Walking into VivaTech 2019 was an immediate inundation of elaborate booths, cutting edge tracks from celebrity entrepreneurs (shoutout to Jack Ma) and the latest innovations from start-ups (9000 of them, to be exact) and large companies. All of this set in motion to provide a venue to discuss and showcase what the next best thing is within the digital industry.

Once you acclimate to the thousands of attendees and ornate booths from juggernauts such as Facebook, Google, LVMH, Salesforce and more, you realize how incredible it is to be rubbing elbows with someone who may have just graduated – someone who may be launching an innovative new product, next to the CTO of a successful company who has been in the game for decades.

Technology is moving at a rapid pace, as demonstrated by the incredible tech advances showcased at VivaTech. Catching a glimpse of such advanced innovation can leave organizations feeling lost about where to even begin in order to compete. The overarching theme of all of these advances? Prioritizing your customer and their needs through personalization via artificial intelligence, upgrading your tech stack and really honing in on knowing the best way to access your customers and assess their needs before they even know their needs. With that being said, here’s a recap of some of the most interesting things I encountered during my three days at VivaTech 2019.

What people were talking about

5G

The ever-contentious topic of 5G was front and center at VivaTech. As many know, the next generation 5G networks will have the ability to power majorly disruptive new technologies including artificial intelligence, driverless cars, and a bevy of other automated gadgets. However, the topic is exactly what I said earlier: contentious. This is because “5G technology has put the spotlight on the importance of securing the networks and preventing data leaks. Unlike the previous cellular technologies, 5G is not just about faster broadband speeds or richer functions for an individual user but promises a 'hyperconnected' society with billions of connected devices or Internet of Things (IoT)”.  This sentiment was reflected in a variety of discussions on the matter. Börje Ekholm, president and CEO of Ericsson for one is for the adoption of 5G.

Börje spoke on how the adoption of 5G opens up a whole new ecosystem for innovation. And while of course the CEO of a telecom company that is actively involved in deploying 5G networks wants to speed things up, he made a solid case for how it will bolster Europe’s position on the world stage. To make his case, he referenced how 4G spurred huge advances in connected services such as ridesharing and e-commerce. The sentiment he left off with was essentially; reflect on what 4G has helped us achieve and just imagine what 5G can enable - stay ahead of the curve or risk being left behind.

The big question that we were left wondering is: what the next steps are for Europe and for that matter, the globe, as we somewhat reluctantly inch further towards adopting 5G. More optimistically, what are all of the exciting new things that 5G can help achieve?

AfricaTech Zone

As the US and China often eclipse the tech scene, one of the most interesting areas of VivaTech this year was AfricaTech. An area that featured more than 100 startups with a focus on Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, Cameroon, Mauritius, and Rwanda. In addition to startup founders, government officials were also in attendance from President Kagame of Rwanda to Cina Lawson, Minister of Posts and Digital Economy in Togo – and Olanrewaju Osibona, Senior Presidential Advisor on ICT in Nigeria. This provided a two-way street for legislators to discuss their needs and concerns with tech leaders as well as startups getting access to other entrepreneurs to discuss and share experiences in sectors such as Agritech, Clean technology, Clean energy, Fintech, ICT, Information technology and more.

In particular, the topic of accessibility to telecom plays a pivotal role in the larger picture of development. This is an issue that Maraphone, a company that manufactures high-end smartphones based in Rwanda, offers unlimited storage and a 13-megapixel camera for $150 with the goal of providing high-end smartphone features to a local market where the price is critical.

The AfricaTech zone was fascinating and inspirational in the leaps these startups able to take learning from our blunders and leapfrogging into more nimble, efficient technology that will hopefully become more accessible.

Artificial Intelligence

It’s unsurprising that artificial intelligence was a hot topic at VivaTech. Perhaps the most interesting use case I saw (for me personally) was in the beauty and fashion world. From New Balance to L’Oreal, every major player was not only showcasing different instances in their booths (which, by the way, were absolutely stunning) but talking about how they plan to make AI and Machine Learning a cornerstone in their digital transformation strategy for 2019 and beyond. LVMH, in particular, gave their ‘Innovation Award’ to a company called 3DLook, a mobile body-scanning app that uses AI to take body measurements from photos. They also boasted a tool that uses blockchain technology to track products in its supply chain to prove their authenticity. Thanks to this technology, soon all Louis Vuitton goods will be certified. That means next time you’re browsing a secondhand site or online vendor, you can rest easy dropping your hard earned cash knowing that there’s a certified way to ensure you’re getting the real deal. Since luxury items are just that, shoppers will be more likely to spend on your brand when they can feel assured of their authenticity.

In addition, L’Oreal’s booth touted several AI-based tools including what they called ‘Effaclar Spotscan’ by La Roche-Posay. A web app that was co-developed with dermatologists that uses AI and scientific data to analyze acne-prone skin and provide personalized advice.

The overall takeaway being that consumers can now access experiences digitally that were previously only available in-store. Not only that, but thanks to advances in AI, Data Analysis, and Machine Learning, brands can connect with consumers wherever and whenever and provide them with the customer-centric experiences that wow them.

What was worth seeing

LVMH Pavilion

As if I haven’t fangirled enough over the LVMH pavilion, one of their showcased products in particular, was my favourite - Bvlgari’s ‘Dream Machine’. A portable, high-end vending machine of sorts that allows you to find the perfect ring size with its integrated biometric scanner, virtually try on, customize and purchase on the spot. What I found especially appealing about this was that they still managed to keep a high-end retail feel while integrating cutting edge AI, a bridge I’ve seen many retailers struggle with. The booth was lined with silk, the biometric scanner was made of a gold-like material and had delicate cursive engravings. Small touches like this made the ‘Dream Machine’ a stand-out experience.

All of the Flying Cars and Public Air Transport

The projections of the Jetsons are coming true. So many flying cars and aerial transit options, each was cooler than the next. Aeromobil showed off a prototype of its flying car that will set you back a cool €1.2 million (as pictured above). Not only that but combating traffic seems to mean taking to the skies. The idea of ‘Air taxis’ is getting more and more popular with companies like Uber starting to get into the space (no pun intended). Another extremely cool product was from German start-up Lilium whose prototype can take-off and land vertically, is powered by 36 all-electric jet engines and can travel up to 300 kilometers in one hour. Sounds a lot better than the TTC!

Jack Ma

This one almost goes without saying. The Alibaba founder and CEO had a lot of interesting things to say including embracing the parts of technology that scare us, relaxing on regulations and that upon retiring later this year, he plans to go back to teaching. Overall, seeming pretty happy-go-lucky about the future.

Here are a few things he touched on:

  • His thoughts on AI - He encouraged us to not worry so much about AI and discussed the uses artificial intelligence that “arrest and catch a lot thieves.” For example, he referred to the company’s payments platform Alipay, explaining it uses machine learning to detect “cheating” bad actors. Seriously though, Alibaba’s speech recognition algorithm can isolate voices in noisy crowds.
  • A great quote on how we perceive technology - “If you think the technology revolution is a problem, I’m sorry to say a problem just started,” he added. “If you think it’s an opportunity, the opportunity just started. The only thing is your mentality. If the mentality is now a worry, you’ll worry all the time.”
  • His areas for future improvement - “I believe I can do better in 3 areas: supporting entrepreneurs, education and fighting for more women leaders.”
  • How he plans to address those areas of improvement - “I want to go back to teaching, not to teach in one classroom, but to change the way we teach and what we teach. I want to make young people ready for the future.”

Overall, the biggest take home was that brands are focusing more than ever on customer-centricity and working to provide the tools and experiences that empower customers to find the precise things they’re looking for. This can mean doing a skin assessment from home and merely tapping to buy instead of a potentially awkward in-store experience. Brands are stepping up their personalization and creating the most seamless customer journey’s possible. If you’re not where your customers are in the moment they’re looking to purchase and knocking down any potential barriers to purchase - you’re going to miss out.

VivaTech was a refreshing reminder that there are organizations and technical leaders using all of the power associated with digital transformation for good. And what’s more, there are lots of initiatives targeted at solving difficult questions surrounding issues such as climate change, allowing developing nations to rise with the technical tide and cautiously optimistic collaboration of nations. If VivaTech left me with one sentiment, it’s that the future is friendly.