South by Southwest
5 Takeaways from SXSW

The Automobile is changing society…again

The invention of the automobile is one of the greatest technological achievements in human history. Now, the automobile is meshing with another massive disruption, the digital revolution, to once again completely change society. Self-driving cars are coming; at SXSW, Doug Newcomb, President of C3 Group, gave a 5-10 year timeline for fully autonomous vehicles hitting our roads.

With the recent announcement of Mercedes’ incredibly cool looking self-driving car, deprofessionalization has hit the driver’s seat, too. Delphi took this to its logical— and very SXSW-style—conclusion by announcing that it would drive its autonomous vehicle all the way to the NY Auto Show. We’ll be there to check it out—albeit behind a sturdy crash barrier. And Uber, a big presence last week, is another example of deprofessionalization in the digital age (traditional taxis are going the way of travel agencies and maybe the way doctors will soon, too), and the return of the barter economy to everyday life. Self-driving cars… self-treating patients…we really are returning to a barter economy. Only this time, we’re betting our very lives.

Who are the innovators?

Sandy Carter of IBM said, “I think every person needs to be a change agent today.” Right. IBM. They’re the folks who brought you, you know, the computer age? Well, they aren’t slowing down. IBM’s AI wizard Watson may revolutionize computing before the end of this decade. (And, Watson, if you’re reading this, we think you’re great.) They’re proof-positive of the barrenness of our conventional ideas about how innovation happens. Innovation is often romanticized, with the image of a genius working away in a dusty garage.

We’ve always been in an age where path-breaking innovation and lone genius must come together with societal support to create the next iteration of the future. We forget that Xerox were forefathers of the graphical user interface and that they worked with DARPA to create the Internet. In the post-Snowden era, the public-private partnership in the tech space needs to be re-forged. Governments want to solve problems (at least we hope they do!) and the solutions often are found through innovation. But they also need the efficiency of private companies to help get these solutions to scale.

If you’re not omnichannel, you’re no channel

Retailers still need to adjust to the new-age customer journey. Jennifer Hyman, co-founder and CEO of Rent The Runway, said last week that shopping malls and stores need to innovate to be relevant, focusing on service or entertainment. They need to offer an experience that one can’t get online.

She suggested that stores should be like massive customer service centers or distribution centers, quickly servicing problems. “Buy online/on mobile, pick up in store” (BOPS) is in its infancy, but whoever perfects this process will have a leg up. The stores of tomorrow will become the catalogs of today.

Augmented and Virtual Reality isn’t a parlor trick anymore

Each year in AR/VR technology development is like 12 years of development anywhere else. It’s technological dog-years. It’s coming. Augmented and virtual reality is no longer just a parlor trick; companies need to start seriously thinking about how they can leverage AR/VR as part of their digital strategy and eventually their product or service delivery.

Marriott used Oculus Rift to create an incredible immersive selling experience that took potential guests on a ‘round the world trip. At this point, it’s a great marketing stunt. But that’s where things always begin. What’s next? Well, imagine a world where a consumer can be dropped into a room full of furniture and get the details on a product simply by looking in its direction. Stop imagining it, and start preparing for it.

South By SouthWhy?

Innovation gets talked about a lot at these things, and SXSW ’15 was no different. But maybe it’s time for SXSW itself to innovate a bit. It seems as though the time of SXSW being a mold-breaking event might be in the rearview mirror. Now it’s a little more like a mold-growing one. Do we need panels on “how to succeed at social media” anymore? Just as the Consumer Electronics Show is no longer for industry people and is now truly a consumer show, SXSW may be best served re-inventing itself back into a place for digital mass- market adopters. Those people are now over at the Mobile World Congress; a movement that mirrors the platform migration of media, content, and retail.

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