As 2016 begins to make its way out of the harbor, questions about what’s in store for Chicago tech abound. What innovations and disruptions will the year bring? Has Chicago tech begun to reach its maturation as a market? What trends sit on the horizon, and what’s being left behind?
We sat down with four Chicago tech executives (including CEOs, CTOs, and founders) to talk Chicago tech, and they generously provided their sage predictions on the state of Chicago tech — and the biggest challenges we’ll face in 2016.
Tech predictions from:
Should we continue to see the same type of growth in 2016 that we saw in 2015, or is Chicago tech starting to reach its maturation?
JS: I believe we'll see similar growth in 2016. In addition to mobile there is an onslaught of new capabilities around IoT, VR, robotics and machine learning that will continue to warrant significant investment in tech. Every industry is ripe for continued disruption through the practical application of these technologies.
EM: We hope so. I don't think we have yet reached our potential and with the influx of big deals and talent, this could be just the beginning. It is such a great customer base to begin in.
What trends in your industry are set to emerge?
EM: The tech products that replace traditional paper-based must haves will see growth due to new assessments and accountability but most importantly due to cheap chrome books.
KR: We are still in the midst of continued innovation on mobile. A good example is online video content consumption which I think will surpass traditional TV viewing time, with millennials leading the shift particularly on mobile. That's a big reason why we stream the tastytrade network online at tastytrade.com and on our mobile apps and also why users can place trades at dough.com and on the go with our dough mobile app.
With larger companies like AT&T and Verizon focusing on mobile video services, it’s apparent that mobile has not reached its maturation and larger companies are finding ways to innovate. The demand for mobile financial access and functionality from customers has been apparent as we’ve seen frontend Fintech companies focus on the customer experience. Mobile payment technology will finally start to catch up to the demand in 2016.
JS: Mobile is no longer the next big thing, it is the primary computing platform, just as the PC has been for the last thirty years. In order to stay relevant, many companies need to move beyond lip service and pivot their digital strategy (i.e. budgets) to focus on mobile first. Most startups understand this but surprisingly, many enterprises still do not.
Are there any major issues that Chicago tech, or certain verticals within Chicago tech, need to tackle?
JS: There is still a lot of opportunity and work to do on the commerce front. e-commerce has been growing slowly for the past 10 years, but still accounts for only 7-10 percent of company sales. New consumer behaviors around mobile ordering, mobile payments and one touch checkouts paves the way to increase this percentage significantly. The technology capability and consumer appetite is there, most companies simply struggle with the user experience. We've seen companies that invest appropriately in the digital customer experience make tremendous strides.
AR: I will comment on Google and Amazon building serious technology teams in town. Clearly it's a boon for our area and the job market. As a resident of Chicago that's exciting. But as an employer in the city, supported by relatively smaller sums of revenue and Venture funding, I'm nervous about competing over talent. More broadly, I worry that as such large actors, they can move the market, making it much harder for companies our size and smaller.
KR: The legacy backend technology associated with the financial services industry has some of the most potential for dramatic change. We’ve seen the frontend, customer-facing innovations over this past year look promising, but the backend clearing and foundational infrastructure has incredible upside potential. We won’t see it in 2016, but it’s started and that’s exciting.
Is there one particular sector you think is set to boom?
KR: The financial services and healthcare industries have come a long way, but there is still an immense amount of opportunity for innovation, which we will continue to see throughout this year. More innovation in Fintech and Biotech/Healthtech is a given. Technology adoption focus will continue to be on mobile and cloud-based services as foundational mediums.
JS: There is a huge opportunity around the Internet of Things. There's been a lot of buzz about this the past few years, but the IoT stack and mobile platforms have now matured enough to start making the ROI very real for consumer product companies, large equipment manufacturers and distributors.
How do you think the startup community will change in 2016?
EM: I think we'll see more growth and a continuously higher bar for access to talent and funding.
KR: We have over 275 new digital startups each year here in Chicago and I expect to see that grow in 2016 as a result of the ever-expanding 90 accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces right here in Chicago. We’ll see a focus on accelerators where there is a specific need to be met.
Photo via Shutterstock. Some answers have been edited for length and/or clarity.
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