Futuristic smart glassesWith the year drawing to a close, businesses around the world are planning for the year ahead. Companies across all sectors have a vast range of platforms and tools available to them that offer the power to enhance customer engagement and maximize profit.

Enterprises of all sizes can now reach their customers through multiple channels at any time; diversification, experimentation, and a will to implement new working methods can all revolutionize a business’s success. Developments like smartphones, Google Analytics, Facebook, Twitter, and smartwatches have expanded the business landscape, and as technology continues to evolve at an incredible rate, marketing and communication capabilities increase with each innovation.

With this in mind, what new trends can companies look forward to in 2016, and how can these innovations help the business?

Wearable Tech will Open More Doors

When we consider wearable tech, what do we think of? The short-lived Google Glass? Bluetooth headphones? Or do we imagine futuristic devices that offer gaming and Internet browsing on the move without the need for analog controls?

Whatever the term evokes for each of us, wearable tech will continue to become more commonplace in 2016, with smartwatches and virtual reality headsets more fact than science fiction.

Thanks to brands like Apple and Samsung, the smartwatch is now available to the average consumer, allowing them to enjoy a more immediate online connection than even their smartphone offers. Businesses can take advantage of this technology with short, precise marketing campaigns tailored to tiny screens. Providing users with access to your services or browse your products on the move puts you ahead of your less technologically savvy competitors.

Virtual reality will become more viable for companies’ marketing needs as the price of production drops. This technology is ideal for showcasing forthcoming products or locations without needing to invest in physical prototypes. Trade shows provide the perfect place for this, with immersive technology able to replace standard multimedia displays, transforming promotional presentations into interactive experiences.

While the challenge of creating virtual-reality videos may be off-putting to smaller businesses, it is more likely to engage potential customers, particularly in the technology’s early days (due to the novelty factor).

Embedded Communication is Set to Expand

While WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is nothing new, mobile WebRTC offers businesses great potential. With mobile search now a primary way in which users look for products or services, companies can increase conversion rates by embedding real-time communication directly into the mobile experience. With the use of an easily implemented mobile WebRTC software development kit, such as those from technology companies like Agora.io, businesses can seamlessly integrate simple click-to-call functionality into their app allowing customers to be able to speak with representatives quickly and easily.

Communications as a service (CaaS) platforms offer audio and/or visual interaction, adding a personality or face to a business. Not only will customers feel as if the company genuinely wants to hear from them (as opposed to competitors that bury their contact details at the bottom of a page or only offer a submission form), but the convenience mobile WebRTC affords makes interacting with a business feel like less of an ordeal. If a potential customer is looking for a simple answer to a question, a click-to-call function will make them more likely to call, giving representatives a chance to convert them into buyers. For troubleshooting purposes, a customer now would be able to show what is wrong with something, rather than just trying to explain it to the representative, alleviating any friction that could arise if the customer can’t accurately describe what precisely is wrong.

Autonomous Agents will Maximize Productivity

Machines capable of learning are responsible for various innovations, such as robots, virtual personal assistants (VPAs, such as Apple’s Siri), and autonomous cars. While robotics and self-driving cars hold real fascination for the public, smart machines focused on software offer a more immediate benefit.

Technology like Siri and Google Now is becoming more and more intelligent and serving as precursors to advanced autonomous agents. Virtual assistance connects to ambient user experiences, with autonomous agents able to become the user’s central interface for interacting with an app or tool. Rather than using menus or buttons on a phone, users can speak directly to the software, navigating with a minimum of fuss.

Businesses will be able to utilize this technology in their own apps, reducing the level of hands-on interactivity needed. The more convenient a brand’s software is to use, the more impact it will likely make on users, particularly with this technology still something of a novelty. This goes hand in hand with mobile WebRTC, which offers a more dynamic connection to companies, whether for shopping, browsing, or customer service.

Businesses can use 3D Printing to Empower Customers

3D printers are now widely available to consumers, bringing cutting-edge technology into the home in a way many still find unbelievable. Despite their high cost, 3D printers provide households with the means to create various products, parts, and supplies—provided they have access to the right plans.

Businesses can capitalize on the popularity and power of 3D printing by offering specific product plans as paid downloads. With production costs reduced for the business itself, plans can be sold at fair prices, offering customers the power to make items they would typically bring home from a store right in their own space.

Not every single business will be able to use this, but for those that can, this will help to cut costly, time-consuming delivery processes. Customers are also more likely to pay for download plans from a reputable company in another country rather than opt for expensive international delivery or source a cheaper alternative in their area.

Adaptive Security Architecture Offers Greater Defense Against Unauthorized Entry

The complicated nature of digital commerce and online security may leave under-resourced businesses unsure exactly how to combat the increasing threat of hacking-based attacks. Companies without in-house experts or that neglect to source specialist security advice are more vulnerable to critical damage, costing them money, time, and customers.

Depending on perimeter defenses and rule-based security is no longer effective enough, particularly with cloud-based platforms and APIs standard business tools. Business IT teams must focus on identifying and handling threats using self-protective software and user-behavior analytics to keep crucial data as safe as possible at all times.

Adaptive security architecture offers a dynamic solution and requires less input to perform its duties. While this is more time consuming to set up than traditional security software, it offers greater protection and reduces the risk of damage.

These 5 technology trends will be driving business forward in the 2016. Like it is in nature, to be able to thrive, businesses must adapt to survive. So embrace these upcoming trends and you’ll be ahead of the game going into the New Year.

JT Ripton is a business consultant and freelance writer who enjoys writing about a variety of topics, business and technology being a couple of them. You can follow JT on Twitter @JTRipton.