This past month, I was invited to Stockholm to share a keynote presentation on the trends culminating towards a smarter world. The event, named JAUNT, was the first chapter in a series of innovation hackathons hosted by Stockholm-based innovation agency NINE. The focus of this event was smart paper, which I find to be a rising star in the IoT smart objects ecosystem since its origins are truly analogue. This event triggered me to dive deeper into the concept of smart paper and its applications in a business context.

Smart paper is more than just a tricked-out version of an old school item. Rather, the hardware that can be incorporated into smart paper will allow businesses to engage on a more integrated level. Smart paper will allow interactions, information and content to be human-led and technology-supported, leading to better experiences both internally and consumer facing.

1) Never appear tied to technology devices in meetings again

Paper in the traditional sense is most commonly associated with sharing information: contracts, notes, research papers, etc. Sharing information is the basis for our society thriving and the way in which we communicate has evolved at a rapid pace since the wide-swept adoption of the personal computer. With this new digital form of communication (i.e. SMS, social media, online forums) has come a resurgence of the analogue. People are now craving tactile and human experiences.

Moleskine's Smart Writing Set is a seamless execution of digital meeting analogue in the realm of smart paper. The three-tiered product includes the Moleskine Paper Tablet, the Moleskine Pen+ and the Moleskine Notes App. These components all work together to allow the user to document text and sketches by hand - on paper - and translate in real-time into an image, vector or text file that can be shared instantaneously.

This digital-meets-analogue technology allows for a more human experience in meetings, replacing the somewhat clunky and disengaging experience of typing notes on an open laptop or staring down at your phone. The ability to directly share individual handwritten notes also allows for non-linear thinking and sketching, allowing for more flexibility in methods of capturing and communicating new ideas.

2) Businesses will be able to track their physical products more securely

As technology hardware becomes exponentially more compact and cheaper, the number of objects that can be integrated with hardware will increase. In the concern of technologically savvy paper, the hardware enabling services will be interwoven into the paper, making the paper material itself "smart." One of the latest technologies that has the capability to do this is Laser Enabled Advanced Packaging (LEAP), developed by scientists from North Dakota State University. By harnessing lasers in this new process, RFID chips are thinned down enough to be transferred into material as thin as paper money.

These researchers point to this technology serving the banking sector, providing banks a secure way to identify counterfeit paper money. While the currency of money has been steadily evolving in the digital realm (i.e. bitcoin, online banking, Paypal and Venmo, etc.), this technology can bring back the tactile use case for paper money. Security concerns surrounding virtual money might nudge consumers towards tangible currencies, making the verification of paper money all the more valuable.

This compact RFID hardware can be applied across sectors, and the cheaper and more readily available it becomes, the more it will be integrated into everyday products. The software use cases are still up for grabs by brands; however, they will need to be compelling enough for consumers to engage.

A brand can apply smart paper technology to validate the authenticity of a product, track a product's production journey, or create an entirely new use case built upon this emerging platform.

3) Consumers will be able to instantaneously download content

When it comes to the products themselves, brands are beginning to differentiate against competitors with services and experiences in addition to the base product. This concept is not radical; it is only expanding in scope via technology.

Take the apparel industry as an example: paper labels and tags have traditionally been attached to products to share information such as where the clothing was made, the best methods to care for it, and even the story carried with a designer's name or brand heritage.

Thanks to technologies like conductive ink and RFID, the communication and expansion of services can be expanded upon digitally. Smashbox cosmetics company executed this by developing a video tutorial unlocking feature on paper cards for their Smashbox ShapeMatters Palette. The product contains "Get the Look" cards printed with service-unlocking conductive ink developed by t-ink. By placing these cards on top of their phone (once open to the website Smashbox.com/ShapeMattersPalette), the consumer is directly connected to demo videos for Brow, Contour, Highlight and Shadow applications.

As the ultimate physical and digital convergence, smart paper is perhaps the most analogue-gone-high-tech concept being explored to date. While more and more communication is occurring through virtual platforms, smart paper could bring a renewed sense of importance to physical goods. Whether companies are using smart paper to communicate more efficiently internally or expand upon the value of their product to customers, the technology is set to make an impact for both businesses and consumers alike.

Published on: Dec 21, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.