With 2018 almost here, vendors are wondering where and in what technologies budgets will be spent in the coming months. What once were cutting edge technologies only two years ago are now reaching the mainstream. 

We turned to a number of executives to find out what technologies they thought would shape the coming 12 months. Unsurprisingly, while they named many different types of technologies, one common denominator connected them all — artificial intelligence (AI). 

1. AI Spreads From Customer Experiences to the Workplace

According to Moritz Zimmermann, CTO of SAP Hybris, 2017 was the year companies tapped AI and machine learning to transform the customer experience, making stories from sci-fi a reality through the presence of robots in stores and the use of virtual reality that allowed shoppers to test drive cars, design houses and more.

Next year, organizations will begin applying the lessons learned from these customer-facing AI capabilities into back-end processes, using the technologies to streamline and automate. Those organizations will also explore the power of coupling AI and machine learning with other tools, such as the internet of things, augmented reality and more, to further enhance front- and back-end functions.

2. AI Tackles Big Data

Wilson Raj, global director of customer intelligence for SAS, also sees AI playing a major role in the coming year, necessitated by the growth of data size and diversity of sources. The growth in data has fueled more algorithmic and real-time approaches to addressing various business issues, with customer experience topping the list for most marketers.

The nexus of big data analytics and the various forms of AI, including predictive analytics, machine learning and deep learning should be the catalyst for organizations to exponentially improve customer experience. Raj believes the marriage of data and technology helps to create well-informed and efficient customer interactions that benefit both customers and businesses.

3. The Third Wave of Digital Evolution

Digital transformation may seem like a relatively new buzzword but Brian Byer, VP of Business Development at Blue Fountain Media, said that most companies have already achieved this transformation. Byer argued we are moving into the third wave of the digital evolution. Initially, systems of records (ERP, Web, Y2K) were the primary focus of enterprises. This moved into Systems of Engagement (Content, Ecommerce, Mobile, Marketing).

The third wave is based on systems of intelligence (Cloud, IoT, AI, VR, AR). Chatbots and messaging apps are poised for a rapid expansion in implementation and adoption.

By incorporating AI and integrations with systems of record, a consumer can now interface with a chatbot and, for example, change their phone plan easily without having to wait on hold to speak to a human being who may not have the same instant access to information.

4. Mainstream Cloud

Joe Kinsella is CTO and founder of CloudHealth. He said Cloud 2.0 is finally going mainstream. He defined Cloud 2.0 as platform services, serverless and composable applications, which leverage heterogeneous cloud services that only run when required.

Kinsella sees 2018 as the year we reach the tipping point, where businesses break from three decades of variations of the client-server model that has put persistent servers and operating systems at the foundation of all our applications, and accept cloud 2.0 as the future of application architecture.

5. AI Tames Cloud Complexity

Kinsella added 2018 will be the year where machine learning and AI plays an essential role in managing cloud complexity. In 2018, machine-driven knowledge and automation will start driving monitoring, incident management, cost management and configuration management. The results will be reduced costs, higher security and improved performance.

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2018 will also be the year that AI starts demonstrating returns-on-investment, according to Sven Denecken, head of product management and co-innovation at SAP S/4HANA Cloud.

Citing an IDC report, Denecken said that by 2019 40 percent of digital transformation initiatives will use AI services. In the coming year, businesses will begin truly seeing the benefits in areas like improved customer service due to AI, as it automates more monotonous tasks, enabling employees to spend their time on tasks that create the most value for a business.

7. Voice Assistants: Commonplace in the Workplace

Also according to the IDC, voice-activated digital assistants will become commonplace in the business environment. IDC research found almost 50 percent of new mobile apps use voice as a primary interface. These digital assistants will allow employees to conversationally interact with key applications and data insights.

8. Talking to Our Smart Homes

Tara Kelly, CEO of SPLICE Software said that as people grow increasingly comfortable speaking to their devices, the launch of more affordable devices like Google Home Mini as well as Alexa's scheduled launch in Canada this month will only serve to increase that comfort level. A Stone Temple survey showed 63 percent of respondents are comfortable accessing their personal assistants using “OK Google” or “Hey Siri.” Expect that number to go up.

9. Smartphones Morph Into Smart Home Devices

Kelly also said she expects smartphones to become more like smart home devices, in terms of centralized voice usage instead of using individual apps. Apple’s delayed HomePod will drive smart home device adoption even further, and into affluent households. According to a 2014 ComScore survey, iPhone users' median household incomes were 40 percent higher than Android users, which aligns with the iPhone’s higher price point.

As the HomePod enters the market, we can expect it to mirror the Alexa Skills and Google Actions that home device users have come to expect. Once those users can get information directly and securely through Siri, without needing to log into an app, they’ll expect that functionality on their phones as well.

Kelly also anticipates the use of standalone apps to fall as people get their information directly through their personal assistants. 

10. Next Generation AI

For Michael Goerz, executive director at HackerAgency, AI itself will change. He said signs of that change could already be seen:

  • Next-gen AI: Customers will have very little patience for experiences that are not driven by AI. Everyone is talking about customer experiences and how AI can help. With the level of saturation that exists, consumer's patience is worn thin. Businesses who don't produce excellent, lightning-fast customer experiences will suffer as a result.
  • The trust factor: Some of the biggest digital organizations are facing the harsh realities of the world spotlight. What implication will the data breech at Uber, and the lack of transparency at Facebook have on the marketplace in 2018? Trust is eroded — but not only for those companies. Brands that can be trustworthy, reliable and offer effective technologies will win the day.
  • The regulated social experience: Social marketer and influencers will adjust to the new rules of influencer marketing. Where once Instagram featured relatively few product placement ads, that has irrevocably changed. But with ads needing clear labels, social strategies will need to evolve into the next phase. Part of any influencer strategy is the intangible value of the genuine experience. Now, just as with any other ad channel, execution and brand strategy will be key to overcoming this hurdle.