From the App Store creating room for thousands of new businesses to the rise of Instagram marketing, the last decade has seen entrepreneurs exploit tech like never before. Countless innovations have been used as springboards for businesses both new and old, so what are the next potential game-changers to look out for?
Meet the chatbots
With 40 per cent of millennials preferring self-service and VC investment in bot start-ups at an all-time high, chatbots are set to take over 2017. "From a business perspective, the use of digital assistants and bots offers three major opportunities to brands and retailers," says Jasper Bell, strategy director at digital marketing, technology and commerce consultancy Amaze.
"They can deliver mass operational efficiencies across customer service and experience management, and the opportunity to support and engage with prospects and customers more frequently.
"Plus, they can collect and make better use of the data from each customer interaction. For example, Domino’s has launched Dom, a Facebook Messenger Bot that is able to take customer orders when it is messaged with the word 'PIZZA' or sent a pizza emoji: expect to see follow-up acts from brands such as Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats in 2017."
Beyond the talking fridge
It’s not just about smart fridges: from data collecting devices to time-saving automation tech, the Internet of Things (IoT) will help businesses to completely transform themselves in 2017, says Nick Black, CEO of mobile app developer Apadmi.
"One of the benefits of IoT is that it can collect a large amount of data on their users, which presents companies with an opportunity to gain valuable insight on their staff and customers. Businesses in the retail sector, for example, can utilise this information to better target their sales efforts to meet customers’ specific buying habits, therefore improving customer satisfaction.
"Another way of harnessing IoT is collecting data on employee working habits to help improve productivity levels. By effectively analysing this insight, businesses will be able to save time, money and resources by improving the quality of services and becoming more efficient. It can also help to fine tune products, and improve marketing efforts so they can gain a competitive advantage over their competitors. Brave business owners that take the plunge and invest in this technology will generate hugely valuable data and useful analytics - which in turn will help them run their company in a much more strategic manner."
Virtual reality always seems to be on the point of breaking through to the mass market: could this be the year that businesses realise its potential? We’re likely to see consumer demand leading to a drop in price, according to James Morris-Manuel, EMEA Sales Director at immersive media technology company Matterport, meaning that businesses will need to create VR content to satisfy their demands.
"In 2016 we saw businesses starting to utilise VR, predominantly in an experiential marketing capacity, only beginning to touch the surface of where the tech can take us," he says. "In the future, we’ll see true business applications including e-commerce, gaming, and experiencing a property in 3D to facilitate its sale.
"As consumer demand increases, VR will become more normalised, increasing efficiency and transparency. It will connect businesses directly to people’s homes, and also allow for the added application of augmented reality (AR), which will change industries such as property, interior design and fashion, as consumers will be truly able to experience before they buy."
Drone delivery systems, self-driving cars and artificial intelligence will all have profound effects on business, says Scott Brothers, vice president of corporate development at video technology company Oncam - but businesses are likely to see far bigger effects, more quickly, from three interconnected technologies: interconnected sensors - the internet of things, big data analytics software, and cloud computing.
"Working in union, these three technologies will unlock vast possibilities for a huge variety of sectors. The explosion in the use of smart sensors will allow us to gather data from the physical world like never before. Sensors that can count bodies, analyse movements and even recognise emotions can have massive implications for businesses aiming to improve the experience of customers or users - the implications in sectors such as education and retail are particularly wide ranging.
"Complex big data analytics programmes will be needed to turn the raw data into useful results fast, to make sense of real life as it unfolds before video technology, and the hardware necessary to process such inputs is cutting edge, and cloud computing will negate the need to have high-powered machinery onsite. As we’ve seen in the consumer world, business tech will become lightweight and portable - unlike on the consumer side, though, that heavy-lifting will still be taking place, only remotely."