Q&A with Tom Edwards, founder, BlackFin360
Technology trailblazer on what should top every higher ed marketer’s to-do list
Apple. Nintendo. Southwest Airlines. These are just a few of the many leading brands that turn to Tom Edwards when they need strategic planning and insights. The founder of technology consulting firm BlackFin360 is a conduit for the kind of forward thinking needed to thrive in today’s ever-evolving futuristic landscape. When it comes to staying ahead of the competition, Edwards helps brands understand how consumer behavior is shaping emerging technology and vice versa. A formal advisor and board member for multiple technology start-ups, he also has spent 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at various universities, most recently with SMU in Dallas. EDgage sat down with Edwards to get his thoughts on the role technology plays in today’s higher ed landscape.
Give us a snapshot of the technology landscape today (as it relates to marketing).
We live in an amazing time. Technology is culture and culture is technology. So much of the focus the past few years has been about real-time, contextual and personalization at scale. Data’s role in driving decisioning, especially leveraging machine learning to derive themes, perceptions and occasions, is revolutionizing how we derive affinity and intent signals from consumers. We can now return in time and process millions of conversations to understand unbiased consumer behavior and have the ability to align that with evolving consumer experiences.
Technology and experience will continue to evolve. Technology will expand the boundaries of higher education.
The other major shift is we are quickly moving from desktop and mobile-centric experiences toward multi-modal at scale. This includes voice, vision and touch. The rise and adoption of virtual assistants, advancements in computer vision and democratization of augmented reality experiences, and the rise of gesture-based experiences make it a great time to be a consumer and marketer.
How will technology continue to impact the higher ed space?
Technology and experience will continue to evolve. I used to talk about how disruption was the new normal, and how a single technology could have a transformational impact. Now, it’s less about disruption and more about exponential acceleration through intelligent systems. Technology will expand the boundaries of higher education. With the rollout of 5G connectivity across campuses, we will see responsive and immersive augmented reality, high quality streaming for on-demand and live casting of classes, 5G-enabled edge computing/analytics to optimize the on-campus experience, and making IOT more accessible to close the gap between context and awareness.
What role will technologies like AI continue to have on today’s campuses and universities?
AI will have a significant impact moving forward—from organizational efficiency, enhancing student experiences and redefining coursework, to shift toward critical thinking in support of intelligence augmentation.
Universities can leverage AI to streamline the admissions process, quickly access the sentiment and areas of interest of their student and faculty population, use AI to drive fundraising and create personalized experiences for alumni.
AI will also enhance students’ capabilities to learn—from leveraging visual search and computer vision-enabled experiences, to shifting coursework to focus more on critical and strategic thinking, and using data and analytics to fuel experiences.
What are things higher ed marketers should think about when it comes to technology?
I’ve been involved with higher education at varying levels for the past 15 years. I have instructed thousands of students, and most recently lectured at SMU in Dallas. I am also a part of its Big Data advisory council.
For me, it is an evolution of the traditional 4P’s of marketing. Since the ’60s, it has been about product, price, place and promotion. With the rise of intelligent systems, it is less about the traditional 4P’s and more about the new 4P’s: Plan, Predictive, Proxy and Pervasive.
Plan is having a plan for the use and data: how it is captured, structured, cleansed, analyzed and fed into intelligent systems, as data is oil for AI. Predictive is leveraging data and machine learning to drive predictive decisioning. Proxy is all about virtual assistants becoming personal proxies for individuals. The data plus predictive decisioning capability combined with virtual proxies will give rise to the proxy web where our virtual assistants represent our preferences and interface with other proxies. Finally, pervasive is about designing for multi-modal interfaces at a time when the mobile device will no longer be our primary device but our environment adapts to us.
What should every higher ed professional know about technology?
Understand that behaviors and expectations of students is evolving. Students are empowered to control experiences. Accessibility has led to ubiquity and Gen Z and Generation Alpha are quickly shifting traditional behaviors.
From expectations of on-demand content, gaming and eSports to expectations tied to immersive and low-lag experiences. Universities have to evolve their infrastructure toward a 5G future and higher ed professionals will need to rethink curriculum toward data, analytics and multi-modal experiences.
What kind of trends should they be looking at heading into 2020?
In 2020, we will continue to see virtual assistants shift toward the center of the operating system. With the rollout of 5G connectivity, we will see a path toward simulation through low latency augmented reality at scale.
We will continue to see the camera used as bridge to intelligence through a combination of computer vision and virtual assistants and we will continue to see the rise of the proxy web where virtual assistants continue to evolve to the point where we are no longer marketing just to consumers, but also to algorithms and intelligent systems.
Finally, we will continue to see AI enhanced digital avatars become more mainstream. First in the form of customer support and slowly expanding to more use cases by industry.