Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2018

Published 20 Dec 2017

BREAKING NEWS: Technologists and designers unanimous over what is important

By Stein Opsahl, VP Strategic Consultancy, Knowit Experience

I am a non-technologist and have spent half my working life with some of the most innovative technoheads in the Nordic region. This year, for the first time, we are unanimous over what the world’s leading analysis company within technology, Gartner, is trying to tell us: That technology trumps both politics and capital, but user experience trumps everything. Both technonerds and cool designers were both in agreement about this when they returned to their desks after some “aha experiences” at Gartner’s Barcelona conference this autumn.

Until this year, technologists have been high-fiving each other and drooling because tech rules and tech is Mammon. Back in time, level-headed colleagues within human insight and user experience thought: “Great, now we can really develop solutions which make everyday life easier for everyone.
Of course, both sides are right: tech rules and everyday life has become easier.

To clarify: imagine that we split my colleagues into two groups. Technologists and designers: both important for developing good user experiences. It is always interesting to observe how these two groups interpret the prevailing tech trends at any one time. Once safely back from the Catalonian capital, both were very much in agreement over what they had just been involved in. Not Catalonian liberation, but a shared experience of how technology can actually liberate us.

Much of Gartner’s focus revolves around “customer and user experience”; an observation which also harmonises with the impression we got following Knowit’s recent client trip to New York and California. In Silicon Valley, the “buzz” has shifted from “digital” to “customer experience”. And artificial intelligence is set to influence this experience. Gartner is launching “The intelligent digital mesh”, as the very foundation of future digital business and the ecosystems that are being developed.

“The intelligent digital mesh” arises when content, services, things and last but not least “we” are connected together
Gartner is preparing us for a radical change in the way in which we interact with technology over the next five to ten years. Dialogue platforms, augmented (reinforced/extended) and virtual reality will contribute to more natural and absorbing interaction with the digital world.

Far-sighted managers will do four things
• Examine scenarios where artificial intelligence facilitates new ways in which to put businesses together.
• Create a more natural and absorbing user experience by using dialogue platforms and virtual and augmented reality.
• Support the Internet of Things initiative by developing and prioritising targeted business cases in order to build digital twins, and to utilise the synergies between ‘cloud’ and ‘edge computing’ (explained later in the article).
• Adopt a strategic approach to security and risk.

The trends can be split into three groups of complementary forces
1. The intelligent theme explores how artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming part of virtually all technologies in addition to creating new ones. Using AI contributes to more flexible, insightful and ever more autonomous systems.

2. The digital theme focuses on the linking of the physical and digital worlds in order to create natural and absorbing, digitally enhanced experiences. Digitalisation and AI are the driving forces behind the next generation of business-ecosystems.

3. The mesh theme refers to the utilisation of the links between people, businesses, things, content and services. The Mesh requires new solutions which reduce friction, and offer security and respond to all activities which arise between these links.

During 2022, technologies relating to these trends will have matured sufficiently to reach the critical “tipping point”. Here, you can assess for yourself how the trends will boost your existing products and create new or develop new business models. For reasons of space, we will not go into detail and will stay away from the weightiest technological descriptions.

Trend no. 1: The platform for artificial intelligence
Creating systems which learn, adapt and potentially function autonomously will be a key battleground for technology suppliers over the next three to five years. If you are to capitalise on your digital initiative over the coming years, your ability to use AI to make better decisions, reconfigure business models and ecosystems, and build new customer experiences, will be critical. Artificial intelligence encompasses many technologies and techniques which have grown over many years.

Trend no. 2: Smarter apps and analyses
Intelligent apps will change the way we work and the very structure of the workplace. Over the coming years, virtually all apps, applications and services will involve AI. Some of these apps will be intelligent, based on AI and machine learning. Others will be discrete users of AI which offer intelligence behind the scenes. Many businesses already use AI techniques to create new app categories (such as virtual customer assistants [VCAs]) and improve conventional applications (such as performance analyses of employees, sales, marketing and security).

1. Analysis
a. AI can be used to produce a more predictive and prescriptive analysis, which in turn can be presented to users for further evaluation or in a process in order to drive autonomous action.
2. Process
a. AI also helps programs to perform smarter actions. For example, you can use AI for intelligent invoice matching or analysing e-mail documents. In the future, this can be expanded to identify work patterns, making it possible to build and execute processes.
3. User experience
a. Vocal Profile Analyses (VPA), face recognition and other AI applications will be used to understand the user’s feelings, context or intentions, and to predict users’ needs.

Trend no. 3: Intelligent things
Intelligent things are physical things which use AI to deliver advanced behaviour and which interact more naturally with their surroundings, particularly with people. AI is also the driving force behind autonomous vehicles, robots and drones, and offers greater opportunities regarding many consumer and industrial systems.

The use of autonomous vehicles in controlled surroundings (e.g. agriculture, mining and warehousing) is an expanding area. In 2022, it is likely that autonomous vehicles will be in use on roads in limited, well-defined and controlled areas.

Swarms of ‘Intelligent Things’ will function together
Gartner expects a shift from free-standing intelligent devices to what are known as ‘swarms’ of interacting devices. In this model, many devices will interact; independently of humans. Here, we have perhaps one of the most important changes which are coming. A practical example is smarthouses. We already have the technology to automate most of what we have in our homes, but so far nothing has managed to pack this into something which makes it easy to use, based on the things talking seamlessly to each other.

Trend no. 4: Digital twins
A digital twin is a software object or model which reflects a unique physical object.
These systems are not new and are similar to computer aided design (CAD). The differences between this and digital twins are:
• The model’s robustness
• Digital twins’ link to the real world, potentially in real-time
• The use of advanced Big Data and AI
• The ability to interact with them and assess “what if” scenarios

In 2020, Gartner expects digital twins to exist for potentially billions of physical objects. The value of this will include activity optimisation, more competitive differentiation and improved user experiences in virtually all sectors. The twins will also offer better insight, decision-making processes and new business models.

Trend no. 5: Cloud to the Edge
This is a difficult trend to describe for those of us who are not pure technologists. ‘Edge computing’ describes a data processing topology where information processing, data capture and delivery are placed closer to the sources. ‘Edge computing’ attempt to keep traffic and processing local, with the aim of reducing traffic and latency. ‘Cloud computing’ is data processing where elastic scalable technology is supplied as an internet-based service. ‘Cloud’ and ‘Edge’ are complementary rather than competing concepts.

Trend no. 6: Dialogue platforms
Such platforms will be the driving force for the next major paradigm shift in the way in which people interact with the digital world. This entails a switch from technology-savvy users to user-savvy technology. The interface here will be the user’s verbal and written language. This technology will gradually also utilise sight, taste, smell and touch to interact in a multichannel way. Analyses of facial expressions and health status will also become possible.

Gartner also believes that 20 percent of all smartphone use will take place through virtual personal assistants, known as VPAs. Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana, Watson Virtual Agent are all examples of this. Why order a pizza from an app when you can buy it straight from a chat window in Facebook, Skype or other platforms?

All this will offer many new business opportunities, but it will also present major challenges within security, data protection and leadership.

Trend no. 7: Absorbing and engrossing experiences
While dialogue platforms are changing the way people interact with the digital world, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) are influencing the way people perceive the digital world. This combined shift in perception and interaction models is leading to a more absorbing user experience.

VR and AR are separate, but related technologies. MR expands both approaches to incorporate the physical world in a more robust way. VR gives us a computer-generated 3D environment which envelopes a user and reacts to a person’s actions in a natural way. AR is the real-time use of information in the form of text, graphics, video and other virtual improvements integrated with real objects.

The integration of VR and AR with mobile devices, IoT- and sensor-rich environments and dialogue platforms will give us completely new experiences. Rooms and areas will become active because many connected things will turn up and function in context with virtual worlds.

Trend no. 8: Blockchain
Blockchain technology has the potential to change the way in which we engender trust, thereby influencing our relationships with agreements, trade and ownership. With the EU’s new Payment Services Directive in place in January 2018, many of today’s super-companies will become very vulnerable to the new kryptonite. Blockchain secures trust in unsecured environments and eliminates the need for a cleared central authority. Blockchain can therefore become a foundation for disruptive digital activity for both mature businesses and start-ups.

Blockchain gives business value by removing friction and enables a new trust room which replaces the authorities. Read more about blockchain here.

Trend no. 9: Event-driven model
Such a model considers the various stages and movements which take place in a process, e.g. when executing a purchase order. A number of such stages or a combination thereof form a situation which requires clearly specified actions. The most important situations implicate several parties, e.g. individual applications, processes or partners.

Amongst other things, event-driven architecture facilitates agility, flexibility, scalability and not least lower costs in connection with change. This dynamic event-driven approach is essential in order to satisfy users on a dialogue platform. The user interface is becoming more intelligent and reacting to changing user context, and integrating different system elements behind.

Trend no. 10: Continual adaptation to risk and trust
The intelligent digital network and associated digital technology platforms and application architectures are creating an ever more complex world for security. Developments in the “hacker industry” and the use of ever more sophisticated tools, including the same advanced technologies that are available to businesses, are increasing the risk considerably. Trust in perimeter defence and static rule-based security is insufficient and outdated. This is particularly relevant given that organisations are using more mobile devices, cloud-based services and open APIs for customers and partners in a common ecosystem.

Digital business will require more advanced access protection when systems and information are opened up in the digital network. In a world with advanced, targeted attacks, businesses must ensure they continually adapt to risk and trust assessments. Decision-making processes based on real-time, risk and trust with adaptive answers will become part of everyday life, and security by design will become critical.

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Stein Opsahl
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