Tracking Data Trends

4 minute read

21 February 2020

By Insights Team

Innovation Reporter, Upstart

Today’s disrupted data landscape leaves many businesses perplexed about how to respond. On the horizon are a host of threats, yet it’s never clear which ones deserve a response. Horizon scanning and digital trends can help you decide, but only if you are filtering and distilling that information on a regular basis, not once a year. 


Spring is on its way  (in the northern hemisphere at least). We’re already 14% into the year, dark winter days are receding and you’re looking forward to breaks and vacations.

One thing you’re probably not looking at is the pile of annual digital trends predictions you received somewhere between November and January.  

Around the turn of each year, business people like you are bombarded with a series of annual trends reports.  This year we received no less than 26 trend reports or articles. Some of them were brave, others safe and predictable. 

Predicting the year ahead has become part of the turn of the year business landscape, as familiar as broken dry January pledges and budget reviews. 

See how searches for Digital Trends peak in Jan-February each year here in the UK. 

Google Trends
Google Trends

So What?

Businesses create trends reports for good reason. Clients need help in navigating ever-changing landscapes, and agencies, consultancies and suppliers can position themselves well by owning the discussion around what’s to come. 

There’s nothing wrong with looking forward - especially if you get it right.  

But trends used to work nicely in the pre-disruption era. A time where yearly planning cycles allowed businesses to see things coming and shift the course of their supertankers by a couple of degrees.

The next decade will see disruption being driven at speed, by technological innovation - Forrester predicts we are on the precipice of far-reaching change (one of the best trends reports we received)

Today, threats can attack with velocity, right out of left-field, leaving businesses with little time to plan their defence. Change comes in a series of seemingly disjointed developments that only become a trend once they’ve combined.

Take the rapid rise of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) - a technology increasingly adopted inside companies.  Access to content such as training and internal processes in many Fortune 500 / FTSE 500 companies is now handled by conversational interfaces using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and other strands of AI to provide knowledge workers with quick and friendly access to hard-to-find information.

This is causing rapid disruption inside organisations: 80% of enterprises will recognise the threat of automation islands and set up strike teams, creating unique new roles with names such as Chief Robotic Architect. Not having this in place can lead to competitive disadvantage through inefficient working and less attractive employee branding.

If you’re only examining trends once a year, you’re openly soliciting threats for the remaining 11 months


So Now What?

We believe trends reports should keep you informed and enable you to make faster, smarter business decisions. Our experience providing trends and insights shows us that quarterly or monthly engagement with emerging topics produces confidence, familiarity,  internal understanding and alignment, which leads to better decisions.

Disrupted times call for new rules and new ways. 

If you’re consuming digital trends, here are some things you may want to consider as you read: 

Relevance:  Trends matter but they need to be meaningful for your own business, not just your sector.  In 2020 there’s a noisy, polluted and generic environment for content. To move forward, businesses need targeted, quality and relevant information that soothes pain points. The future is filtered and bespoke to your needs. 

Action-focus. Scanning the horizon today will mean your eyes can meet a thousand potential threats. Which do you need to act on, and which deserve the wait-and-see policy? Working out how to respond lowers fear and increases agency against the threats of disruption. 

Frequency.  There’s a difference between trends and news. Not filtering news will mean that you can drown in information. By contrast, taking a step back once a year is probably not enough.  To manage the signal to noise ratio and sense of what’s happening out there you need to be regularly gathering, filtering, disseminating and actioning qualified information. 

2020 is all about energy and adaptability, understanding and anticipating market dynamics so that you can rapidly react and exploit opportunities on your scanned horizon. 

You can’t future proof your business or develop a long term strategy to tackle unforeseen disruption if you’re only scanning the horizon once a year.  You need to be regularly scanning the horizon, not looking back in frustration at what you failed to pick up on last year.

Trend spotting is about managing signal to noise, but frequency is just as important.

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