ENGINEERING NEWS

Howard Tullman Discusses Tech Trends Driving Innovation

Tullman spoke as part of Northwestern Engineering’s Dean’s Seminar Series on June 4

On June 4, entrepreneur Howard Tullman discussed the tech trends that are changing the future of lives and businesses.

The average person in the US interacts with their smartphone 163 times every day. While this statistic may surprise some, entrepreneur Howard Tullman believes the behavior is reflective of our changing relationship with technology.

The former CEO of startup incubator 1871 Chicago and current executive director of the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Tullman spoke to students, faculty, and staff as part of Northwestern Engineering’s Dean’s Seminar Series on June 4 in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center.


Here are 10 trends that Tullman said are driving technological innovation and promise to shape the future of our lives and businesses.

The Scarcest Resource is Time

Howard TullmanAccording to Tullman, businesses are increasingly offering services that provide customers convenience and save them time from traditionally cumbersome tasks. He highlighted Directly, a company that uses crowd-sourcing and artificial intelligence to provide customer service assistance within four minutes.

“Time is the scarcest resource in our lives,” Tullman said. “It’s not like money. It’s actually more precious, because you can’t hang on to it or save it up or put it away for a rainy day.”

The Economy of Now

Customers have adopted higher expectations for the speed of service, which has challenged companies to make products and services available at the moment the buyer is ready to buy. Such an approach includes having a presence where customers spend their most time, which is less often through company storefronts and websites and more frequently through social networks like Facebook and Instagram.

“Once you experience hyper-speed, you don’t want to wait for anything, and you apply those expectations to everything else,” Tullman said.

Convenience Over Choice

On a similar note, the convenience in satisfying a need trumps the desire for choice in today’s economy. Tullman cited Amazon’s Dash Button, a small device that can be clicked to reorder more than 200 products from leading brands without navigating the Amazon storefront. If a customer is folding laundry and realizes they are out of detergent, they simply click the Dash button and a replacement is ordered.

“The big question today is, ‘How easy is it to do business with your business?’” Tullman said. “If it’s not easy, the customer will go somewhere else.”

Mass Customization

Due to advances in artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, companies can now provide personalized customer experiences and services to mass audiences.

“One of the things that technology enables us to think about that wasn’t possible before is that we no longer have to trade off scale versus precision,” said Tullman. “Businesses can do everything for each person.”

Tullman noted that despite having tens of millions of shoppers, Amazon’s homepage is highly customized to shoppers, highlighting products and services reflective of their purchase history, streaming preferences, and browsing history within the site.

Data, the Oil of the Digital Age

Tullman believes improved analysis techniques will encourage companies to target engaged, high-value customers instead of navigating the “traffic” of mass audiences. One consequence will be a shift to dynamic pricing for many products and services. He pointed to grocery stores, for example, that are beginning to offer real-time, variable pricing for produce and dairy products based on their expected shelf life, a trend he said could save millions of dollars every month in food waste.

Attention is the New Currency

With a seemingly endless library of apps, television shows, and movies accessible through smartphones, Tullman said that people are “drowning” in content. As a result, capturing their attention is harder than ever.

“Attention is a currency. It’s one of the ways we commit our time,” he said. “Businesses don’t understand that competition exists beyond their competitive sect. You’re competing against everything else that could get in the way of your target customers, your clients, and those you want to engage with.”

Engagement, Not Eyeballs

With the expansion of social networks and communication channels, the context of how businesses reach consumers has become more important than the content that is shared. Tullman said that successful companies are developing comprehensive “smart reach” strategies that not only measure if messaging reaches target audiences, but also how it resonates and changes their behaviors.

“Advertising today is actually a penalty,” he said. “It’s the cost you pay for being boring.”

A Shift to Streaming

Mobile streaming services have afforded new levels of access, convenience, and control that are changing how customers consume content. Traditional television viewing is dropping across demographics, according to Tullman, with 47% of millennials and Gen Xers no longer watching traditional television at all. In fact, Netflix now has more US subscribers than all cable television users combined.

A World of Constant Connectivity

For years, internet commerce held an advantage over brick and mortar retailers because of its ability to track and measure customer activity online. Tullman said smartphone device connectivity is helping level the playing field among physical stores. In the future, retailers will use real-time, actionable data — from aisle activity heat maps to in-store shopper bounce rates to conversions based on store window displays — to drive the shopping experience.

Internet of Everything

Not only has the Internet changed how people interact with each other, but connected devices are changing how traditional human tasks are performed. Tullman shared several examples in healthcare, including an EKG test patients can take with their smartphone, bypassing a doctor’s visit and costly medical expenses. He also highlighted connected, talking pill bottles that help improve compliance and utilization among medication users, as well as smart utensils that adapt to the needs of users suffering from hand tremors or limited mobility.

“All of these devices and all of this information are creating a tremendous flow of data, but also tremendous opportunity,” Tullman said. “The businesses of the next decade will help us focus, interpret, and apply data and create new ways of living and doing business in every aspect of what goes on.”