From Expanded Uses of Blockchain to the Mainstreaming of Machine Learning, Here Are 5 Emerging Business Trends to Watch in 2018 Use these insights to plan for the future of your company and strategically identify priorities for the year ahead.

By Alex Yakubovich

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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This has been a big year for the business world. Topics that have been simmering for a long time -- think artificial intelligence and cybersecurity -- are heating up. We may just be coming to grips with the new challenges and opportunities that these developments present, but we also have to keep our eyes firmly on the horizon: As a business leader, it is critical to keep a forward-looking mindset and identify the new trends that are poised to disrupt business in the coming year. With these insights in mind, you can clearly plan for the future of your company and strategically identify priorities for the year ahead.

Related: 10 Social-Media Trends to Prepare for in 2018

I have been doing some thinking to get us ahead of the curve for next year. Here are five of the top trends I predict will hit the business world hard in 2018:

1. Customer success will pull more internal investment.

While customer-centric business models have been a focus for many companies over the past few years, 2018 will put the spotlight on them even further. More and more startups have dedicated customer success teams, but many legacy enterprises have yet to adopt such a focus. Expect this to change, however, as these enterprises note both the rapid growth in the startup space and a change in customer demands (as Gartner points out, customer experience is now as a main driver of competition).

As we usher in 2018, we will see enterprises adopting comprehensive onboarding and customer retention practices, such as full-fledged onboarding playbooks and dedicated success managers for each customer. To be truly successful in this area, enterprises will need to ramp up both their hiring and operational strategy, so expect to see a surge in monetary and time investments.

Related: Top Workplace Issues for 2018 and How to Overcome Them

2. Blockchain will influence new industries.

Blockchain has already disrupted banking, but 2018 will see this technology become more commonly leveraged in other various industries outside of the financial space -- from procurement and insurance to cloud storage and legal management. Within any industry, blockchain will deliver a more efficient, secure experience, whether that be through quick identification of a good's origin to ensure compliance requirements are met, or increased cloud storage and easy transfer of data.

3. New business functions will drive bottom line impact.

Over the years, sales tactics have evolved to meet new customer demands and drive increased revenue. While sales still plays an integral role in business cash flow, finance leaders will start relying on other business functions as drivers of bottom-line impact in 2018.

A report from Harvard Business Review, created in partnership with Scout RFP, highlights procurement as one of these departments, stating, "Sourcing and procurement leaders point out that any cost savings realized through sourcing improvement drop directly to the bottom line, which in turn can have a substantial impact on profitability." Unlike traditional revenue tactics where a large percentage of the sale is lost through the cost of both the goods and the actual sale itself, the efficiencies and strategic relationships procurement drives allows businesses to drop savings directly to their bottom line.

Related: Six Digital Trends You Need To Embrace For 2018

4. Machine learning will become a must-use.

Machine learning is another one of those trends that has been simmering the past few years, but 2018 will be the year that it truly becomes mainstream. Businesses are realizing the importance of gathering all of their data into easily digestible insights -- whether that be customer data for more personalized service, or past project workflow data to predict project timelines. As we enter the new year, machine learning will be seen as less of a phenomenon and more of a critical business technology used to support decision-making.

5. Mobile will be mandatory.

We all know that mobile is here to stay -- chances are, you're reading this from your phone or tablet. However, instead of just embracing mobile, businesses need to leverage it. Transformational brands are already succeeding with mobile, and numbers prove that customers want more mobile capabilities and offerings. Businesses that answer that demand will see serious returns.

If 2017 taught -- or rather, continues to teach -- us anything, it's that the business world is shifting rapidly and it's more important than ever to stay one step ahead of the curve. As you plan for the coming year, consider these potential influences and what they might mean for your business. Whether you lead a startup where bottom-line impact might make or break your success, or an established enterprise that may need to take another look at its current customer success practices, these emerging trends could have a substantial impact on how you prioritize and stay competitive in 2018.

Related: Harness Technology to Become a Mobile Mogul

Alex Yakubovich

CEO at Scout RFP

As CEO, Alex Yakubovich sets the business direction and strategy for Scout RFP. He previously was a co-founder in ONOSYS, which was acquired by LivingSocial in 2012. At ONOSYS, he led the operations team and helped the company become one of the largest online ordering providers in the country.

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