2024: Looking A Year Ahead
It’s January. A brand new year beckons, with fresh opportunities awaiting analysis and action by American businesses. As usual, it’s also the time when prognosticators, amateur and professional alike, opine about important trends on the horizon. But instead of covering expected trends in 2023, I’m going to push the goalposts further forward, to 2024. Firstly, it’s a little late to be thinking of how to take full advantage of the opportunities this year: your 2023 planning and action plan should have been completed months ago. Secondly, we at EX Squared specialize in helping our clients make digital transformation decisions today that will help them prosper in the future—emphasizing the long game is in our DNA. So here are the social, technological, and cultural trends and developments that we think will inform and influence the 2024 experience that we begin in just 12 months.
There’s a good chance that the insidious and shape-shifting impact of COVID will continue into 2024. While the pandemic has been declared “over”, and widespread social restriction fatigue has rendered the pandemic over in practice, the effects on employment, travel and the global supply-chain threaten to linger indefinitely. Add in inflation, and the phrase “Long Covid” takes on an ominous, all-encompassing meaning. The virus seems well on its way to achieving ‘endemic’ status, with new mutations likely to continue and the game of vaccine whack-a-mole an annual ritual. The result will be COVID variants that will find hosts but not kill them, and businesses and consumers that will continue to benefit from more digitization and virtualization. The winners will continue to be the companies delivering advances in ecommerce, communication, collaboration and productivity.
To paraphrase Taylor Swift, “we’re never ever going back to the office together.” Not like before.
Three years after the WFM (work from home) acronym entered the public lexicon, the business case for expanding remote work and embracing hybrid versions is obvious. Workplace flexibility will continue post-COVID, because workers will gravitate to organizations that legitimately embrace a work-life balance. Salesforce, a company with hundreds of millions in commercial lease obligations, is one. In Feb. 2021, it announced a permanent WFM structure; “an immersive workspace is no longer limited to a desk in our Towers; the 9-to-5 workday is dead; and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks.” While we’re seeing push-back and reversals to this trend (Twitter being the notorious example), the outrage generated by tentative moves back to the physical office shows the Zeitgeist still moving in the direction of WFM. Expect this battle to drag on, as employees and management struggle to find a happy middle ground. Digital transformation advances will help companies better manage remote work engagement and productivity, making the inevitable more palatable for both parties.
To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Marketers typically imagine improving the customer experience when thinking about digital transformation possibilities. For too long, “customer-facing” has been the bullseye of digital transformation projects. This is definitely changing as companies recognize that digital transformation can and should encompass far more than the customer-facing experience. Expect that companies will begin looking far beyond this narrow interpretation and think of transformation not as something associated with a specific department, but as a vehicle to deliver efficiency, productivity, agility and profitability across all departments.
As we’ve seen with smart speakers, voice recognition has improved massively in recent years. Where it was once a fairly niche technology adopted in legal and medical circles, voice recognition has now become mainstream due to support and investment by Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and others. Does this mean that keyboards will disappear soon? No, but speech will grow as the technology is further refined and consumers become more comfortable and more educated about how to behave with voice-input systems. With “Hey Google” already part of the daily lives of senior citizens, the interaction can only grow.
As remote and flexible work arrangements become more permanent characteristics of the 2020’s economy, expect collaboration technologies to improve. How we function with software and hardware tools will evolve as collaboration becomes more of a foundation of how modern organizations operate than just a necessity driven by remote working.
There is a well-publicized labor shortage in the USA, and while there’s been a little softening, the labor market remains strong with 1.7 job openings per unemployed worker as of December 2022. This delta and the effects of COVID on the dependability of employees to actually work (whether in-person or remotely), illustrate the attraction of automating business operations and processes. Expect to see more startups and established companies launch and market more automation-centric solutions to customers of all sizes.
As we’ve seen in the last two years, employment trends can evolve rapidly from curves to crises. Many of the automation advances referenced above will be seen in robotics and machine vision innovation that will deliver precision and productivity gains across multiple industries such as food processing and medical.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) AND MACHINE LEARNING
These have been staples on “Trends to Know” lists for years and their roles and visibility in modern society and business will only expand in 2023-2024. We’ll see mainstream applications of AI grow as the technology is integrated into more products and services. In most cases, we will have no idea how they are affecting and influencing our user experience. Which, of course, has both positives and negatives. I recently read Mark Manson’s Everything is Fucked: A Story About Hope in which he devotes a lot of words to the AI chess competition in which software programs compete against each other. The takeaway for me was the fact that we view AI through our current perceptions and perhaps don’t spend enough time looking at its benefits and risks from completely different viewpoints.
METAVERSE + VIRTUAL REALITY
We’re in the seminal and early days of Metaverse development as dozens of companies, from Nike, Gucci and Adidas, to Prada and Puma, implement ways to marry the possibilities of VR and augmented reality in virtual environments where transactions are enabled and monetized by blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. It’s highly likely that the vast majority of people had never heard the term “Metaverse” prior to Facebook’s corporate name change in October 2021, but the Metaverse extends well beyond Zoom meetings and video games.
I’m enthusiastic about early visions for the Metaverse, because they align with an important concept here at EX Squared called Digital Anthropology in which we view technology as much more than code: it’s connection, on both modern and human levels. You’ll see fewer feature enhancements to existing technology as tech connects people to what it is to be more human—not less. By the end of 2024, many fewer people will be unaware of the Metaverse; they may choose not to participate in it, but hundreds of millions of marketing dollars will be spent to convince them they should.
Despite the best security technology and firewalls and billions spent, hackers, thieves and digital miscreants continue to breach systems. With more business and personal activity occurring online and larger shares of global wealth created digitally, digital activity will continue to be targeted and new attack vectors created. Which leads, of course, to the never ceasing arrival of IT security startups and new security technologies and systems. We’re definitely going to see the greater application of AI, data mining and machine learning in this category.
Remember when Justin Beiber starred in that 2011 Best Buy Super Bowl ad and wondered what 6G was? Well, we’re almost there. Expect to see 5G become ubiquitous by the end of 2024, as telecom equipment laud it as the next milestone in network efficiency and capacity, while service providers spend billions to convince everyone to upgrade for faster speeds and reduced latency.
With more and more of our professional and private lives occurring across smartphones, email, social media, mobile apps, ecommerce carts, credit card transactions and cloud services, regulators and governments worldwide are going to continue to scrutinize the power that those enormous databases give to giants like Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and others. Legacy antitrust regulations and dusty definitions of monopolistic behavior need updating. The tech giants will fight new regulations perceived as restrictions on the behaviors that created their multi-billion dollar market caps—but I expect we’ll see some young lawyers and idealistic regulators in government willing to rein in the platforms and companies we use every day. Will we see any important action by the close of 2024? Taking on massively funded Goliaths with great lobbying influence is a very long game, so perhaps no.
The number of online business models continues to expand. As everyone knows, the pandemic accelerated adoption of digital technology and participation in the digital economy. Even more ideas and innovators, as well as more people who have seen the pandemic as a pivotal “I want more from life” wake-up moment will embrace entrepreneurship.
While dozens of once-popular brick-and-mortar chains and brands have died an offline death in the last decade, it doesn’t mean that in-store retail is going away. I think it’s more that a clothing retailer perhaps doesn’t need to have 200 stores spread across the US. Perhaps twenty five stores would suffice in major cities and tourist locations so customers could touch and try on the wares. We can see this in the way once-ecom-only brands like Warby-Parker recognized that an in-person option in major markets can be profitable. I think we’ll see more companies follow their example as brands look to entertain, educate, inspire and connect with people in person so they can nudge prospects further down the conversion funnel.
LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD
The final offering (a guess rather than a trend) will be that Daniel Craig’s successor as James Bond won’t be announced until early 2024. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Irish actor Jamie Dornan, who starred in last year’s Belfast, is the new 007. Beyond Bond-dom, I think I speak for everyone when I say with great solemnity that we wish COVID would just be done. If not in 2023, then as early as possible in 2024. Please and thank you. The next 24 months will be stressful and exciting as opportunities are evaluated and priorities juggled.
While our lineup of digital transformation projects with EX Squared clients will keep us busy, we always have more room to collaborate with people with dreams of a better tomorrow. If you’ve got an idea and need a development resource to bring it to life, give us a shout and perhaps your digital dream will be trending by the end of the close of 2024. Or at the very least, adding zeros to your bottom line.