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Blockchain, cryptocurrencies and e-wallets. Wearables such as Google Glass and fitness trackers. Sharing economy platforms. ConstructionTech. Machine learning and artificial intelligence. Bots, smart home devices and self-driving cars. Virtual and augmented reality. Big Data. Internet-connected fridges and other IoT gadgets.

Depending on who you ask, some of these technologies are either ‘hot properties’ or ‘hot air’, while others have yet to reach their full potential.

For our “Let’s Talk…” feature, this week, we asked 20 thought leaders, including startup founders and other entrepreneurs, to identify the technology trends that have their attention in business as well as the trends they consider fads. To paraphrase one commentator, businesses shouldn’t seek to jump on the bandwagon whenever a ‘sexy new technology’ lands; instead, they should embrace the right solutions, based on a deep understanding of their industry and the problem they’re solving.

Read on for further insights from this week’s lineup…

Greg Taylor, Group VP (APAC), New Relic: “The move to the cloud is definitely a technology trend that is here to stay. With digital disruption rife, companies have to move fast and with confidence to survive. They are turning to cloud adoption/migration, spending billions of dollars to migrate infrastructure and applications to public cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services. Organisations are increasingly motivated to invest heavily in the cloud due to the strongly-held belief that it will increase the agility and velocity of their teams to deploy and develop applications, and ultimately lead to greater competitive edge in the market. Driverless cars on the other hand is a fad in my opinion. The idea of autonomous vehicles has been around for decades but it is only in recent years that this prospect has become a reality. However, the technology and resources required to get there are still a fair way away before self-driving cars become mainstream.”

John Heaton, CTO, Moneycatcha: “Organisations and consumers are adopting technology at an ever-increasing pace. Businesses today are technology. Application Programming Interfaces, standardisation and automation of business processes, and the explosion of information means more information will be shared in future than we have created in our entire history. The volume, physical movement and ownership of data will present an ever-increasing problem if we rely on existing technology.

“Cryptocurrency is in the spotlight but needs significant consolidation and maturation before being commercially viable. Blockchain technology, which underpins cryptocurrency, presents a unique opportunity to think about this problem in a different way.  By having secure and immutable information data ownership can be assigned to the correct parties enabling information to be shared in a secure and efficient manner.

“Standard definitions of information and distributed ledgers can enable multiparty business processes nearly instantaneously.  Blockchain technology can exponentially increase speed, accuracy and efficiency of business processes.”

Claire Sawyers, Head of Product, BlueChilli: “At BlueChilli, we’re excited by the potential of blockchain, machine learning, AR and bot technologies. Within our portfolio, we have startups applying these by:

  • using the blockchain to give people back ownership of their data (BronTech)
  • using machine learning to predict places you will love, from where you’ve been (Huntr).
  • using bots to facilitate habit change in peoples working lives (Coworkally)
  • use AR technology to get kids outside exploring again (SciGround)

“In Australia, the bot framework is one of the most versatile but under-utilised new technologies. We only have to look to sheer volume of deal flow via China’s WeChat network to see how far we’re lagging behind in adopting this technology.

“We receive over 1000 pitches a year, so there’s definite themes we observe as entrepreneurs look for ways to apply new technology to old problems. It’s a common trap to think that the sexy new technology IS the solution though. We’ve seen countless businesses fail as they doubled down on building a mobile app at the start of the mobile-first craze, without the business ever warranting a mobile use case. Similarly, AR technology to date has failed to break from proof-of-concept to the everyday, but time will tell as handsets gain power and drop in price. Rather than chasing new technologies for the sake of it, we seek to work with Founders who deeply understand their industry and the problem that needs solving; then help them choose the right tech from the tool shed to get the job.”

Jessica May, CEO, Enabled Employment & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: Automation has always been my thing, and I’m very consciously determined to incorporate more artificial intelligence into the custom-built system we’ve developed. We have some elements of machine learning driving the site already, and I’m looking at future development to automate more of the recruitment process. I’m not sure about fads, it’s always hard to determine which new technology will be around in ten years but at the moment I’m very wary of the cryptocurrency investment boom going on as it is looking a bit like multi-level marketing.”

Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, CEO, BlueChilli: “I’m bullish on blockchain technology. But I’m bearish on “the original” bitcoin currency, BTC.

“A decentralised distributed ledger, with anonymisation and integrity at its core with irrefutable redundancy and security built into the fundamental construct of its operation has many exciting applications. I think we’re only starting to scratch the surface for blockchain technologies as the general business and entrepreneurial community is only recently dreaming exciting ideas on how to use it. Blockchain is no longer confined to the super geeky!

“Voting systems for government, distributed consumption of commodity services (like electricity, telephony, even transportation and logistics) are all enhanced by being public and irrefutable. At BlueChilli we have a number of amazing startups like Brontech and FarmPay which will use blockchain (in these cases, ETH) to add value to the end user in new and exciting ways.

“My enthusiasm, however, does not extend to BTC, the original block chain currency. Originally conceived as a potential replacement for all transactions, a decentralised currency certainly has its appeal. However, I believe the technical limitations in how BTC works, with “proof of work” as the core verification engine will limit the upside. Already, today, we are experiencing long delays in BTC transactions being verified, making the use of it in consumer transactions doubtful. Combined with the fluctuations in value, and the overbearing amount of electrical energy required to support it, I think BTC is overhyped.”

Dan Ross, Managing Director, Optimizely ANZ: “A key trend in today’s tech-fuelled world is digital agility. This requires not only having the correct tech tools but knowing how to capitalise on them to ensure they fall in line with your business vision. For example, it is important to find the technologies that will support your company’s customer experience objectives, rather than the other way around.

“Conversely, a tech fad has emerged around installing blackbox AI tools before basic digital foundations are laid. Ultimately, businesses are still run by humans and as such we are reluctant to cede control of our companies to someone else’s code. For mature digital enterprises, AI will be well-utilised to play targeted roles in accelerating human decision-making and performance, as opposed to exercising complete autonomy. This should come late in a digital transformation, not early.”

Alex Gruszka, COO, StartupAUS: “The ConstructionTech sector is one to watch in 2018. We conservatively estimate that it will contribute at least $134.2 billion to the Australian economy. The acquisition of iconic ConstructionTech brand Aconex to Oracle for US$1.2 billion at the end of last year is a great bellwether for Australian startups in this space, who’ve collectively generated nearly $100 million in VC investment last year across a range of software and hardware innovations. With a corporate climate that is accepting of its digital future, the conditions are ripe for ConstructionTech to take its place among the technological niches for which Australia is famous.”

Alexis Rouch, COO, Medical Media: “The tech trend that’s caught my attention is artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding AI, particularly over the last year, and the term tends to get overused… but it’s a very exciting technology when you consider what it can do and the potential applications in business.

“There’s certainly a stigma associated with AI, including a fear that robots will take over the work industry, but the negative implications have been over-dramatised. With technological advancement, businesses need to get smarter and this involves utilising AI and machine learning. There are benefits in its use, from helping with the operation of the business to providing clients a personalised service.’’

“In my company, Medical Media, AI implementation is a possibility down the track. By helping us work out what types of people would watch our screens, AI would enable us to better personalise our advertising services.

“As for technology fads… virtual and augmented reality have been around for 20 odd years, and I don’t see them picking up steam. Another big fad trend is wearables such as IPhone watches and Google glasses. Any technology you can wear and integrate into your clothing doesn’t seem to be catching on as a trend. There’s all this hype, and it’s just not catching, and I can’t see it taking off, there are niches for it, but that’s as far as it goes.

“Another thing I’ve noticed is that they seem to be designing these wearables for men, but if you think about the demographic that buy into these things, it should be fashionable, and something that women want to wear as well, or it won’t stick.”

Richard Miller, CTO, Prospa: “In business, it seems we just can’t get away from Blockchain. This is fuelled by current cryptocurrency trading mayhem, but it is the underlying technology which is really exciting and has future potential.

“I emphasize the word future because I believe there really is a long way to go before the technology overcomes the many barriers to becoming as mainstream and embedded in everything we do as something like public key infrastructure (PKI). As with PKI, the maths and algorithms underlying Blockchain technology is rock solid and has stood the test of time, however the implementation of that technology is not without its challenges.

“It is the humans that cause the failures, not the technology. All of the secure communications we use every day, such as Internet banking or logging into Gmail rely on PKI and yet there have been many times that the technology has been compromised through poor implementation.

“I believe that Blockchain is still in its infancy and will undergo similar challenges. We still need to figure out as a community and society at large just where the tech makes most sense. Just like self-driving car technology has to overcome legal, social and political challenges, so too will Blockchain.

“At the other end of the spectrum, there are many IoT gadgets that seem to be faddish and not fit for purpose: internet-connected fridges are one of my pet hates. Not everything needs to be connected. A real problem with IoT is that many gadget makers have no understanding of security, and these so-called connected devices introduce hundreds of new unpatched attack vectors into your home and business.”

Dion Oxley, CEO, Quizling, Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “I don’t think VR or AR are fads but I do wonder if they are fad-ish! At the moment their use is really being driven by novelty – which is great and means the technology is getting tested. But it will be interesting to see where the real value is found. The use in education is being explored at the moment. Will seeing Machu Picchu through VR goggles change the way we learn – maybe not. But let’s keep exploring!”

Renece Brewster, CEO, Visual Domain, Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “Automated video and personalisation in video content has definitely got my attention. Tailoring a user’s experience is so valuable to business and each day there are new levels to be reached. Something we are really proud of at Visual Domain.”

Ashik Ahmed, Co-founder & CEO of Deputy: The evolution of home assistants like Alexa, Google Home and now Apple’s new HomePod is something that I’ll be watching carefully over the coming months and years. At present, I would say they’ve launched with only 10% of what their full potential could be. A lot of people would label these smart speakers as a fad right now, but as it continues to improve, the company that wins this race will end up owning their customer at a level that we can only imagine right now. In 10 years’ time, we will be looking back on current home assistant technology with the same nostalgia that we do for the very first iPhone.

“Bitcoin on the other hand, is a tech fad that won’t stand the test of time. It is the PR and noise around bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies for that matter) that is contributing to its inflated value at this point. Without the hype, Bitcoin seems to be an unscalable solution that lacks the support of any major government or commercial tech enterprise. While Bitcoin, Ethereum or any other cryptocurrency will ride the popularity wave for a while, they are all fundamentally flawed in the sense that they cannot be controlled by the government, and so will never become mainstream as long as this is the case.

SuperEd, Chief Customer Officer, James Coyle: “The rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, data gathering capabilities (including open banking) and virtual reality will give us the opportunity to deliver highly personalised advice experiences that will respond not only to what people say and do but also to other cues such as an individual’s tone of voice and gestures. Machines can look at all the different behavioural signals in each interaction and respond intuitively to have a true conversation with someone in real-time and I find that really exciting, because the ability to help people in any environment they want is incredibly promising. This will enable consumers to hold “real” conversations with their digital adviser and engage with that adviser in whatever means best suits them – voice, video, virtual and augmented reality.  Essentially, we are on the cusp of being able to combine the EQ of a person with the IQ of a supercomputer.

“When it comes to fads, one area where I would urge a little caution is the very trend I am excited about. The view that technology can ultimately replace human interactions is flawed, because there will always be a place for face-to-face human interactions. Despite the promise and potential afforded by rapid advances in technology, it’s easy to overlook the fact that people are social beings and, while I believe the true virtual adviser is imminent, it will not replace the need that some people will continue to have for a human interaction with their adviser.  The virtual adviser will meet all the financial advice needs of some people but only some of the needs of others.”

Neil Smoli, Founder, Invex: “One of the key technologies that we at Invex have been exploring more deeply is AI. Through our platform, we’ve been observing the application of AI as our platform pairs property developers to relevant agents based on parameters supplied by both parties. The results have been incredible; the software is distinctly targeted and streamlines the entire process. As the AI program runs, the more it learns about ideal matches and understands which user parameters pair together most effectively, meaning our platform is literally improving itself. This technology is powerful and here to stay, as anything that delivers timely insights and adds value to an offering always will.

“I think that a lot of recent technology fads have actually been innovative developments but haven’t been launched at the right time or haven’t quite got their formula right. For example, the watch wearables and similar tech will no doubt have a paramount impact in the decade to come. I’m just not convinced at this stage they have reached a level where their best use has been realised and they can integrate into society as it is. One of the greatest things about my role is that I get to meet with some of the world’s pioneering tech visionaries, one of which is working on a wearable human brain/computer interface. When this technology reaches a stage where it is applicable it will be a far more powerful technology than the wearables we’re seeing emerge today and the uptake will reflect that.”

Michael Jankie, CEO, PoweredLocal: “I think that the uptake of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) will be a running trend for a long time. With the time and cost of raising capital through traditional private equity, venture capital firms or Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), more and more startups will turn to ICOs to raise capital with far greater reach, ease and speed. A total of $1.7b was raised in the first three quarters of last year, including Aussie startups Power Ledger ($34m raised) and fintech HCash ($53m raised) and that will grow substantially in 2018. We’ll see traditional investors move over more and more into crypto assets in-order to be able to participate.

“As for a fad, let’s talk about “big data”. The dust generated by all the hype surrounding big data is settling and companies have realised that capturing and housing huge sets of data is virtually useless. Companies who spent millions collecting and storing data are now realising that without having this data in a usable format, without a use case, and without knowing what they’re looking at – there’s actually no value at all. Taking advantage of companies’ “big data paralysis” have come startups, like Fulcrum, who are helping institutions with a use-case led approach that helps identify which data to capture that will deliver real returns.”

Shane Baker, CEO, TAS: “We’re interested in how banks will leverage tech to appeal to the growing demands of millennials in the years to come. As technology natives, millennials want to engage with banks better, easier, quicker – and banks want much the same from these customers. From better customer support via chat bots, to emerging Fintechs disrupting traditional systems with new banking platforms, and innovative money-handling apps –  tech in finance presents big banks a wealth of opportunity. Millennials will continue to demand forward-thinking technologies in their everyday life, and this definitely includes what happens with their money.

“As for fads, I think there will be a gradual fade-out of the need for payment wearables to be ‘fashionable’. Rather, as technology advances at a rapid rate, these trending tech devices will focus more solely on technology, not appearance. Fashion is cyclical, but technology is a continuum, where, like we saw with the classic iPod ads, technology itself becomes the fashion. Look out for technologically advanced wearables getting bigger and better – possibly totally replacing the common watch and other more traditional analogue items – no matter what they look like.”

Michael Fyson, Regional Director, Stratus: “In Australia, around 70% of the adult population now owns an NFC (Near Field Communication)-based credit or debit card – and we will see that percentage of adopters rising quickly over the next decade. The payment card industry has traditionally been focused on higher-value purchases. At an operational level, card issuers have long struggled to address convenience spending and lower-value payments (such as buying a newspaper or a coffee at the corner store) due to the lower revenues these transactions generate relative to costs.

With upgrades to support contactless payments technology happening across most developed markets over the last decade, it will only be a matter of time before e-wallets become more frequently used than a real wallet, and that industry players will need to ready to accept the technology of such micropayments through NFC-enabled items such as cards and wearables. On that same vein, wearables as we know them will see more integrated functionality as technology allows for smaller, more powerful processors to provide a wide range of capabilities. The fad of single-tech items, such as fitness trackers, will be surpassed with smarter, multi-tech options as consumers gravitate towards more functional pieces with speedier output.”

Dean McEvoy, Co-Founder & CEO, TechSydney: “Corporations will become a set of APIs, and the corporations that make their API’s the most open will win… What does that mean? Let’s break down all the processes and functions that a brand, say a bank, does for you today. For some it may just be a home loan they provide, well within that home loan there is a bunch of stuff they do – they source the capital to lend to you, they take an application, they assess it, they securely wire the cash to pay for a verified asset and take security over that asset, they allow you to pay your home loan via direct debit, they give you flexibility to pay more or less, they provide reports and feedback and then handle all the exceptions. The companies that break that home loan into individual bits or functions and allow others access to use those bits of the value chain will win. No individual company can win today by harnessing the collective power and intelligence of many.”

Kelvin Kirk, Managing Director, Pureprofile: “The rise of the Personal Information Economy. Everyday Australians will monetise their personal profiles and personal data. Today’s consumer is increasingly savvy about their data and its worth to brands, and many are understanding the monetisation potential of their data. This is called the Personal Information Economy, where the consumer is responding against personal data collection from companies. In Europe, this is already an advanced market reality which we expect to see mature in the APAC market in the next few years. Helping consumers to take back control of their personal profiles is a way that brands can create trust and improve their CX by understanding what the customer wants from them.”

Chris King, Founder, Splend:The Gig Economy will expand and create new opportunities for the underemployed. If you thought about the sharing economy as mainly Uber & Airbnb, think again – it’s diversifying at pace and creating a lot of new jobs for professionals and part-time workers.  Over two thirds (68%) of Australians are said to now spend and earn money through the sharing economy, according to new research from RateSetter. Uber drivers are now using their vehicles to make money offering a range of sharing economy services such as courier and delivery services and even home care solutions. Splend is an established Australian startup which equips Uber drivers and others with vehicles which allow them to generate an income using the vehicle.  This is an example of how brands like Uber are a ‘feeder’ for the broader sharing economy. 2018 will see the proliferation of the trend towards sharing economy gigs creating jobs for the underemployed and part-time workers, or those with a side-hustle.”

About “Let’s Talk…”

“Let’s Talk…” is an exciting weekly initiative that provides entrepreneurs and industry experts with a forum to share rapid-fire views on a range of issues that matter to start-ups and SMEs. Every Wednesday, we pose a themed question to a line-up of knowledgeable industry figures, with a view to picking their brains for valuable insights to share with you, our readers.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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