The 2018 business trends: Data is the key

By Christine Jackson

As another year is upon us, we look at the areas most likely to impact businesses in 2018. There are many aspects to consider, many buzzwords and new technologies but the overwhelming theme is data, the gathering of data, and the protection of any data you hold and process, and of course the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Businesses all want data; they want data to understand their customers, data to improve their customer service, data to develop their products and data to sell more products to their current and prospective customers. It’s no surprise then that the business trends for 2018 focus on the technologies that allow for the collection and processing of data, or using current data to satisfy customer demand.

The Internet of Things

In September 2016 it was reported by the ICO that six in ten IoT devices did not tell customers how their personal data would be used, this included devices such as health watches, electricity monitors and internet connected thermostats.

A survey from IHS estimates that there are already over 25 million connected ‘things’ or devices across the world. The Internet of Things is already all around us, perhaps most commonly known as a heating app solution for the home, gathering data on gas and electricity usage while allowing users to control temperate and plug sockets remotely.

However, the applications for IoT are far-reaching, in the agricultural sector, there are solutions that offer sensor data, monitoring moisture levels in soil, weather and crop conditions.  In the medical and lifestyle sector, sensors are now being fitted to prescription bottles collecting patient data on medication regimens. There are also Smart Cities, Barcelona being the first to embrace all the IoT has to offer by monitoring and collecting data on traffic and connected cars, allowing them to improve congestion and the impact vehicles are having on the environment.

IoT is expected to gather momentum in 2018 as businesses look for more innovative ways to offer connected devices that are useful to the consumer but allow the business to gather data. This will enable businesses to use the insight provided by the data to understand their customer’s behaviour in more detail so they can offer them improved, or new products and services. This will impact every industry sector as it transforms the way businesses operate across the board.

It is predicted that the use of ‘things’ will grow substantially to 125 billion by 2030 as businesses and manufacturers look to harvest more data. However, as the use of connected devices grows so does the need to be compliant with the new data protection regulations. IoT device and app manufacturers need to ensure they audit their current approach to data, identify any areas of non-compliance and put in place action plans to address the gaps.

Artificial intelligence

In 2018 automation and artificial intelligence will become more mainstream, some of the hype will disappear as businesses gain a greater understanding of machine-based learning and the benefits it can offer.  In the IT space, many speculate that more and more businesses will use AI to perform repetitive tasks and process large amounts of data where human interaction is not needed.

That’s not to say there won’t be any commentary on robots taking over our jobs and the world, but there will be more evidence and practical applications for AI. Robots may feature more and more, not just in manufacturing and industry but in the healthcare sector and even in the home. The launch of care and companion robots is expected to be a reality before the end of 2018.

As with the IoT, artificial intelligence relies on large amounts of data in order to be useful to the end user. The algorithms used in machine-based learning take data to ‘learn’, solve problems and perform tasks. It is therefore important that not only the manufacturers and programmers are aware of and compliant with GDPR but any third party suppliers who are involved with processing or have access to the data.


There has been significant media attention on the use of drones for delivery services. In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority allowed Amazon to test its Prime Air delivery service in 2016. The first test saw a customer’s order delivered in 13 minutes from click to door. If a drone delivery option goes more mainstream, it is likely to set a whole new set of expectations for consumers and an entirely new set of data for businesses.

The law on drones falls into several categories, one of which is data. For example, the drone needs data in order to deliver the product to the correct location, not just an address but a series of coordinates. If a drone has a camera, businesses also need to be aware of data protection and privacy laws – as an individual’s house, car number plate, or personal image are also classed as personal data.

It is likely that the use of drones for commercial applications will continue to grow to meet consumer demand. Trials in Iceland have seen, not only parcels being delivered to customers via drone but also food and takeaway orders to remote areas, this has resulted in a considerable reduction in the delivery time so is likely to be rolled out to other locations.

Taking things to a whole new level, a project in Dubai will see the launch of drones designed to carry people. The passenger drones are designed to carry one person at a time; the only controls are for the person to set the destination, this has the potential for needing to regulate the processing of personal data, payment data and special categories of data.

The common theme across all of these 2018 predictions is data. Each new technology or approach collects, processes and stores data, some personal data from the delivery addresses used by drones, to special categories of data on patients gathered in the course of monitoring medication. It’s clear that there are significant benefits for using this data. However, businesses need to ensure they are compliant with the GDPR or face the well documented fines for data breaches.


Christine Jackson is a Commercial Lawyer with Midlands Law Firm Wright Hassall