that. In short, not everything is moving to the cloud. In many cases, however, the cloud allows long-term control and coordination of on-site devices, which in turn are interconnected by a hub, node, or bridge.

Ambilight was yesterday

What I’m excited about is the entertainment feature for the Philips Hue lamps that the company has announced. Living room lighting is controlled by scripts supplied by a video game, TV series or movie. During explosions, the entire living room flashes, in exciting scenes the light gives off a ghostly flicker, and in quiet sequences a warm glow floods the room. This will definitely save you the cost of buying an Ambilight TV.

Low-code platforms: Programming for non-programmers

Back to networking: More and more services are emerging that make it easy for us to do things ourselves without having to learn a lot. Low-code platforms such as IFTTT (If This Then That) reduce complex issues to simple if-then sequences. And there are even German programming platforms for eighth graders, funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy, that let kids program their Calliope mini board by themselves (calliope.cc).

Digital services are spreading

The more devices and platforms we have, the stronger the market for “X as a service” is becoming. Whether it’s software, platforms, or infrastructures deployed as services, these have all the more potential when they’re easy to use, more mobile, and more accessible. This development is most evident in CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays. Even illegal streaming services are experiencing tough competition from Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Apple TV. Ease of use and instant access remain compelling arguments.

And the things that have fundamentally changed the music market are now beginning to turn the computer games market around: While Sony’s game streaming service PlayStation Now is still hiding in the shadows, Microsoft is set to revolutionise. Upon release, all of the company’s new games will immediately be available on the in-house streaming service Xbox Game Pass – a decision that has led some retailers to boycott purchase of the Xbox because they fear they will no longer be able to sell games.

Ray Sono recommends: Just give it a try
  • You can also try Google Home on your mobile phone. Alexa, too.
  • If you have children and want to teach them how to program, they can learn a lot with Calliope Mini or Lego Mindstorms.
  • Visit a Maker Faire like Make Munich or visit the next Maker Lab.

Customer Experience: Design meets performance

Whether it’s CX, XD, UX, IA or user-centered design: The customer is becoming more and more the measure of all things. This is because good UX has become the standard there’s no getting around. But great design alone is not enough. The performance must also be right. At Ray Sono, we think about services starting from the end point: Who wants to achieve what exactly, and what do we have to do so that someone experiences a real WOW-feeling during use?

Living for the micro-moment …

The (micro-)moment is always what counts: If I need something now, this very instant, I want to be able to access it instantly with one touch – and find, see, and experience exactly what will help me the most. With the smartphone, the whole world is always only one touch away. This claim has entered the marketing world. Brands must live in the moment (“right-now” brands) to fulfil the spontaneous wishes of their customers (“right-now” customers). Amazon with its same-day delivery is exemplary. For brands, this means only those that consistently offer a positive product experience every time – wherever possible – will be able to compete.

Global payment providers gain significance

Services like Spotify and Netflix are increasingly targeting international audiences and positioning themselves as a global players. But great services must also be paid for. That’s why Fintech players such as Adyen (Surinam for “once again from the start”) are establishing themselves as all-in-one payment providers that offer as many different payment options as possible on one platform. Unlike PayPal, which relies on existing payment options, these providers want to offer an independent total solution. In the future, credit cards and PayPal, as global payment providers, are likely to face serious competition from these companies.

Omnichannel goes analogue: Webrooming vs. showrooming

Online shops have long been the big threat to local businesses. Customers often get information at a local store but then buy online (showrooming). But in many cases, exactly the opposite behaviour has prevailed: Customers check online but are then guided to the local store (webrooming). 

The reasons are obvious: Shipping costs are not required on-site, you get your product immediately, and you’re not at the mercy of logistics services such as DHL, DPD, and Hermes. Last but not least, you can touch the product, try it out, and get competent advice.

In short: Omnichannel now includes the analogue world.

Ray Sono recommends:

There is no way to get by personas and customer journeys. Find out what customers really want and need. Only then can you discuss how to get it to them.

Measure, measure, measure. Be data-driven and support your plans with empirical data.

Think beyond the digital. Your customers are real people with real needs in the real world. Create real value, not just beautiful surfaces!

Digital transformation: Measured on human beings

Digital transformation is now heading into the next round. There are still exciting challenges, but it’s clear that new key figures apply. Digital transformation is showing itself to be a strong argument for employer branding. When looking for jobs, millennials and high potentials want to see that companies – just like them – are making an effort to stay on top of the pulse of the times.

At the same time, the number and quality of remote workplaces is increasing. Working life is becoming more flexible, and it is apparent – triggered by agile working methods and the trend toward self-organisation (from swarm organisation all the way to low-hierarchy systems such as the holacracy) – that competent employees usually know best how they work most efficiently. And the better their ability to work at home is, the more they will do this and the better the results will be.

Companies are well advised to consider personnel development when designing digital workplaces or agile project processes. By putting themselves in their employees’ shoes, they ensure that they can do their work well. Because it’s the employees, their attitude, and their performance that’s the actual product behind the employer brand. And that's what counts.

What we expect from products…

Sustainability remains in demand. We want great products, but they must be repairable and usable in the long term – and we must be able to use them in good conscience. In Washington, a bill was submitted requiring that no device with a hard-to-replace or non-replaceable battery could be sold after 2019.

This is just one example of the circular economy. Ideally, we want all raw materials in a product to be returned to the production cycle.

And more responsibility is also required in the digital field. The new EU Data Protection Rule that became law at the end of May, gives all EU citizens the right to know what companies know about them and why it uses their personal data. This poses major challenges for companies, but the right thing is not always the easiest.

New services and products remain welcome, provided they are good team players and behave properly and fairly. This is true for both analogue and digital products. They must offer us useful services while protecting the environment and dealing responsibly with our data.

Because: What goes ’round comes ’round. 

Ray Sono recommends:
  • Put people at the centre of digital transformation. Relieve your employees of the fear and uncertainty that accompanies digital change.
  • Try out new work structures pragmatically – starting with small situations at the project or team level. Use agile formats like retrospectives or design sprints.
  • Deal responsibly with resources and data. Be bold and concentrate on the essential. And then do this really well.

The next step in digitisation is: ‘back to the analogue world.’ Digital services are moving into homes; smartphones, systems, heaters and living room lighting react to my commands. Today’s challenge is making the digital not only tangible, but also plausible.

Tim Struck

You want to learn more about Ray Sono? Get in touch!

You want to learn more about Ray Sono? Get in touch!

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Nancy Forner
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