What emerging technology trends do private companies need to keep tabs on?

A just-released report from Deloitte lists several big-picture trends with significant implications for all companies, regardless of size or industry. Here are two of them: 

1. Internet of Things. Surely you've heard of it: The wireless technologies capable of monitoring and interacting with the household devices that previously operated in Internet isolation. Devices like your fridge, your thermostat, and your washing machine. 

What's a private company to do, in the face of emerging IoT technologies? "It's very easy to get caught up in the hype--to chase new gadgets," says Ruben Gavieres, chief of staff at the Deloitte Center for Integrated Research. "Instead, we should think about how we actually create value--where should we play and how can we win?"

The report suggests channeling your attention to where the potential customers are. For example, almost half of U.S. adults have one or more chronic health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic diseases are responsible for seven of 10 deaths, and treating people with chronic diseases accounts for 86% of U.S. health care costs. That's grim news, but it's also an opportunity. "Wearables, monitors and implantable devices can truly maximize their potential when patients and health care providers are able to interpret and use the information they extract from the technology," notes the report. 

But if gadgetry is in your heart, you should focus on creating an enjoyable, enduring user experience. The report notes that more than half of U.S. consumers who have owned an activity tracker no longer use it.

2. Driverless cars. The concept of driving as we know it could change radically. When this will happen, the report does not predict. But the changes include the mainstreaming of car-sharing and the onset of self-driving vehicles (which Google, famously, is testing). Taken together--and combined with IoT technologies--the result could have a staggering impact on how people use their cars, and how automakers make money. 

For example, let's say an automaker becomes adept at capturing data about its users--the drivers of vehicles equipped with IoT technology. And let's say that data becomes a useful piece of research for a project team in another industry, tasked with innovating around an existing product. Suddenly, an automaker would have its hands on a trove of useful data about human behavior. The automaker could begin to make money based on its ability to capture and analyze this data. 

The data could also help the automakers' conventional customers--the drivers. For example, let's say an automaker had a way to keep tabs, in real time, on which drivers are using their vehicles--and where the unused vehicles are parked. Now imagine if, through an app on your phone, you could see where those vehicles are parked--and with the push of a button, reserve that vehicle for a quick errand by sending an online payment to the vehicle's owner. Presto: Automakers are in the car-sharing business. And car owners have a way to monetize their investment when their cars are sitting idly. Brian Uzzi, professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, calls this potential form of commerce "thought partnerships" between human and machine, wherein the interaction between technology and humans is emotionally intelligent and mutually beneficial. 

In short, automobile-based transport will likely evolve in a way "enabling people to get what they really want--safe, convenient, comfortable and fast ways to move about when and where they want--in new ways," says Eamonn Kelly, chief marketing officer for Deloitte's Strategy & Operations practice, in the report. 

You can imagine how these trends could change not only how people get from place to place, but also how objects move from one place to another. "The future mobility ecosystem could dramatically transform the nature of distribution and logistics," notes the report. "Cargo delivery and long-haul trucking could benefit enormously--it's not too hard to imagine a future in which delivery times are cut and costs plummet with autonomous trucks that can operate over more extended time periods and cover longer distances."

Bottom line, the time is now to consider how these changes will impact your company--and your competition. "Because if you don't imagine the possibilities," warns the report, "you can bet that somebody else will."