Change inevitably brings about some degree of disruption, be it good or bad. In the case of what is known as digital disruption, I believe that we’re seeing a fundamental shift from how technology disruptions have impacted our lives in the past – a change that results in a more positive outlook on the impact of technology innovation moving forward. This is because people are now in control of technology, not the other way around, and we have the power to shape and apply it to create positive change.

This is what we call “technology for people”, and it’s precisely the focus of the Accenture Technology Vision 2017 report, our annual forecast of technology trends. As part of the report, Accenture conducted a global companion survey of more than 5,400 business and IT executives across 31 countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, to understand their perspectives on the impact of technology on their organizations.

With advances in artificial intelligence (AI), IoT and big data analytics, among others, humans can now design technology that seamlessly anticipates our needs and delivers hyper-personalized experiences, enabling a new era of invention and human amplification that will result in unimagined levels of creativity, ingenuity and productivity. Our report revealed the following five key trends that we believe will have the greatest impact on our enterprise clients over the next three years:

AI is the new UI. Artificial intelligence is taking on a larger role within every technology interface. It’s set to become the enterprise’s digital spokesperson by acting as the face of the digital brand, becoming a key differentiator in interactions with customers. In doing so, it will become a core competency demanding of C-level investment and strategy.

Globally, our survey revealed that 79% agree that AI will revolutionize the way they gain information from and interact with customers. 85% of executives report they will invest extensively in AI-related technologies over the next three years, demonstrating that the vast majority of industry leaders recognize the importance of this innovative technology.

Among AI-related technologies, 37% of UAE businesses expect to invest in machine and deep learning, while 69% of Saudi businesses anticipate that they would be investing extensively in embedded AI solutions in the near future. These findings can be understood to mean that in the coming years, we will see companies harnessing this innovative technology to overcome challenges, small and large, that will allow their business to run smoother and smarter.

A visitor shakes hands with an operational robot policeman at the opening of the 4th Gulf Information Security Expo and Conference (GISEC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 22, 2017.
Image: Reuters

Ecosystem power plays. Leading enterprises across industries are integrating mission-critical activities with digital platforms – resulting in core business functions that heavily rely on third parties and their platforms. As a result, they are designing future value chains that will transform their businesses, products and the market itself.

On the global front, more than half of those we surveyed – 52% to be exact – have witnessed digital ecosystems having a noticeable impact on their respective industry. Regionally, 43% of Saudi businesses, ahead of the 31% global average, understand how critical adopting a platform-based business model is to the success of their business.

These findings reveal that leading companies are thinking outside the box and looking to new platform models to provide a single point to access multiple services. In a world where new technology is constantly breaking ground, companies need to move away from a simple platform strategy and instead consider adopting an ecosystem approach.

Workforce marketplace. With an increase in on-demand labour platforms and online work management solutions, digital leaders are fundamentally changing their workforce structure by dissolving traditional hierarchies and replacing them with open talent marketplaces.

The digital revolution is driving a new era of corporate economic structure according to 43% and 47% of Emirati and Saudi businesses, respectively. In the Saudi market, 58% of respondents expect the use of independent freelance workers to increase by up to 100% in the coming year.

Design for humans. Digital leaders realize that accounting for unique human behavior in the design of machine interfaces expands the quality of the experience and the effectiveness of the technology. When technology works with people, operating at a more human level to understand behaviors and goals and respond appropriately, companies suddenly have access to a level of personalized customer insight never before possible.

The uncharted. In today’s ecosystem-driven digital economy, businesses need to define the rules and standards for entirely new digital industries, seizing leadership roles to establish clear guideposts – including ethical, technology and government mandates. For example, 47% and 40% of Saudi and Emirati businesses, respectively, agree that the innovations they are working on fall into a regulatory grey area where regulations have been unable to keep up with the rapid pace of change.

Leaders increasingly need to think beyond the confines of their product or service and position themselves to help define their industries. This was a top priority in the region with 88% of Saudi businesses and 86% of UAE businesses working to influence government regulations.

Looking to the future

To capitalize on the opportunities these trends offer, organizations must create a human-centric holistic technology approach that works with people and for people. By leveraging these new strategies, models and technologies, I believe that proactive leaders can propel their businesses forward, gaining a competitive advantage in the process.