Digital transformation is never easy, and companies that embarked on this important endeavour in 2018 did so in the face of broader political and economic instability. It was also a rocky year for many of the world’s biggest technology companies, those that have spearheaded digital change for some time.


As 2019 kicks off, much of the uncertainty from last year remains, but this year, new paradigms will be forged and rules will be set. Leaders and experts from around PwC have weighed in on what they think will be the themes and trends that will define the coming year. Among my picks? A workforce-led approach will define successful transformation strategies and voice-led devices will turn mainstream due to a focus on the user experience.

AI and IoT
moves to the core

“We’ll see more companies moving their AI initiatives from the lab to the core of their operations. In our recent survey of US executives, 20% told us they planned to deploy AI across their organisations in 2019. They’ll go from pilots to production systems, which is a significant step but still a far cry from a fully AI-enhanced enterprise. We are still in the early days of the commercial exploitation of AI – akin to being in 1984 when the first personal computers were introduced. As executives integrate AI into their businesses, they’ll need to address a number of challenges, including integration with other systems and technologies, data governance, and ensuring they’re using AI responsibly.” Anand Rao, Global and US Artificial Intelligence and US Data and Analytics Leader

“The number, scope, and impact of AI-based digital services companies will grow rapidly, establishing a new sector. During 2018, venture capital dollars invested in AI companies increased 72%, with the majority in seed and early-stage deals. This is a hot area that can address needs throughout the enterprise. In PwC’s 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey, 62% of CEOs agree that AI will have a bigger impact on the economy than the internet. It is early days, but it is coming.” Vicki Huff, Global and US New Ventures Leader

“Companies will begin rethinking IoT and looking at more practical applications: connected solutions like asset tracking, indoor and outdoor geolocation, energy management, and facial or object recognition. The focus will be on solving age-old – and costly – problems that affect nearly every business. While far less sexy than 5G-powered ecosystems or edge networks, these incremental IoT solutions, which add intelligence to everyday objects, enable organisations to begin building an IoT foundation with their existing infrastructure.” Rob Mesirow, PwC US Connected Solutions Leader

Getting the people
and tech mix right

“For many people, work might not change much in 2019. We will see more companies take advantage of the right emerging technologies – not just what’s in the news today – and embrace a more digital mindset. At the companies that do that, it means changing the way people work; people will no longer just do their little part of a project or execute on just a tiny part of a plan. They’ll be working together with colleagues from the start – designers, strategists, product managers, coders, marketers. Business people, technical experts, creative and experience gurus will increasingly come together. As ‘innovation’ comes out of its off-to-the-side project status and becomes part of what a company does, work will be more engaging, more collaborative, more interesting and more focused on outcomes instead of the individual pieces. Companies know it needs to be done and I expect more to execute this year.” Tom Puthiyamadam, PwC Digital Services & BXT Leader

“Instead of thinking in terms of blockchain, AI, or IoT, executives will begin to focus on how to use the right mix of technology to solve specific business problems. While we believe there’s a shortlist of emerging tech that all businesses need to think about – our Essential Eight – the real power comes with their convergence. And there are five promising power combos that will create the next business value: conversational interfaces, extended reality, intelligent automation, embodied AI, and technologies that automate trust.” Scott Likens, Emerging Technology Leader, US 

Next level
customer experience

“Companies that focus on employee experience and creating new ways of working – collaborative, flatter, faster and nimble – are more financially successful. As our Digital IQ research found, 91% of top-performing companies have an executive in charge of employee experience. Employee experience isn’t just about culture. It’s not just about cool tools or a stocked fridge. It’s room to innovate, to grow and to do the best work you can. And, employee experience is the key to creating better customer experiences. It matters: customers are willing to pay up to 16% more for good experiences. In 2019 I expect more companies to wake up to this and begin to shift focus toward experience, toward designing workplaces that work for the people in them, toward adopting technologies that don’t replace people, but allow them to work smarter and help customers.” David Clarke, PwC Global CxO, Experience Consulting & Digital Consumer Markets Leader

“Trust in government is at an all time low. Across the world, citizens are struggling to trust that their governments are working in their best interest. In 2019 we will start to see organisations make better sense of the meaning, impact and importance of trust – especially when it comes to citizen experience and satisfaction. There are measurable drivers of trust that directly correlate with improved citizen experiences and operating efficiencies. In Australia, governments delivering the right services to citizens in the right ways will be the greatest opportunity to shrink our national trust deficit. In New Zealand, the consumer watchdog is already using trust as a measure of satisfaction over the traditional Net Promoter Score, with the measure encapsulating both past experience with an organisation and future attitudes – a critical measure for government success.” Gul Khan, Manager, Customer & Experience, Australia

A new era
for tech giants

“Large technology firms will face increasing regulatory headwinds in 2019 as governments across the world push back on self regulation. With users numbering in the billions, and regulation lagging behind technological developments, the tech firms have had a window of privilege to set their own rules. However, public trust in these firms is eroding and governments will come under increasing citizen pressure to regulate on matters of privacy and law enforcement access. One example in Australia is the passing of the Assistance and Access Bill, which asserts a right to law enforcement of access to data that has long been resisted by tech companies. Expect to see similar laws introduced in Australia’s intelligence and security partner countries.” Steve Ingram, Asia Pacific Cyber Lead

“In 2019 consumers will finally start saying no to free-to-use applications that mine and monetise their data. It may start with greater availability and take up of pay-to-use apps which keep data ownership with the user (e.g. a paid enterprise version compared to the free version). We may even see the take up of services that put the consumer in control by continuously governing what data is allowed to be exposed to third parties. This is probably beyond 2019, but eventually we may get blockchain enabled services that monetise a consumer’s data but return a share of that income to them – a kind of digital rights management.” Richard Blundell, Director, Experience Centre, Australia

“Not so long ago, the competitive advantage of a technology company could be determined by its hardware: beautiful designs that became a status symbol as much as a life-improving device. But that competitive edge no longer exists. Hardware is now commoditised, with players from China and Korea building products that are not only as good as the traditional incumbents but even preferred by users. They are now learning the tough lesson that if the software doesn’t meet consumers’ increasingly sophisticated expectations, their profitability is in peril.” Monty Hamilton, Partner, Experience Centre, Australia



John Riccio

John is a former partner at PwC Australia and the founder of Digital Pulse.

More About John Riccio