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6 B2B Tech Trends From CES 2020

CES 2020 is officially a wrap. Much of the news was about new gadgets and Big Tech announcements, but there was plenty of PR from B2B tech brands, too. What did the show tell us about the rest of the year? What dominated the conversation? Here are six trends that stood out.

CCPA has an impact

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was a hot topic in Las Vegas. California’s version of GDPR has officially taken effect, though the state’s regulators have acknowledged they won’t truly enforce the rules until later this year. (If they really knew how to enforce the rules, they’d be doing it.) In a nutshell, CCPA formalizes data rights for California residents, allowing them to view and access data collected about them, request its deletion or to opt out. As a result, whether you’re a brand, ad tech business, AI platform, or retailer, if you do business in California, you’re touched by the law. For that reason, CCPA was front-and-center at CES. One of the most well-attended panels, for example, was MediaLink’s “Future of Data-Driven Marketing,” featuring execs from companies like FOX and Havas. They discussed the ethics of data sourcing and activation to a packed room in Aria.

Security concerns grow

CES is a great venue for showcasing new and innovative products. But, in the IoT era, where every device — from a toothbrush to a toilet — is Internet-connected, journalists are more skeptical about the value of these products. IoT gimmick devices just aren’t cute anymore. Are they really worth the data privacy trade-off? That was a common question at CES. On top of that, the specter of state-sponsored security threats (like a cyberattack by lran or security flaws in ToTok) loomed large at the show. The good news is — if you’re in cybersecurity and want to boost your thought leadership chops, CES offered a great newsjacking opportunity.

Deals and consolidation in ad tech

This one’s for the ad tech folks, mostly. Whether it’s Rubicon buying Telaria or Unruly being sold to Tremor International, it’s clear that 2020 will be the year of the acquisition. Why? For starters, it’s the need for transparency and simplification in the category. Transparency has become more important because the more vendors a brand must work with, the murkier their investment and supply chain become. In terms of simplicity, why work with and pay for 10 tech partners when you can get the same value with five? CES 2020 was a place to discuss why consolidation is occurring, though the answers seemed obvious. What’s really cool about the show is that, behind closed doors, several big deals were likely just beginning. The CTV space is partcularly ripe for deals in 2020.

TV and streaming rule

Speaking of CTV, TV was probably the hottest topic at CES. Discussions centered on who will win the streaming wars and which entrants will have staying power. What streaming business model will consumers ultimately prefer — subscription or free and ad-supported? Will people actually pay for more than three to five content platforms? A Roku panel I attended on the state of the OTT industry featuring execs from Roku, Starz and CBS explored all of these themes. On the ads side, one of the key questions was whether ad-sustained streaming services can become more of a value-add for end users, with more interactive ads and greater personalization. And, of course, is Quibi real or not? At the show, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman tried to plead their case, though the category remains skeptical.

Diversity makes headlines

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) have a material impact on businesses. According to study after study, diversity and inclusion affect the bottom line. Yet, the technology sector — particularly the B2B tech sector — continues to do the bare minimum for bringing on underrepresented talent. And it’s not a pipeline problem, as some would have you believe. The talent is there. Instead, the underlying problem is that tech companies have been slow to recognize D&I as a cultural, operational and financial benefit. At CES, where tech teams were on display and speaker diversity was a focal point, D&I was apparent, even if a demographic breakdown of the speakers has yet to be released.

CES boosts brick-and-mortar retail

It’s no secret that brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling. Just last week, Pier 1 announced massive store closures, and layoffs are pending as more home decor buying goes digital. Traditional retailers were on hand, presumably having sobering discussions about what new consumer technologies are a value-add for their businesses. Whether it’s AR and VR for digital showrooming or robots that support curbside pickup, CES is an obvious environment to consider a post-Amazon future. Among the more interesting technologies were the drones, and not just as gimmicks this year. Japanese company Blue Innovation, for example, demoed an autonomous drone that can intelligently navigate a warehouse without human guidance, mapping the place and its inventory using AI. That type of tech can reduce retailer costs and streamline onerous supply chain issues.

Okay, these are just a few of the trends that I saw at CES 2020. What am I missing? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @chrisharihar.

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