2017: Predictions for the year ahead

Forecasting is strange magic. But still our editorial team gather around their crystal ball...


If 2016 was the business year of digital everything, with marketers looking in wild-eyed panic at Generation Z, and CISO’s flexing some newly acquired R.E.S.P.E.C.T, will 2017 be one beautiful hockey stick? Not according to our editorial team…

This year is all about enjoying the moment, yeah. Stress is so 2016. Now we’re all cloud-based beings with customer-centric business models, we’re going to Heron Pose into a golden, happy 2017. Wait. Stop laughing.

Forecasting is a strange magic, where being correct is as much happenstance as not. And still our editorial team gather around the crystal ball. This is what they see…

Image of GDS Group editorial team
Clockwise L-R: Ben Thompson, Sasha Qadri, Adam Burns, Shawna Ryan, Carla Curtsinger

The biggest business trends for 2017…

Shawna Ryan: Bluetooth beacon use in more big name retailers. They’ve been around since 2003, but they haven’t been adopted (or at least adopted properly) in terms of how customer data can result in profits – and it’s this potential that has beacons blowing up. Back in 2013, half of beacon messages were used just to blanket coupon everyone who walked in the store. Today, customers are more receptive to targeted marketing without the icky feeling of being followed, and marketers are fine tuning the technology for specific messaging to customers lingering in specific parts of the store. A study found that a mobile app using basic push notifications without location data is opened by the recipient only 4-8% of the time. But when using a geofenced message, which sends messages to customers within very defined range, that open rate jumps to 25-30%. Get ready to give in to those impulse buys.

Ben Thompson: The Alexa effect. AI is already entering homes through technologies such as Amazon Echo. How businesses respond to that opportunity – as well as the many challenges it presents – will be fascinating. How does it impact the way brands interact with consumers? Are bots the new apps? And how will this shape brands’ ability to provide more personalised experiences, products and services?

Sasha Qadri: Agreed. AI will become more user friendly and machine learning more widespread. E.g. the creation of Viv (a next-gen AI assistant built by the creators of Apple’s Siri). Viv has the ability to handle so-called “stackability” of inquiries, meaning it can remember conversational context and handle follow-up questions in real time.

I also think this year will see a much greater focus on talent management as businesses become realistic about how important the right skill sets are in their bid to survive or go under in the next five years.

“For practically every business case, Amazon is the point of comparison”

Carla Curtsinger: Millennials will be viewed as innovation leaders who companies seek out, nurture and reward (instead of the folks we complain about at the office).

Adam Burns: I said this last year. Turns out I was a year early. But definitely in 2017… I think marketing tech companies are very close to measuring the customer journey across all media and in-store/branch channels, from interest to research to purchase. It may be a matter of clever combinations of solutions, but there will be working case studies this year.

Who will be the most influential voice in the C-Suite?

Adam: The customer.

Ben: Anyone with responsibility for the customer. According to Gartner, 89% of firms will be competing primarily on customer experience in 2017. And given that expectations around service have never been higher – and that customers have never been more discerning – getting your customer strategy right is critical.

Shawna: I get the sense that it will be the CIO. It’s a role that seems to be wearing the most hats these days. The fact that CIO, for many, more accurately stands for Chief Innovation Officer, is telling. Many CIOs I spoke with say they no longer are tasked with keeping the lights on, but driving the business forward.

Sasha: Instead of a specific role it will be about skill sets. The most influential person will be whoever has the blended skill set of technology/business/marketing and knows how to work with the business and IT together to effect change. It will be an individual who has the skill set to avoid working in siloes.

Carla: Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. At every summit, for practically every business case, Amazon is the point of comparison. And it is yet to fully unveil its IoT play…

Which technology will move from hype to mass adoption?

Carla: Virtual reality. Don’t ask me know how. I think it looks crazy in the TV commercials, and I wouldn’t trust what other people are doing in the room while I’m wearing a visor. But someone smarter than me will figure it out.

Sasha: Voice enabled virtual home assistants. “Your car can be intelligent. Your refrigerator can be intelligent. Your phone can be intelligent,” says Dag Kittlaus, one of the creators of Siri. As a result, there will be no need to find an app, tap to open it and search inside for what you need: “If you need something, you will simply ask for it.”

Ben: They’ve been around for a few years now but I’m looking forward to seeing how drones will transform the customer experience. There are already some great examples out there – enhancing everything from tuna fishing to travelling after dark – and the applications are only going to get more innovative as the technology matures.

“No industry will be untouched by disruption. Those that think they won’t be are kidding themselves”

Shawna: Chatbots are almost there. Speaking to marketing and financial services leaders you get the sense that it’s the way customers, particularly millennials, want to be spoken to. Anonymously. Without Judgement. Quickly. “The phrase that people keep saying is Apps are so yesterday,” says Sasha Strauss, Founder of Innovation Protocol. “People say bots are the new apps.” Folk at our CMO Digital and Financial Services Technology summits, from Bank of America, Prudential Financial and Wells Fargo, all have data that shows millennials are especially attracted to using the chatbots to help them choose a student loan. The bots ask a few simple questions, offer suggestions, and poof, you learned your first lesson of higher education – it’s expensive.

Adam: Not a clue, but whenever I want to sound clever I say ‘blockchain’ like I know what it means.

Which industry is ripe for some Uber-style disruption?

Sasha: Insurance.  It’s overpriced, uncompetitive, not customer friendly and despite being one of the most data rich industries, squander their data and do nothing to enhance the customer experience with it. Lots of data, zero insight.

Carla: Batteries. Especially since the Samsung Note 7 debacle.

Ben: No industry will be untouched by disruption. Those that think they won’t be are kidding themselves. Since it was first published in 1955, 88% of the Fortune 500 has been replaced. History has consistently proven that today’s industry powerhouses are tomorrow’s also-rans.

Shawna: I think the HSE market is on the cusp. I spoke with half a dozen executives in the field who said they are all trying new exciting digital solutions to streamline legacy systems. The EHS Director at Johnson and Johnson, Aaron Duff, says they’re piloting a program with Google glasses, that allows safety and other equipment information to come up in an augmented reality platform when glasses are worn in a factory. Michael Boynack, EHS Director at Xerox, says when it comes to training employees they are looking into how to change the safety culture by having information available at all times on employees’ phones, and apps appears to be the answer. There’s a real barrier to adoption rates from the more mature workforce that is often found in the factory or on manual labor sites, but that is being dissipated.

What are you most looking forward to?

Ben: A return to sanity. Recognition that facts have value. Truth not hype. More love and inclusion, less hate and division. We can but hope…

Shawna: SLEEP! I kid I kid… I am looking forward to revisiting some of the same industry events I’ve already covered. Now that I have so much more knowledge of the issues and the highlights, I want another chance! All those questions I should have asked! All those topics I should have attempted to broach! All those missed opportunities when a subject came up that I didn’t understand well enough to tease out the truly important points. Ugh…put me back in coach. That’s the only sports reference I’ll use in this whole thing I promise.

Carla: Neil Diamond just announced his 50th anniversary concert tour. I can’t decide whether to see him in Chicago or Louisville. Maybe both? 😉