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5 Industries That Have Gone All In On Emerging Tech

This article is part of CMO.com’s Industry Spotlight 2019 collection. Click here for more.

Digital technology is advancing at breakneck speed—and it’s putting pressure on businesses to produce new apps, tools, and technologies as they seek to compete in the digital economy. Not surprisingly, emerging technologies are at the center of this revolution. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and the Internet of Things (IoT) are unleashing enormous changes. Ditto for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), chatbots, image and voice recognition, advanced GPS, and analytics.

Although it’s impossible to predict exactly how everything will shake out, it’s entirely clear that emerging technologies are shaping the future of marketing, customer experience, sales, and operations. Here we explore how they are impacting five key industries—retail, travel and hospitality, healthcare, financial services, and media and entertainment—where some of the biggest opportunities exist, with brands that are in the thick of it all.

Retail
A growing array of smartphone apps and specialized devices are allowing consumers to preview items before buying them. IKEA essentially pioneered the idea of augmented reality in retail in 2017 when it allowed consumers to view more than 2,000 pieces of furniture overlaid and positioned within a live image of a physical space.

Since then, the concept has taken off. For example, L’Oreal’s cosmetic app scans a person’s face and displays eyelashes, lipsticks, and other items. When clothing line Lacoste developed an AR app that previews shoes, more than 30,000 people put it to use. A growing array of retailers are also transforming 2D imagery into 3D so that consumers can see products in a more realistic way.

In addition, magic mirrors, or smart mirrors that superimpose an article of clothing over a person’s body, are making headway. Timberland, for example, offers in-store virtual fitting rooms in which shoppers can use gestures to preview what jackets, pants, and other gear look like on an 80-inch screen. Over the next few years, these mirrors also could interact with wearables and smart apparel, notes Al Sambar, managing director at Accenture Strategy.

“These [technologies] will be tremendously important in the future,” he told CMO.com. “Retailers need to build integration to search results and, where AR is appropriate, to help make search results more useful.”  

Another retail advancement: smart shelves. In 2018, Kroger announced it would roll out a platform, Kroger EDGE, that uses the IoT, Bluetooth, cloud-based signage, and other technologies to create a highly interactive experience that works with consumers’ shopping lists and devices to stream information about products. It completely replaces paper with pixels, thus saving the retailer money and delivering benefits for shoppers.

Retailers are also turning to facial recognition technology, which taps AI and ML, to detect the moods of shoppers and deliver appropriate promotions and messaging. For instance, 7-Eleven is using facial recognition for behavioral analysis at 11,000 stores in Thailand.

Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy, said applications for facial recognition, a subset of video analytics, are “exploding.” They include stock and asset management, consumer engagement, visual merchandising, labor standards and management, loss prevention, self-checkout, omnichannel testing, and attribution.

Travel And Hospitality
Digital technology is radically changing the way people travel and their expectations at airports, resorts, and hotels. Smartphone apps that tie into the IoT let travelers track their luggage, check into hotels, use virtual keys through their smartphone, and navigate resorts.

“The IoT offers new and exciting access points for interaction and communication, not just on devices, but anywhere a device is,” explained Miguel Flecha, managing director and Accenture’s travel and hospitality practice lead in Europe.

GPS and analytics technologies, often combined with AI and ML, also introduce innovation. For instance, JW Marriott Indianapolis uses a sophisticated location-based system to mine social media posts and deliver surprise-and-delight experiences. This allows the facility to serve up targeted promotions, gifts, and responses, and offer guests specialized dining or poolside experiences based on their interests.

Digital wallets are also coming into play. They’re enabling payments as well as holding electronic tickets, boarding passes, and tour tickets. In Portland, Oregon, for instance, individuals using the light rail and streetcars can purchase a ticket or use their monthly passes by simply waving their smartwatches or phones over a payment terminal. A Hop Fastpass app tracks activity and automatically applies the best fare.

Jonathan Kletzel, partner leading the U.S. travel and transportation practice at PwC, said these systems offer speed and efficiency gains for everyone. “Digital wallets are making and will [continue to] make a difference on surface transportation, trains, buses, and other systems,” he told CMO.com.

Meanwhile, VR allows prospective travelers to experience what a city, cruise ship, or resort is like before they book. Already, Lufthansa offers 360-degree immersive experiences for Beijing, Hong Kong, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Tokyo for the Google Cardboard viewer, while Carnival Cruise Line has used VR to showcase its ships, including staterooms, decks, and entertainment, using Samsung headsets. Renaissance Hotels offers VR tours of its properties through an Android app.

“The ability to inspire travelers and enable them to experience a destination before traveling or deliver a hyper-personalized commercial offer is a game-changer,” Flecha said.  

Added Kletzel: “AR/VR will be used heavily for destination marketing to get people excited about destinations.”

Healthcare
Healthcare and medicine are advancing at a furious rate. Robotics has gone mainstream. AR and mixed reality are now part of training and education. IoT tracking is used for assets, surgical equipment, and patients, including those undergoing a procedure. In addition, healthcare organizations are now eyeing blockchain to manage medical records and health data.

Fitness trackers, smartwatches, and connected medical devices are helping people exercise more effectively, eat better, and sleep better. But they also are introducing remote monitoring as well as remote diagnosis and triage capabilities. Improvements in telemedicine promise to drive out costs and improve everything from diagnosis to quality of life.

“Digital health innovation is now moving beyond wellness and fitness devices into digital therapies,” said Gurpreet Singh, health services leader at PwC. “Digital therapeutics and connected health services help patients make behavioral changes, give providers real-time therapeutic insights, and give insurers and employers new tools to more effectively manage beneficiaries’ health.”

Virtual assistants, aka chatbots, are also making their mark. Premera Blue Cross, a healthcare provider in the Pacific Northwest, has developed healthbots that aid members in finding information about plans, policies, claims, and coverage. One app works on Android phones, the other on Facebook Messenger. Both use natural language technology, driven by AI, to streamline and simplify otherwise tedious and time-consuming processes.

Data- and analytics-driven insights gleaned through ML and AI are also driving changes. These tools deliver visibility into patterns and trends that were once invisible. For instance, more than 419,000 Apple Watch users signed up for the Apple Heart Study, conducted by Stanford Medicine. Meanwhile, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Health is using AI to classify essential views from heart ultrasound tests faster and more accurately than humans.

“AI is gaining momentum and has the potential to significantly disrupt the industry when large amounts of data can be mined to help with clinical decision support and even business processes,” Singh told CMO.com.

Financial Services
Banks and financial services firms are reinventing themselves to accommodate an increasingly digital world—and tech-savvy customers. AI is now widely used for credit decisions, fraud detection, and cybersecurity. What’s more, wearables, the IoT, biometrics, virtual assistants, and digital currencies are changing the financial landscape.

One of the biggest trends is the widespread adoption of virtual payment systems. Digital wallets, such as Apple Pay and Android Pay, along with peer-to-peer payment systems, such as Zelle, Paypal, Venmo, Square Cash, and Apple Cash, are driving changes in behavior. This includes how consumers use and interact with money.

The concept is expanding. For example, Honda Motor Corp. has introduced Honda Dream Drive, which enables in-vehicle payments through the vehicle’s onboard infotainment display. It will work at gas stations, smart parking lots, and drive-through restaurants.

Meanwhile, banks are rolling out chatbots to streamline tasks, such as inquiries about credit card balances, or to field basic questions about products or services. Bank of America’s Erica, for example, sends notifications and alerts to customers, monitors balances, tracks a user’s FICO score, provides credit report updates, pays bills, and helps with other transactions. Some banks are also introducing Siri voice-banking support.

Banks are also using smartwatch and smartphone biometric authentication to enable ATM transactions. This eliminates the need for physical cards. Chase introduced smartphone-enabled ATMs in 2016. Blockchain is also gaining traction. For instance, JP Morgan has used blockchain technology to exchange information with other banks and manage instantaneous payment transfers between institutional accounts. HSBC has begun handling trade finance transactions using blockchain. This eliminates documents, time, and expenses associated with complex trade transactions.

Media & Entertainment
AR and VR have already entered the picture in media and entertainment. A growing number of news outlets have introduced intriguing AR features. One of the best examples appeared in the 2018 article “Augmented Reality: David Bowie in Three Dimensions,” which appeared in the digital versions of The New York Times. It showcased the singer’s costumes in 3D. While the website offers a simpler AR view, an iPhone, iPad, or Android phone produces a more immersive experience, including the ability to view an outfit in, say, a living room and walk around it. Meanwhile, BBC, ABC, CNN, and others now offer news reports in VR.

VR and AR are also filtering into entertainment platforms. The Void, a VR arcade, lets guests strap on a vest, gloves, and head-mounted display (HMD), step into a holodeck—an environment that blends physical and virtual reality—and experience a Star Wars battle. They can feel heat and vibrations, smell damp air and smoke, hear the sounds of battle, and more. In addition, AR and VR games for smartphones and VR platforms, such as Oculus and Samsung, are moving into the mainstream.

Another burgeoning trend is e-sports. These multiplayer video-game competitions are filling arenas and gaining television exposure. Consider: The Overwatch games sold out Barclays Center in New York City and appeared on ESPN. A Deloitte 2018 report estimated that e-sports will have 600 million fans by 2020, with annual revenues of approximately $1.5 billion.

Finally, smart speakers and voice assistants are rewiring the way people view and listen to shows, music, and more. These systems, which connect to media players and cloud services via the IoT, are introducing new opportunities for content. In its report, Deloitte also noted that “voice-assisted speakers could also provide intriguing platforms for highly targeted advertising and content delivery, with messages informed by a user’s specific actions and interests.” 

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