The pending 2018 is the year when the previous year's early-stage concepts start delivering meaningful results.

Consider big data. We’ve had time to wrap our brains (and organizations) around the concept, and in 2018 organizations will take next step to embrace smart data. That means developing rapid, repeatable processes to evaluate the value of new data sources —then turn the right sets into business-focused tools. The same principle applies for everything from AI and blockchain-driven analytics to the merging of brick-and-mortar and online retail operations.

Here are five top predictions for 2018:

Smart data

Rather than big data, we’re going to see businesses focus on smart data. They are finding that big data is noisy data, and to extract value they have been relying on expensive data scientists to expend intense and laborious effort. In 2018, the advantage will go to businesses that develop repeatable processes that quickly separate signal from noise. They will adopt tools to evaluate the potential value of new data sets and efficiently turn them into smart data — the kind of data business users and business-focused analysts can utilize in their everyday decision-making.

Analytics technology will be the key enabler of smart data processes, especially AI and other approaches that allow people to quickly survey large amounts of data without cumbersome pre-processing.

Blockchain + analytics

The use of blockchain in a variety of applications across multiple industries will enable a new set of highly valuable data analytics – with high accuracy, privacy and identity protection. For example, in the finance and real estate industries, there is the opportunity to significantly streamline analytics around the mortgage approval process.

Borrowers could elect to share accurate personal income and expense metrics with lenders via a blockchain, bypassing the tortuous, expensive, fraud, error-prone and time-consuming manual process of collecting paystubs, bank statements and other paper documents. With anonymity sufficiently ensured, these metrics could then become available for aggregate analysis to drove greater efficiencies across the lending process, including a far more accurate prediction of creditworthiness. Other powerful possibilities exist in health and wellness, pharma, life sciences, finance, and additional sectors.

Data-driven partnerships

Large organizations routinely amass information of high potential value to other organizations. This year, we expect the exchange or sharing of data to become a vital currency that fuels the partnership. Today, retailers and suppliers share point-of-sale and supply chain data to gain greater efficiencies. However, there are many more opportunities for inter-enterprise data sharing in the retail/CPG sector as well as in finance, telecommunications, healthcare, and other industries.

In 2018, we’re going to see increased experimentation and innovation surrounding these types of data-centric partnerships. As the world becomes increasingly comfortable with sharing data, we will see the adoption of technology that enable organizations to do so in ways that are efficient, secure and compliant.

The e-com + brick-and-mortar merger

Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods was the omni-channel play of the year. But inasmuch as it demonstrated Amazon’s boldness and might, it also validated the presence and power of brick-and-mortar retail. While Amazon owns Cyber Monday, Walmart still owns Black Friday. And Wal-Mart’s e-commerce sales growth has been astronomical. In 2018, look for Wal-Mart to increase the heat in its omni-channel competition vs. Amazon – and look for more brick-and-mortar + e-com mergers to make waves as traditional retailers find their omni-channel “sea legs,” and e-tailers learn to leverage a physical presence.

Connected interactions

The Internet of Things (IoT), connected devices and AI will combine to deliver connected interactions that provide profound human value. AI and analytics will be used to process the big data generated by IoT, enabling personalized insights and alerts for daily use.

For example, weather data combined with IoT data from connected farm equipment such as tractors is analyzed to generate farmer-friendly alerts that enable “precision farming,” increasing efficiency and improving yields. IoT data on a patient’s or population’s vitals will be combined with medical history to predict and preventatively treat emerging health conditions. In 2018, we’re going to see real, meaningful use cases like these move into the mainstream.

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