We now have the benefit of hindsight when we think about the first two phases of the digital evolution. The third phase – which we are currently undergoing – is too close for us to be sure about yet, but we can make some confident predictions.
Phase 1 of the digital evolution (from 1995) was all about information – information that was released to everyone via access to the internet. The winner of this phase was Google, the search engine that became the interface between us and all that information.
Phase 2 (from 2007) was about mobile technology and social media. As, gradually, we all adopted the smartphone and tablet and set up our profiles, the winners of this phase – in the Western world at least – were Apple and Facebook.
Phase 3 is happening now, since 2016, when it became clear that the Artificial Intelligence phase of evolution had begun. So far, it’s unclear who the winners in Phase 3 will be. But one thing is for sure – this phase will be a totally different experience both for consumers and for the companies attempting to find their places in it.
This new Artificial Intelligence phase will mainly involve Invisible Technologies – behind-the-scenes technologies that work to make experiences magical for humans. With this new form of back-office support, and as levels of service get higher, Phase 3 will reach to the core of customer service.
Companies who want to succeed in this fast-changing field will need to get on board with AI quickly, or risk falling far behind.
For example, in the initial years of Phase 1, a company website was seen as a nice-to-have but by no means essential asset; opting out of the internet was perhaps short-sighted, but didn’t mean you would go out of business.
By Phase 2, people had woken up to the importance of the internet, and having a website was seen as essential, in terms of marketing, sales, and customer experience. As social media rose in popularity and was harnessed as a tool for promotion and profit, larger numbers listened to the hype and were aware of its potential to carry a business upwards; but still, opting out of the Twittersphere was not seen as being disastrous to profit.
In Phase 3, however, adoption of the new technologies by both consumers and businesses will be much faster. Companies that are agile and prepared to engage with AI immediately (or perhaps are already doing so) will have a huge market advantage over those that want to ‘wait and see’.
Bear in mind that the big technology companies are already working in an AI mindset. They have been adopting for a couple of years already, but are now upping their game. And bear in mind that 70–80% of the time the average consumer spends on his or her smartphone is spent with digital superhero companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and YouTube.
We’re getting used to these new technologies, and now, to enjoy higher-level services, no further adoption is necessary. We already have the smartphones, the fibre internet. All the tools we need to use the Phase 3 technology are already in our hands – and with no financial barrier to adoption, the traditional adoption curve will not apply.
As consumers, we will simply see an upturn in the quality of the services we already use. In this context it is crucial for non-digital companies to move faster in the domain of AI, because service levels will be extremely high and the competition will quickly move up a few notches.
It’s the first time in this digital phase that new technology will lead to the core of both service and product: the companies who hope to win now need to think fast about their AI strategy, both in the back office and the front office.
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