Interviews

The 2018 business trends… data is a key theme

6 min read

15 January 2018

We look at the most likely business trends of 2018. There are many buzzwords and new technologies to consider, but the overwhelming theme is data, the gathering of data and the protection of any data you hold and process. 

Companies want to understand customers, improve service, develop products and sell more products to current and prospective customers. It’s no surprise then that the business trends for 2018 focus on the technologies that allow for the collection and processing of data.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

In September 2016, the ICO reported that six in ten IoT devices did not tell customers how their personal data would be used. This included health watches, electricity monitors and internet connected thermostats.

An IHS survey estimates there are over 25m connected “things” or devices world-wide. So the IoT is already all around us, perhaps most commonly known as a heating app solution for the home, gathering data on gas and electricity usage while allowing users to control temperature and plug sockets remotely.

These applications are far-reaching. In the agricultural sector, there are solutions that offer sensor data, monitoring moisture levels in soil, weather and crop conditions. In the medical and lifestyle sector, sensors are being fitted to prescription bottles, collecting patient data on medication regimens. There are also Smart Cities, with Barcelona being the first to embrace IoT by monitoring and collecting data on traffic and connected cars.

IoT is expected to gather momentum as businesses look for innovative ways to offer connected devices that are useful to the consumer, but allow the business to gather data. This will enable businesses to use the insight provided by the data to understand customer behaviour in more detail. It will impact every industry by transforming the way businesses operate across the board.

It is predicted that the use of “things” will grow to 125bn by 2030. However, as the use of connected devices grows, so does the need to be compliant with data protection regulations. IoT device and app manufacturers need to audit current approaches to data, identify areas of non-compliance and put in place plans to address the gaps.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Among the business trends for 2018 are automation and AI. Some of their hype will disappear as businesses gain a greater understanding of machine-based learning and the benefits it can offer. In the IT space, many speculate that AI will be used to perform repetitive tasks and process large amounts of data where human interaction is not needed.

That’s not to say there won’t be any commentary on robots taking over our jobs and the world, but there will be more evidence and practical applications for AI. Robots may feature more and more, not just in manufacturing and industry but in the healthcare sector – even in the home. The launch of care and companion robots is expected to be a reality in 2018.

As with the IoT, AI relies on large amounts of data in order to be useful. The algorithms used in machine-based learning take data to “learn”, solve problems and perform tasks. It is therefore important that not only the manufacturers and programmers are aware of and compliant with GDPR, but any third party suppliers who are involved with processing or have access to the data.

Drones

There has been significant media attention on the use of drones for delivery services. In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority allowed Amazon to test its Prime Air delivery service in 2016. The first test saw a customer’s order delivered in 13 minutes from click to door. If a drone delivery option goes mainstream, it is likely to set new expectations.

The law on drones falls into several categories, one of which is data. For example, the drone needs data in order to deliver the product to the correct location, not just an address but a series of coordinates. If a drone has a camera, businesses also need to be aware of data protection and privacy laws – an individual’s house, car number plate, or personal image are classed as personal data.

Also, business trends involving drones for commercial applications will grow to meet consumer demand. Trials in Iceland have seen not only parcels being delivered to customers via drone but also food and takeaway orders to remote areas.

A project in Dubai will soon see the launch of drones designed to carry people. The drones are designed to carry one person at a time – the only controls are for the person to set the destination. This has the potential for needing to regulate the processing of personal data, payment data and special categories of data.

The common theme across all of these business trends is data. Each new technology or approach collects, processes and stores data, some personal data from the delivery addresses used by drones, to special categories of data on patients gathered in the course of monitoring medication. It’s clear there are significant benefits for using this data. But businesses need to ensure compliance with the GDPR or face fines.

Christine Jackson is a commercial lawyer with Midlands law firm Wright Hassall