2019 Arrives with Questions Abound
It is customary at the dawn of a New Year to offer the traditional prognosis on the trends that will contribute to growth in our industry over the next twelve months. This is always a risky exercise, but especially in these times of great uncertainty and change, which often transform enlightened prognostications into esoteric predictions.
One must admit that 2018 was an eventful year for the retail and eCommerce ecosystem. Giants like Toys’R’Us or Sears collapsed, while others like Dollar General or Warby Parker thrived. Amazon, meanwhile, keeps growing, but is now doing so by replicating traditional brick-and-mortar sales models. The democratization of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are intriguing and sometimes worrying, as voice assistants gradually settle into our homes. What’s more, this is all happening in a geopolitical environment that has perhaps never been so unstable and tense.
It is difficult in this context to predict what will happen in 2019, as contrary signals abound. Who can guess whether we will see a retail apocalypse, or a useful and necessary industry transformation? So, instead of playing Nostradamus, I prefer, at the beginning of this year, to pause and reflect on our role as technology companies in this great upheaval.
Technology to the Rescue?
Although we have known for a long time that even the best spot is never a given to strike gold, we still turn to technology as a miracle solution, especially in these times, when brands and distributors are urged to act quickly and innovate. Not a year goes by without a new trend or technology appears, destined to revolutionize the customer experience only to add to the growing list of false promises or poorly executed concepts (remember chatbots?). Ready-to-use fast-innovation is a lure, an empty promise. Technology itself has never made innovation. A CRM will not find customers, an eCommerce site will not sell products by itself, and a PIM will not manage your product data for you. It takes time, investment, both human and financial, and strategy to reinvent oneself. Technology has a crucial role to play and can become a great catalyst for this transformation, but there is an urgent need to rethink how it is built and shared.
Hyper-Transparency is the Real Solution
Now more than ever, we need the fundamental values of transparency and collaboration provided by open source offerings to stand up to the challenges of tomorrow. The biggest threat facing the world of retail and eCommerce today isn’t Amazon, but black boxes and technological obscurantism. This time must come to an end.
To overcome this period of uncertainty, we must enter the age of hyper-transparency and collaborative experimentation. Benjamin Franklin understood it well, even in colonial times. He refused to patent any of his (many) inventions, believing that they could, and should, eventually be improved by his peers and future inventors. Innovation must be done collectively, which requires us to share our knowledge, victories, and failures, and feed each other, allowing everyone to grow and experiment.
This necessary revolution in the way we design and consume technology has already begun. This has been proven by the recent acquisitions of open source players, including Github, acquired by Microsoft, Magento, purchased by Adobe and Mulesoft, bought by Salesforce.com. You can count on us to proudly carry the torch in 2019.