Big data. Internet of Things. Virtual reality. Industry 4.0. These were all prime fields of growth and innovation in 2016 and we can expect these trends to continue into next year and probably far beyond.
In truth 2017 is likely to be the year when many of these technologies hit the mainstream – rather than something only those companies with the largest corporate budgets and most tech-friendly executive teams. A strong growth in the availability of technology delivered “as-a-service” through cloud platforms, as well as hardware improvements in the form of affordable sensor and display technologies, should help to bring into reality the “democratization” of data-driven enterprise which has become fashionable to talk about this year.
So here is a run-through of my key predictions for the next year. Organizations wanting to stay ahead of the curve will want to ensure they are exploring all of the opportunities indicated by these trends.
1. Smart devices will actually become smart
Thanks to machine learning, smart devices such as watches, home appliances and entertainment and even infrastructure such as lighting and wiring, will finally live up to their name. After all, though we’ve called phones “smart phones” for a decade or so now, it would probably be more accurate (though less catchy) to have called them “multi-tasking phones.”
Embedding AI such as Siri or OK Google into the OS was the first step towards making them truly “smart.” And we can certainly expect to see more of this in the next year. Expect automated personal assistant features to become more proactive and predictive, and IOT devices such as smart home lighting, security and air conditioning to become better at adapting to how we want it to behave.
2. Spending on software goes up, spending on hardware goes down
Corporate infrastructure spending is increasingly being put into software, as more and more functionality becomes available “as-a-service” through cloud providers. At the same time, hardware spending is falling – partly due to the increase in services carried out off-site, and partly due to a preference for cheap, commodity hardware such as servers and storage space, over expensive, bespoke hardware solutions. This is a trend which will continue throughout 2017. Analysts at Gartner have estimated that total IT spending will reach $3.5 trillion next year.
3. We will spend less time in the real world and more time in virtual ones
Many people got their first taste of VR this year, with technologically advanced mass-market headsets appearing as consumer devices from several manufacturers, for the first time. While VR has been growing in popularity in industry for a few years now, its use has mostly been limited to large companies with budgets to build bespoke systems and software. With mass-market devices becoming available, and a growing amount of open source software enabling users to design their own worlds and realities, expect its reach (and that of Augmented Reality) to extend significantly in 2017.
4. Unstructured data will start to give up its secrets
The vast majority of the data available to most organizations is unstructured – call logs, emails, transcripts, video and audio data which, while full of valuable insights, can’t easily be universally formatted into rows and columns to make quantitative analysis straightforward. With advances in fields such as image recognition, sentiment analysis and natural language processing, this information is starting to give up its secrets, and mining it will become increasingly big business in 2017.
Organizations will have the chance, for example, to automate analysis of hundreds of hours of customer service telephone calls, and almost instantaneously answer questions such as “what improvements do we need to prioritize in order to increase customer satisfaction.” Services offering access to this sort of technology are increasingly becoming available through affordable cloud service providers, increasing their adoption across the medium and small businesses which collectively form the larger part of our economy.
5. Blockchain technology will start to show its usefulness
Blockchain is the distributed ledger technology which powers digital currency Bitcoin but has been touted as potentially revolutionizing online payments and contracts. Gartner predicts that by 2022 a blockchain based business will exist with a value of $10 billion. We are already starting to see movement and investment around blockchain projects from major banks. What should start to emerge in 2017 are blockchain applications based around the technology’s potential in IoT devices. The smart, automated ledgers are ideal for tracking and logging activities of networks made up of hundreds, thousands or millions of connected devices and virtual processes.
6. More organizations will discover their Digital Twin
“Digital twin” is a phrase we should expect to hear more in 2017. Essentially the thinking is that due to increases in computing power and the affordability and accuracy of sensor technology, most things can be simulated on a computer these days with a high degree of precision. Businesses are no different, and building a digital twin, along with data-driven simulations of all your processes, provides a sandpit for experimenting with driving change. The data used to build the twin can also serve as the input for advanced predictive analytics, allowing the likely outcomes of changes to procedures and processes to be examined in a safely simulated environment.
7. We will get used to the idea of being in two places at the same time
Telepresence combines ideas from VR/AR and the digital twin concept, to effectively enable a human to be in two places at the same time. Drones and remote control devices will increasingly be used to extend our immediate field of influence outside the range of our own hands and arms. Surgery can be performed remotely by a surgeon controlling a robot, or remote controlled surgical equipment, and unmanned vehicles and equipment will increasingly be used to access places which are hazardous to our health, or which they are able to reach more quickly than we are. The simplest applications are remote meetings, which take place in a virtual environment (e.g. Skype) but use technology to give the impression or effect of everyone being present. More advanced applications are unlimited, from exploring deep space to the bottom of the oceans in a fully safe but immersive fashion.
One thing is certain about 2017, it will be another year in which tech innovations pose huge opportunities and challenges for every business on this planet.
This article was written by Bernard Marr from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.