Technology in Georgia: Predictions for 2015

Moderated by Rick Badie

What will be the region’s top technology trends for 2015? As the new year looms, two corporate executives outline trends that could further transform our robust technology/innovation scene, as well as new-age marketing and branding practices that strive to humanize relationships between consumers and brands.

Georgia helps blaze a high-tech trail

By Frank Green

Ten years ago, when someone pictured the vital companies headquartered in Atlanta, those that came to mind included Delta Air Lines Inc., Coca-Cola Co., UPS and Home Depot. Atlanta ranked third among cities with the highest concentration of Fortune 500 headquarters in 2004.

Today, Athenahealth, Scoutmob, Pindrop Security, Yik-Yak and dozens of other startups and smaller IT companies housed in such incubators as Atlanta Tech Village, Tech City South and Ponce City Market are major players in Atlanta’s booming technology sector. According to a 2012 Kauffman Foundation study, Georgia ranked second in the U.S. for the largest growth in entrepreneurial activity over the past decade.

With the explosion of entrepreneurs, IT companies and start-ups in Atlanta, the rest of the country looks to this city to blaze a tech trail. For Atlanta to remain a hotbed of technology and continue to recruit the best talent, it’s vital for tech businesses to plan their coming year’s strategy around the top anticipated trends.

At ExecuSource, we see firsthand what tech companies value, emphasize and need in business strategy and workforce. The coming year will be characterized by capturing more data through mobile phone use, efficiently storing that data, and keeping that data safe through mobile development, cloud storage and security.

Mobile Development: Tech-savvy fans rejoice: Next year’s mobile development will go far beyond the newest iPhone. Android growth, wearable technology and mobile apps that can control real-world activities (such as the Nest Thermostat) are on track for robust activity in the coming year. Android development is beginning to outpace Apple, wearables have reached beyond early adopters, and you can now control your thermostat through your phone while still in your bed – all of which capture an unprecedented amount of behavioral data. In 2015, expect big changes in your day-to-day life through the use of your cell phone.

Cloud Storage: If you don’t know the phrase yet, expect to see “big data” grace the headlines of every tech publication next year. Big data refers to all the information companies want to capture from their customers, such as purchasing history, addresses and social media interaction to manage and perfect the customer experience. With the phasing out of physical servers comes the widespread use of massive data centers, such as the 970,000-square-foot QTS Atlanta Metro-Data Center in Atlanta, and virtual servers, both of which still need to develop methods to keep data safer and more efficiently.Security: While companies are mastering how to effectively store data, there’s a growing interest and need to keep big data safe to avoid repeats of the Home Depot, Target and other security breaches that compromised 1.2 billion emails and passwords. Companies cannot succeed in the digital space without data security. To combat hackers, real-time, self-protecting applications will take off. In September, HP introduced the first cloud-managed application that protects itself against attacks. Applications with built-in self-protection capabilities are beginning to be in high demand and will become standard in the next few years.

Atlanta finally has a seat at the technology table. If we want our region to continue to receive angel investors’ dollars over other tech-centric cities like San Francisco and Raleigh, it’s up to Atlanta tech companies to develop these and other top trends, such as 3D printing and aggregating big data, in order to recruit and retain the best talent.

No longer can companies only offer contractual positions to lure the best employees. ExecuSource is seeing that highly desired employees who are knowledgeable and open to learning many aspects of technology — and not limited to only one facet of IT — will rarely settle for less than permanent hiring.

With more than 260,000 high-tech jobs in Atlanta, the future of technology can be shaped right here in the Peach State.

Frank Green is president of ExecuSource, an Atlanta staffing firm.

Brands working to return humanism to customers

By Ed King

By Ed King

The year is 1914. Mrs. Pinkerton strolls into the bakery at 7:30 every morning to buy bread for the day. The proprietor, knowing this, has a loaf freshly baked for her. Heartfelt discussion ensues about the Pinkerton family. Just another genuine customer experience in a simpler time.

Flash forward to today. Brands and customers come together again. “The Baker is Back.”

For the past 100 years, we’ve built a society engineered for efficiency. Now, consumers can obtain virtually anything they want, whenever they want. While convenience has been achieved, consumers are increasingly craving humanism in the brands they buy and in the experiences they have with those brands.

How will brands accommodate this rising expectation? Here are my predictions.

Here in Atlanta, startups and forward-thinking brands are bringing back the emotional connection between consumers and brands. Sanitizing one’s brand and presenting its “best face” is tempting; but honesty, authenticity and humility are more impactful in this overly skeptical market we’ve created.

In 2015, more brands will remove their curtains and strategically shed their desire to project “perfected personas.” Instead, they’ll reveal their faults to avoid having to make insincere, reactive apologies — to which consumers are far too familiar. This will endear them to the public, and their sales will reflect it.How will these big brands keep their ear to the ground to decipher what consumers crave? An Atlanta-based start-up, Decooda, offers a data processing engine that looks to social networks, survey data and even transcriptions of call center conversations with customers to determine sentiment, emotion and purchase intent of consumers — all done in real time.

A new level of consumer loyalty will emerge in 2015 thanks to unparalleled consumer participation with brands. The cleverest brands will acknowledge consumers’ craving to participate in customer experiences. By placing the customer squarely in the operations, R&D, marketing and overall decision-making of the business, customers will find themselves fully immersed in the story of the brand, and a new level of customer loyalty will be achieved.

One example is Athens-based Red Dress Boutique’s “Buy for Boutique” program. It empowers the brand’s best customers by giving them the opportunity to provide feedback during CEO Diana Harbour’s buying trips. They’re eager to help choose next season’s inventory by having an immediate impact on the boutique’s purchase decisions. Red Dress Boutique’s revenue increased from $63,000 in 2010 to $7.1 million last year.

With the advent of the Internet of Things, beacons, RFID tags and other retail technologies, marketers are about to be overwhelmed with data, and consumers will be overrun with shotgun marketing messages. Smarter brands, though, will offer timely, engaging, personalized messages and offers to consumers. They will use this data to create, as Chris Surdak says in his book, Data Crush, “trillions of markets of one.”

It’s time we use technology, and the intimate details we’ve learned about customers, to humanize brands and produce meaningful connections.

A start-up at Atlanta Tech Village, Taonii, is doing just that. By learning a variety of users’ preferences and likes, the Taonii app offers customers unique offers and messages that truly interest them.

In 2015, I predict, companies will reallocate traditional advertising dollars to establish “conversation centers.” Socially savvy employees will be hired to converse with prospects and customers — not from a reactive, service-based perspective, but from a proactive, predictive and positive reinforcement angle.

I’m excited about the industry we are in, the city we live in and the opportunities technology is enabling for us. As consumers, we all pine for simpler times and truly personal connections in our shopping experiences. Just like the days of the corner bakery.

Ed King is director of strategy for Atlanta-based Max Media.

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