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The Three Disruptive Technologies of this Decade

Blockchain, immersive technologies, and artificial intelligence are, in every sense of the word, the disruptors of this decade. We believe that these technologies will transform industries and drive tremendous global economic growth.

No longer considered novel, we are on the cusp of these technologies transitioning towards being at the forefront of strategic priorities for organizations. Discussions are now are shifting from, “will these technologies work?”, to “how can we make these technologies work for us?”

1. Blockchain – the trust machine

Blockchain has the potential to be of enormous value in almost every industry.

Today’s business transactions are complex and costly, partly due to the data systems of the involved parties being siloed. The consequences are delays and losses due to paper-based documents and data stored locally by each party involved. The presence of intermediaries responsible for transaction validation further worsens the inefficiencies.

With a blockchain, all parties share a single ledger. Once a transaction is validated, the record is permanent and immutable. This enables everyone involved to know with certainty what, when, and between which parties a transaction happened – all this without an intermediary providing assurance. Also, because of how a blockchain is structured, data remains secure and is impractical to tamper with.

The financial industry is currently at the forefront of the blockchain revolution. Large-scale blockchain initiatives are being formed within and around existing financial infrastructures, policies, and regulations to increase the efficiency of money transactions and trade finance.

However, other industries such as technology, media, telecommunication, manufacturing, logistics are now expanding their blockchain investments. Companies outside the finance space are increasingly recognizing the impact of blockchain technologies. In a Deloitte survey, 83% of businesses indicated they will lose competitive advantage if they don’t adopt blockchain.

2. Immersive technologies – extended realities

The internet is an almost infinite source of data and information, and immersive technologies will change how we will interact with the data and information beyond keyboards and screens. Immersive technology is an umbrella term that encompasses technologies such as augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR). These technologies make use of sensory devices to either merge a user’s virtual and “real” world or fully immerse them in a virtual experience.

Since the early 1930s, science fiction writers and futurists have been dreaming of digital environments where people could escape reality. Advancements in computer vision, graphical processing power, display technology, and input systems have now made it possible to catch up with a century-old fantasy.

Contrary to popular belief, immersive technologies are not limited to the gaming and entertainment industries. In 2019, commercial spending on immersive technologies overtook consumer spending, with experts predicting it will grow three times larger by 2023. This is in line with organizations progressively recognizing the full potential of immersive technologies. The use cases for immersive technologies are constantly expanding – ranging from healthcare, sports, and aviation.

Big tech players such as Apple and Google have been intensively exploring ways to apply immersive technologies in future products. In 2013, Google introduced the Google Glass, an augmented reality headset targeted at the mass-market. However, privacy and functionality complaints lead Google to retarget the product as a tool for physicians, manufacturing workers, and other professionals. With Apple’s ARKit, iOS devices are already capable of identifying surfaces such as a table, then adding virtual objects to it. It is rumored that Apple is further ramping up its AR/VR efforts by working on new products such as AR smart glasses.

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Visualizations of one of several AR and VR related patents by Apple

Today, and probably for a few years to come, we need a technical device in front of our faces to experience digital realities. Excitingly, however, there are already prototypes of smart contact lenses that can augment the wearer’s physical world. Somewhat further down the road, emerging brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) such as one being developed by Neuralink might allow us to connect our biological neural networks with the digital world and thus create digital experiences directly within our brains.

3. Artificial intelligence – the new electricity

Just as electricity completely transformed industries and society, artificial intelligence (AI) will substantially transform every major industry in the next century – from healthcare to advertising, finance, and manufacturing.

The AI domain includes machine learning, deep learning, chat and voice bots, natural language processing, and computer vision. Even though AI has been around for decades, it is taking off now due to a few key technological developments: data sets of unprecedented scale, increasing computing power and better techniques such as improved model architectures. Around 2015, these progressions reached critical mass – and AI suddenly became real. Amazon shipped its AI-powered home assistant Echo. Tesla cars had self-driving capabilities after a software update. Microsoft’s neural network ResNet managed to beat humans in image recognition.

AI technologies will continue to personalize and contextualize human-computer interaction (HCI) and automate processes in different domains with little to no human involvement. Demand for AI systems is skyrocketing – IDC predicts that global spending on AI systems will reach nearly $98 billion in 2022, more than 2.5 times the 2019 spend.

AI will become so powerful over the coming years that governments will need to regulate it to protect its citizen. The challenge will be to not overregulate AI to leave room for innovation.

More advanced than what is evident

Recent product launches indicate that blockchain, immersive technologies, and artificial intelligence are becoming strategic priorities for organizations, including tech giants such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. And this might just be the beginning. Investment predictions and patent applications suggest that behind the scenes, companies ranging from startups to conglomerates are developing products that leverage the presented three disruptive technologies.

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How to Develop In-house Blockchain Skills

Blockchain technologies have immense potential to revolutionize a plethora of industries, but a lack of in-house capabilities is one of the greatest barriers to wider adoption. The good news is that these gaps can be filled through a wide array of training channels available, as well as talent acquisition options to develop an organization’s blockchain competencies.

1. Training

One option to build blockchain skills within your organization is through training. Covering technical, business, social, and legal aspects of blockchain-based solutions, these combine the latest in research with real-world applications. With training being able to address all or a selection of these areas, we recommend two options – in-house training, and online courses.

In-house training

In-house training, courses that are tailored for a specific organization, comes in many forms. It can be taught by a blockchain expert who works for your company, or by an external training provider. Traditionally, in-house training is taught in physical classrooms – but thanks to the adoption of modern communication technology, more and more sessions are now held online. A big advantage of in-house training is that it can be customized to your company’s business needs and learning objectives.

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In-house training can be customized to your company’s business needs and learning objectives (source: Unsplash)

Online courses

Online courses have been steadily rising in popularity in recent years. Easily accessible and often available at a lower price than traditional courses, people can fit these self-paced courses around existing commitments and responsibilities. A disadvantage is that they are made for large audiences and are therefore less specific for a company’s particular needs. Nonetheless, these can be an ideal introduction to the world of blockchain.

On most established online course providers, you’d be able to find courses that give an introduction to blockchain topics – like the beginner-friendly Udemy course The Basics of Blockchain by Bettina Warburg. For the tech-savvy, there are even courses for building production-ready blockchain applications, such as Ethereum and Solidity by Stephan Grinder.

Traditional universities also provide online courses, mostly targeted at executives and C-level audiences. Here are a few examples:

Certified Blockchain & Distributed Ledger Technology Manager – Frankfurt School of Finance & Management

Oxford Blockchain Strategy Programme – University of Oxford

Blockchain Technologies: Business Innovation and Application – MIT

Many blockchain platforms and technologies, such as Ethereum or Corda, offer extensive tutorials and documentation on their websites. Some even offer a certification exam.

2. Reading and audio resources

Reading and audio resources allow you to dive into the blockchain world completely on your own. There are books, articles, and podcasts for different levels of knowledge – suitable for complete beginners all the way to technical experts. From all available learning options, reading and audio resources arguably offer the most in-depth information.

Books

Books, one of the most traditional ways to gain knowledge, offer a great way to learn about one of the most innovative technologies out there. For non-technical people, Blockchain Bubble or Revolution by Neel Mehta, Aditya Agashe and Parth Detroja, and Blockchain Basics by Daniel Drescher provide a great introduction.

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Blockchain Bubble or Revolution offers a comprehensive look at the future of blockchain

Mastering Ethereum written by Andreas M. Antonopoulos and Gavin Wood, co-founder of Ethereum, is a highly recommended read for techies. The book is a fantastic guide – from the basics, to teaching state-of-the-art smart contract programming practices.

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Mastering Ethereum is the perfect book for anyone wanting to foray into Ethereum

Online Articles

Blockchain technologies are still evolving rapidly, and with that, the associated knowledge. New online articles are continually being published in line with these developments – meaning that you’re able to remain up to date with the industry’s goings-on and breakthroughs.

Medium, an online publication platform, has become a go-to place to learn about blockchain – from business-focused articles on decentralized finance (DeFi), to essays on underlying cryptographic mechanisms. HackerNoon and CoinMonks are two popular blockchain blogs hosted on Medium to explore various articles on the topic.

Whitepapers

Whitepapers are documents written by the organization that offers the technology. Acting as a marketing document to promote and explain a technology, these typically present a problem, the solution, and its practical applications. The Bitcoin and Ethereum whitepapers are classics. Although extremely informative, whitepapers aren’t recommended for total beginners – you’d need some basic knowledge at minimum.

Podcasts

Podcasts are another popular medium to acquire blockchain knowledge. Most feature interviews with experts, and delves deep into various topics with the people who are building the decentralized internet. Just bear in mind that a certain level of prior knowledge is essential to follow these discussions.

From a wide selection of blockchain-focused podcasts, we’ve narrowed down a couple that we think you’ll enjoy:

Unchained Podcast – great for people with intermediate blockchain knowledge

epicenter.tv – recommended for blockchain pros to keep up to date with recent developments

3. Talent acquisition

Another way to develop in-house blockchain capabilities is to hire for relevant expertise. However, attracting quality blockchain talents to your business can prove a daunting task due to an exponentially growing demand.

Recruiting

Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are increasingly being explored by startups and major organizations around the world. The number of bitcoin, blockchain and crypto-related employment ads on the popular job board Indeed.com had ballooned by a whopping 1457% between September 2015 and September 2019, according to a “Seen by Indeed” study.

To attract quality talent, you must offer something they don’t currently have where they are. A-players have an innate desire to collaborate with brilliant minds and tinker on challenging projects. So, present them with the exciting challenges your company has to offer and encourage them to get to know the like-minded, bright, and knowledgeable people they will work with.

Business acquisition

One of the quickest ways an organization can also build out its talent base is by acquiring a blockchain startup. In what is also known as an acquihire, the buying organization gets a well-practiced team, proven in building and delivering blockchain applications.

However, the risk of an acquihire is the lack of cultural assimilation between the organizations. As a result, they underperform or leave to start their next venture. When considering an acquihire, figure out early on which opportunities you could offer those entrepreneurial thinkers that they can’t easily find elsewhere. Try to continually stimulate their desire to create rather than interrupting them with a barrage of meetings.

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3 Strategies to Boost Trust in Your Blockchain Application

People don’t automatically have the best confidence in blockchain technology and its applications. Trust needs to be built up. Why does confidence in these systems need to be high? Because blockchain applications and their underlying technologies deal with valuable data such as asset ownership, identity, and contracts. If people don’t trust your blockchain application, they simply won’t use it.

So how can you help your blockchain application signal trust to its users? Here are three proven strategies:

1. Stick to Standards and Be Consistent

Your blockchain application should respect established user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) conventions. Having used many other applications, users are conditioned to anticipate certain interaction patterns. When using your application, they expect to apply the same patterns they’ve already learned. If your application violates established standards, users will get frustrated and lose trust.

So, the first thing you need to do is to learn how popular blockchain applications interact with users. Then analyze blockchain applications in your domain. Research their UI and UX to infer established interaction patterns. For example, if you build a blockchain application to digitize trading in the commodities space, learn how other trading blockchain applications interact with users.

Second, examine de facto standards among non-blockchain applications in your domain. For instance, if you’re building a financial blockchain application, research established norms among traditional finance applications, such as e-banking applications. If users are accustomed to reviewing and confirming financial transactions, it’s probably wise that your application follow this pattern.

Third, keep your application predictable. If it doesn’t behave consistently across all its use cases, users won’t trust it. Just think about how nearly impossible it is to trust a moody person who behaves erratically. Well, it’s the same way for applications. For example, if a user usually needs to confirm the signing of a transaction in a blockchain application, this confirmation step needs to be included in every transaction’s signing process — no exceptions.

2. Signal trust with the right colors and typography

Don’t think of colors and typography as relatively inconsequential things that can hopefully make the UI of your blockchain application look pretty. They’re much more powerful than that — capable of influencing how trustworthy your application appears to its users.

Many financial institutions use the color blue as their primary color because research has proven that blue conveys trust. So it comes as no surprise why J.P. Morgan (one of the world’s largest banks), Revolut (a major online bank), and Coinbase (a major cryptocurrency exchange) all use the trust-building color blue.

Many financial institutions use the trust-building color blue (source: Revolut, J.P. Morgan, Coinbase, PayPal)

The psychological effects of colors vary among cultures, so select your colors accordingly. For example, if your main audience is in China, red might be a great choice, as it signifies good fortune and success; however, you’ll want to minimize black, which traditionally symbolizes evil and destruction.

Besides color, typography can make a difference in how users experience products. Numerous experiments have shown how different typefaces can affect a message’s level of trustworthiness. In one experiment, readers believed that a sentence was truer if the font used was Baskerville, rather than another font like Comic Sans.

Moreover, the results of an IBM research project showed that typeface influences perceived trustworthiness of banking websites. But while a particular typeface may do well conveying trust, it may do poorly conveying ease of use and appeal.

Effect of various typefaces on the perception of banking websites

For a banking website, Baskerville is a trustworthy font. However, the font performs poorly for the “easy to use” criterion (source: IBM).

The research also discovered that typography influences products differently. What’s perceived as a trustworthy font for one application might not be seen as trustworthy for another application. Before you decide on a typeface for your blockchain application, conduct user experiments to gain insights on how different typefaces influence users’ perception of your product.

3. Borrow Trust

You can also boost trust by borrowing it from existing customers, peers, or reputable brands. This concept is known as social proof. Robert Cialdini, who coined the term in his book Influence, wrote, “We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.” And it makes sense: In situations where we’re uncertain about what to do, we follow the behaviors of others.

Social proof from experts and well-known organizations is especially effective. We assume that these professionals are knowledgeable and make informed decisions. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that emerging blockchain companies showcase the logos and testimonials of well-known experts, companies, and customers on their websites. You should do the same.

Ripple shows the logos of reputable customers on their website to gain trust through social proof (source: Ripple).

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5 Top Digital Experience Trends for 2020

What’s in store for this year’s digital landscape? At Voa Labs, we’ve researched and identified the top 5 digital experience trends of 2020. 

This info can help organizations deliver more compelling customer experiences while maximizing the value of digital products and services. Excellence in digital experience design is vital for navigating customers along the increasing span of digital touchpoints.

#1. Smart Stores

In this age of expanding digital commerce, the lines between physical stores and online stores will continue to blur. Brick-and-mortar stores will boost their digital efforts beyond traditional online shops. For instance, they’ll open APIs, offer online-order/offline-pickup options, or take advantage of immersive technologies.

Meanwhile, digital retailers will open physical stores to provide multi-sensory experiences that they simply can’t offer online.

© Farfetch

How physical and virtual stores evolve will culminate in the same thing: smart physical stores that provide rich customer experiences. These next-generation stores will leverage the advantages of the online and digital experience (e.g. wide product range, rich information, and personalization) together with unique physical store experiences that aren’t available online (e.g. multi-sensory experiences, trials and demo, instant gratification, and relationships with sales associates).

#2. Agent Interfaces

Agent interfaces utilize artificial intelligence technologies to predict user intentions by analyzing user inputs and contextual cues. These predictions help users execute their intentions by easing or automating the process. So, users won’t have to spend so much time figuring out how a tool works; instead, they can focus on using it to get the job done.

Chatbots and voice applications, known as conversational user interfaces, are examples of agent interfaces. 

Agent interfaces are ideal for repetitive, low-stake transactions, such as ordering food, checking an account balance, or requesting an Uber ride.

#3. Multiexperience

Hello multiexperience, the evolution of omnichannel. While omnichannel reflects an inside-out mentality that focuses on channels and technologies, multiexperience reflects an outside-in mentality that focuses on the experience itself.

Until now, people have thought of a computer system in a limited fashion: as a single device. But these days, we have the multiexperience. Now, users interact with platforms made up of multiple touchpoints and sensors, such as smartphones, wearables, or voice assistants.

A multiexperience strategy demands a seamless customer experience. Its success depends on a consistent and unified user experience (UX) across web, mobile, wearable, conversational, and immersive touchpoints. Every touchpoint must be rooted in a single thread of communication; that way, customers will feel like they’re having one continuous conversation with an interconnected system. So, no more having to repeat who they are and what their request is.

“By 2023, more than 25% of the mobile apps, progressive web apps and conversational apps at large enterprises will be built and/or run through a multiexperience development platform.”

– Gartner

#4. Emotion-based Personalization 

Gone are the days when customers can be segmented in one bucket. We know that personalized experiences and products boost customer satisfaction and loyalty, and this insight has led to hyper-personalization with a segment of one

As a next step, products will be adjusted to the customer’s emotional state. Using artificial intelligence (AI), organizations will predict the emotions of users to enhance customer experiences and products, even beyond the purchase.

The ability to identify emotions will also be used for targeted advertising. Indeed, real-time mood-based marketing is a growing trend. Gartner predicts that by 2024, AI identification of emotions will influence more than 50% of all online advertisements. 

#5. Interfaceless Machines

Traditionally, most machines have integrated user interfaces operating them. But soon, on-machine interfaces will be abandoned in favor of applications that run on their operators’ mobile devices.

Larger screens, higher resolutions, and numerous built-in sensors — these will enable mobile devices to control machines in ways that exceed what would be possible with on-machine interfaces. These mobile devices connect wirelessly with machines via Bluetooth, WiFi, or the internet. 


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The Innovation Sweet Spot – Desirability, Feasibility, Viability

Coming up with innovative products and services that become successful is a challenge. Established companies and startups spend billions of US dollars on product research and development every year. Studies reveal that 40-50% of those investments are wasted on new products and services that get canceled due to poor results.

At Voa Labs, we apply a framework to test the likelihood of innovative solutions becoming successful from the very beginning of the product development phase. In this article, we give insight into this framework.

The likelihood of an innovative product or service becoming successful can be significantly increased if it meets three criteria. First, customers need to desire a solution. Second, it must be feasible to implement the solution. Third, the solution needs to have a viable business case that works out financially. The innovation sweet spot sits at the intersection of the three. Let’s dive into the details.

Desirability

The product development process starts with putting customers at the center. Products or services need to be desirable to end users by having a positive impact on their life. To find out if people desire a product or service requires empathy, particularly the capability to understand the hopes, desires, and aspirations of those you are designing for. There are a handful of methods to capture the mindsets and needs of the people you are building a solution for, such as interviews or immersion.

When we identify a need for a product or service, we first have to figure out if it is a “vitamin” or “painkiller”. “Vitamins” are solutions that customers consider as „nice to have“, while “painkillers” are “need to have.“ With “vitamin” products or services, you have to explain to potential customers some non-urgent problem and convince them that your pill is the solution. Compare this with a “painkiller”, which customers seek when they face an issue. A good place to start when coming up with a painkiller is to look for a pain that people experience. Once this is discovered, we design a relieving solution. To use an analogy, look for people holding their forehead and build a remedy for it. Do not create a pill and then look for an illness that the pill can cure. Although you might get lucky, the chances of landing a hit are small.

Here are some key questions that help to determine if a solution is highly desirable: 

  • Does the solution fill a need? 
  • Is the solution a “vitamin” or a “painkiller”? 

Desirability is only one lens through which we look at potential solutions.

Feasibility

A solution needs to be technically and organizationally feasible. Even though a product or service is highly desirable, it may not be possible to build it within time and budget constraints. If the requirement is to have a project done in three months, yet our solution is projected to take seven months to complete, it is not a feasible solution. For example, without question curing cancer is highly desirable. But unless an immensely long project duration and a massive budget are provided, the solution is unlikely to be feasible.

A solution is not only required to be technically feasible, but it also needs to match organizational capabilities. A startup may have the ability to build a product quickly in an extremely agile way. While an established corporation may have the human resources, expertise and financial resources to work on a complex solution over a longer period. Besides having the ability to build a solution, it must also be feasible to operate it. We also ask ourselves if the solution can be managed and kept alive after deployment. An organization needs to have the capabilities to run a solution sustainably and stably in the long run. Of course, there may be the possibility to make organizational changes so that operating the solution becomes feasible.

Here are the key questions that help us test if a solution is feasible:

  • Is it feasible to build the solution within the given time and budget constraints? 
  • Do we and our client have the technical capabilities to build and operate the solution? 
  • Do we and our client have the organizational capabilities to build and operate the solution?

Viability

The final test for a solution focuses on its economic viability. A profitable business model needs to be built around a product or service. Oftentimes, startups and teams of corporates make the mistake of working on new solutions that customers desire, and even find a way to implement and run those solutions. However, they miss assessing if there is a viable business model until the first version is implemented.

The cost of a solution must be covered by the revenue it generates. It is quite possible that a solution’s business model may not be profitable initially. But it must be determined how and when the business model becomes profitable. If no path to profitability can be found, the business model must be revised. A startup likely needs to break even faster than a large corporation, which can cross-subsidize a new solution over a longer period.

After a viable business model for a solution is found, it makes sense to question whether there are ways to make it even more profitable.

Some products and services pursue other goals than achieving monetary benefits. In this case, the alternative aim needs to be clearly defined in the form of some quantitative outcome. If the benefits of the desired outcome do not outweigh the investment, it might be a good idea to reiterate the solution idea.

Here are the key questions that help us test the viability of a solution:

  • How can we build a sustainable business around the solution? 
  • How much will we charge for the solution? 
  • What are the costs to develop and operate the solution? 
  • How can we make the solution even more profitable (e.g. by lowering cost and/or increasing price)?

Finding the innovation sweet spot is a balancing act

Coming up with a solution that is desirable, feasible, and viable is a balancing act, but one that is crucial to master when designing successful products and services. The key is to iterate product and service ideas, and assess and reassess them for these three core criteria. A solution has a high chance of being successful if it is desirable, feasible, and viable in the context of a specific organization.

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Hello World!

Welcome! We are excited to announce the official launch of Voa Labs.

We strategize, design and build digital products, services, and experiences. Among possible solutions are web applications, mobile apps or blockchain applications.

We are forming an exceptionally talented team of entrepreneurial minds, technical wizards, creatives, and project management experts to develop simple solutions for complex problems. Our products aim to both delight users and generate meaningful business value for our clients. We love technology and are committed to creating a positive impact on the world.

What makes us unique is that we develop products and services for clients and directly for end users. The latter gives us an additional edge, as it enables us to stay up-to-date with the market and keep our finger on the pulse of what consumers really want. We leverage our expertise to help both startups and established businesses to create category-defining products.

Do you have a project or an idea you’d like to collaborate on? Interested in what Voa Labs can do for you? Let’s get in touch! Just send us a message.

Here’s to the beginning of an exciting new adventure!