Technology is pervasive, but is there a coming ‘tech-lash’?

Businesses are increasingly speeding towards “technological deadlock,” poised to flood the market with smarter products and services just as consumers and governments are increasingly scrutinizing the role that technology plays in their everyday life.

In its latest Technology Vision report, Accenture says that nearly one-fifth of consumers believe technology is so intertwined with their life that they view it as an extension of themselves. At the same time, the once “unconditional love” consumers felt for technology is beginning to wane, and the approaches companies have taken to reach this point won’t take them any further.

“In the future, people don’t just want more technology in our products and services; we want technology that is more human,” says Accenture in the 141-page report. Businesses that ignore this message, it says, will face an existential “tech-lash,” in which today’s models are incongruous with people’s needs and expectations.

“To avoid this impending crisis, companies must reexamine their fundamental business and technology models in a responsible way—to create a new basis for competition and growth,” it said.

Trust and accountability, it said, are the new “litmus tests” for businesses in a world where digital is ubiquitous. “Creating a more inclusive future that is better for all people is the new mindset,” it said. “Success will require an innovative approach to innovation itself.”

While an estimated 4.5 billion people now have access to the internet, Accenture says that technology has evolved far beyond mere “screen time,” with companies increasingly integrating it into the physical world via tools such as intelligent voice control in cars, connected appliances and using drones for last-mile delivery.

According to Accenture, more than half of people say that technology is ingrained in almost every aspect of their life. “Given the starring role technology has in people’s lives, it makes sense that we take technology personally—and why we expect so much more from it going forward,” says the report.

How much personalization is too much?

Regardless of sector, companies have increasingly come to regard personalization as a business imperative. According to Accenture, 90% of businesses have identified delivering highly personalized services as a leading priority. Breaking it down further, Accenture found that 96% of consumer electronics executives, 97% of health and beauty executives and 92% of travel industry executives reported a “strong focus” on personalization.

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Consumer attitudes towards personalization. Source: Accenture

However, the study found that consumers are increasingly weighing their desire for personalization against their desire for data privacy and security.

There is also a growing concern that these personalization efforts are trapping them in group and individual echo chambers, with nearly half saying it poses a “major risk” of cutting them off from new ideas and experiences.

The rise (and risk) of ‘forever beta’

The Internet of Things is poised to explode in the next five years, said Accenture, reaching 75.4 billion connected devices and a projected market value of $1.1 trillion. But connected products are also challenging the accepted notion of ownership.

Companies are increasingly adopting a state of “forever beta,” in which connected products—from thermostats to vacuum cleaners—are being continuously updated to address changing consumer needs. Tesla, for example, is able to add functionality like autonomous driving through a firmware update.

But while connected products are being constantly refreshed, there is also the risk of “digital death,” warns Accenture. In some cases, consumers are left with expensive technology that is all but useless. One such example is the Jibo home robot (billed at launch as “the world’s first social robot for the home”), which had its servers turned off last year—a move that led to what Wired described as “digital dementia” in the $899 product.

“The risk is customers constantly having to play catch-up, not knowing if the next system update is bringing exciting new capabilities, a critical security refresh, a new user interface to learn or a dramatic change to functionality,” it said. “It’s not surprising that customers are growing weary of what’s around the corner.”

Addressing this so-called “beta burden” will be another key business challenge, said Accenture. “Those that ignore it will face attrition as mounting frustration leads customers to reject their biggest innovations.”

One of the by-products, said the report, is that companies are deliberately shipping “unfinished” products, building the potential for growth into their design. “Customers are not only buying physical goods, but also opting into an ongoing partnership with the companies managing those products,” said the report.

The report is based on interviews with 6,074 business and IT executives across 25 countries between November 2019 and January, and a consumer survey of 2,000 people in four countries (the U.S., U.K. China and India).

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


Chris Powell