What’s next? These are the tech trends 8 Chicago companies are watching

Written by Michael Hines
Published on Oct. 31, 2018
What’s next? These are the tech trends 8 Chicago companies are watching
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The tech industry is built upon a foundation of innovation and iteration, which requires companies to constantly stay on the lookout for new trends and emerging technologies. We recently spoke with eight Chicago tech companies to learn what advancements they’re keeping an eye on, along with how their tech and companies evolve accordingly.


RedShelf Chicago tech company

RedShelf’s technology makes it easier for publishers, educational institutions and teachers to digitize textbooks and reading materials — and for learners to access the content on the go. Director of Digital Accessibility and User Experience Erin Kirchner-Lucas said the company has recently focused on accessibility and inclusive design to better address the needs of learners both young and old.


What are the biggest technology advancements or trends you’re watching?

We’ve seen an increased focus on accessibility and inclusive design over the last year. While accessibility has been a legal concern for some time, it’s becoming a critical social concern as well. Inclusive design considers the full range of human diversity, so it also has great potential to improve all lives in infinite ways.


How is your company or technology evolving to ensure you’re keeping up with these changes?

Generation Z is a large segment of our user base, and because of their comfortability with emerging technology, they learn differently than previous generations. These differences are being recognized on campus as next-generation accessibility needs, and are helping advance the accessibility of digital products.

Over the last year, our team has embraced an “accessibility first” mindset to address ways we can take our digital products to the next level of accessibility and influence the advancement of digital accessibility in edtech. Our development teams are very involved in the accessibility community on a local and national level, evangelizing our approach to accessible development and testing to encourage others to embrace accessibility as a necessity.


ActiveCampaign Chicago tech company

ActiveCampaign’s marketing automation software is used by companies to run more effective and targeted campaigns. CTO Tony Newcome weighed in on the trends his company is keeping an eye on.


What are the biggest technological advancements or trends you’re watching?

No longer are companies able to treat customers and their data independently, and it has become necessary for every person interacting with customers in an organization to be empowered to deliver a consistent experience. Whether that means creating easy integrations amongst various software platforms and point solutions or applying data science to create intelligent engagement, ActiveCampaign is working to ensure our users are able to access information and provide the right level of personalized attention to each of their contacts.


How is your company or technology evolving to ensure you’re keeping up with these changes?

The evolution we are seeing is breaking traditional organizational boundaries and forcing businesses to change the way they work day to day. ActiveCampaign is helping our small and mid-sized business customers gain a competitive advantage delivering more relevant customer experiences at exactly the right time.


VillageMD Chicago healthtech company

VillageMD helps primary care physicians better serve their patients and work more efficiently through a mix of technology solutions, data analytics and on-the-ground staffing support. Healthtech is becoming an increasingly crowded space, and Senior Director of Technology Kevin Patel said his engineering team’s diverse backgrounds help them stay ahead of the curve.


What are the biggest technology advancements or trends you’re watching?

Blockchain, platforms and experience. At the core of blockchain is the enablement of decentralized processing. It’s incredibly important for our organization to enable healthcare locally, from a clinical and technical standpoint. We look within our industry and outside of it to understand broad advancements and use cases of scaled decentralized computing.

We continue to think about how we build the best healthcare platform possible by giving people what they need, without adding technology overhead. We pay attention to trends from all over the world as they relate to large software companies and startups alike. Few things are more important than customer experience. “Walking in the shoes” of our customers — physicians and patients — continues to lead us to better ideas and faster implementations of them.


How is your company or technology evolving to ensure you’re keeping up with these changes?

It starts with the people we hire. Our team members come from different backgrounds, but we all share in the mission of dramatically changing the trajectory of healthcare. Roughly 50 percent of our engineering team received degrees in something other than computer science, including astrophysics, math and public health. We also look for people who have innovated in many different areas and have done so with great conviction and passion. Finally, we believe in a shared vision, a collaborative team and a high degree of autonomy to problem solve. It’s been our experience that this leads to the greatest levels of accountability and sense of purpose while delivering results.


Fooda Chicago tech company

Fooda is a food ordering platform that makes it easier for office workers to answer the age-old question: What’s for lunch? Its menu features dishes from local eateries, and the company handles the delivery logistics. VP of Engineering Sanjit Saluja said his team is keeping a close eye on technologies and tools that will enable them to build a highly scalable and fault-tolerant platform.


What are the biggest technological advancements or trends you’re watching?

We actively keep on top of anything related to high availability and scaling. Our company also has a huge appetite for data-driven decisions, which are a cornerstone of our decision-making process. At Fooda data is everywhere, from the beginning of the user acquisition funnel to the end of supporting marketplace transactions.


How is your company or technology evolving to ensure you’re keeping up with these changes?

Some of the top trends we are watching are changes in Kubernetes — Federations, AWS Fargate and cross-cloud infrastructure — and highly available data platforms like Aurora, DynamoDB and Spanner. On the data side, we are always exploring ways to augment our machine learning toolkit. We dedicate time and bandwidth on our development roadmap to spike, prototype and demo forward-looking technologies. Since there is a heavy management focus on individual learning and development, we have a rich culture of exploring new tech and sharing ideas.


Evive Chicago tech company

Evive’s cloud-based platform uses big data and predictive analytics to make it easier for employees to fully understand and get the most out of their benefits. According to VP of Product Strategy and Development Lenny Fayard, Evive is especially excited about blockchain and its potential impact on the way it manages data.


What are the biggest technology advancements or trends you’re watching?

Currently, it’s up to patients to communicate everything about their health to their providers, and oftentimes that means none of them have a complete picture of their health. With blockchain, the aspiration is that if, for instance, someone goes to the ER with chest pain on Monday, that service is on their record with their general practitioner on Tuesday. There will be one always-up-to-date record, and they can always see who’s accessed it and where it’s going.


How is your company or technology evolving to ensure you’re keeping up with these changes?

The healthcare system will run on blockchain technology eventually, and that’s going to bring data privacy enhancements and take our data processing capabilities to new heights. But it’s not like flipping a switch. It’s going to be a process involving a lot of different stakeholders. We’re trying to manage our own expectations while laying the groundwork for what we think is coming. This is the kind of thing our internal incubator, Evive Labs, is working on.


Supernova Chicago tech company

Supernova Companies’ technology enables wealth management firms and banks to offer their customers loans backed by their own investment portfolios — what those in the know refer to as “securities-based loans.” CEO Tom Anderson said the company’s clients play a large role in the evolution of its tech.


What are the biggest technology advancements or trends you’re watching?

Our platform connects loan origination, loan servicing, risk monitoring, payment processing and loan accounting systems. Data from these connections is then grouped into portals for banks, wealth management firms, their advisors and their clients. Therefore, we watch “mega trends” within the wealth management industry focused on the technology-enabled client and the technology-enabled advisor as well as trends in regulation technology. We also watch “micro trends” and advancements within each of the subsystems we connect and portals we design. Examples include technology trends that are further streamlining the loan origination and loan servicing processes.


How is your company or technology evolving to ensure you’re keeping up with these changes?

Our clients are very demanding and our platform is evolving with the mega-trends along with feedback from our clients and users. There is a significant network effect to our business, and we are in a prime position to learn the greatest hits and best practices across the industry. Our product roadmap is primarily shaped by client feedback and incorporating these greatest hits. With respect to micro trends, Supernova is a unique blend of systems that we have built and systems with which we integrate. Our vendors also help us keep up with changes through their own roadmaps and product enhancements across many of our subsystems.


DRW Chicago fintech company

DRW is a diversified principal trading firm that uses technology and risk management to identify and capture trading opportunities around the world. Director of Network Architecture Eric Bellerive said his team’s goal is to create “the perfect network” for moving data around the world as efficiently as possible. Needless to say, Bellerive and his team are constantly on the lookout for new solutions — as well as ways to optimize and enhance existing ones.


What are the biggest technology advancements or trends you're watching?

About 10 years ago when other trading firms were using fiber optic cable for their networks, our team was looking at all possible ways to move data and came across a solution which, at the time, was very slow and outdated: microwave technology. We took a closer look and built our own technology and systems upon it to make microwave networks extremely efficient. It soon became the new standard in the trading world.

We are constantly looking for these types of innovations. We were an early adopter of field-programmable gate array technology, or FPGA as most people know it, which allows us to custom build our own equipment and make specific trades more efficient and customizable. We’re integrating machine learning and artificial intelligence to optimize the way networks operate today. Our team’s goal is now evolving to create not only a fast network, but also an intelligent network. By moving market data as efficiently as possible, we help to ensure that prices across different markets are in sync.


How is your company or technology evolving to ensure you’re keeping up with these changes?

One of our values is to challenge consensus. This feeds into how we keep up with technology, as well as how we encourage our employees to prioritize learning and creative thinking. People across the organization regularly meet with universities and professors, read papers and studies, discuss with experts around the world and attend conferences. We also keep our eyes on other industries that are innovating. My motto is: There is always a better way to do what we do. So we empower our employees with the flexibility to try new ideas, and the resources to learn how to execute them well.


Fusion Risk Management

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Fusion Risk Management’s cloud-based business continuity and risk management software services helps companies prepare for and manage their operations through disasters. While low-code and no-code development has gained popularity in recent years, VP and CTO Cory Cowgill said the company has been on top of that trend since its founding in 2006.


What are the biggest technology advancements or trends you’re watching?

We are actively engaged in the low-code and no-code platform revolution. The ability for citizen developers to build secure, enterprise-scale applications via metadata in the public cloud is something that will profoundly change the way enterprise applications are built. Market analysts have stated that by 2020, almost 50 percent of new enterprise application development will be performed on these platforms.


How is your company or technology evolving to ensure you’re keeping up with these changes?

We have a “metadata-driven” approach to engineering. All of the product features we engineer can be configured through metadata by our customers’ developers to meet their unique risk needs. This requires creative, disciplined and thoughtful engineering to ensure that the capabilities we build respect the vast permutations of different metadata configurations our customers may use — and that those capabilities continue to optimally leverage the increasingly powerful features of the platform. It’s challenging as you are building a platform, not a static feature. But it’s a challenge that delivers incredible value to customers when they compare how easy it is to configure our system without any engineering.

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Photos via featured companies unless otherwise stated. All interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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