Making Sense of Digital Technology Forecasts for 2018

Tech analysts will remember 2017 as the year when the world of business finally started getting serious about the disruptive potential of AI

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This is the time of the year when we are treated to a barrage of technology reports and forecasts. Almost every analyst and consulting firm - Gartner, Forrester, IDC, BCG and System Integrators including Deloitte, Accenture and boutique firms have begun to send broadcasts, press releases, tweets and podcasts announcing "Top 20," "Top 10" and similar list of technologies likely to have transformational impact on businesses in the year ahead.

A couple of months ago, I began reviewing the technologies that were generating the most 'noise' to analyze how they would play in corporate digitization efforts. My intent was multi-fold:

  • Understand technologies that are generating the most digital 'noise;' getting a lot of press mention, and are being debated and reviewed in social media, blogs, tweets, LinkedIn groups etc
  • To be able to inform and educate stakeholders engaged in digital transformations (e.g. Do you need to invest in yet another 'Data Lake' after you just spent a few million upgrading your Data Warehouse? Or is there a business-case to engage Amazon's ML solutions Lab and start an AI pilot?)
  • To be able to cut through the irrational exuberance in some areas (e.g what do you do when someone argues 'Bitcoins have soared to $17,000; so the underlying blockchain techniques are worth piloting' or 'There seems to be an acute shortage of A.I skills in the market. So, let's train a few people and stay ahead of the curve'

A brief summary of trends include:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Machine Learning and Cognitive technologies - Tech analysts will remember 2017 as the year when the world of business finally started getting serious about the disruptive potential of AI. The tech Oligopoly - Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft - announced large investments in AI and began showcasing solution offerings for consumers and businesses. 2018 is also likely to see startups, tech-service firms and the academia addressing the skill shortage.

  • Big Data

Analytics, aggregation and visualization - We create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day; and over 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. As the challenges of big-data are being understood, innovative applications are highlighting the potential to glean insights from the aggregated sources.

  • Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet of Things (IoT) holds a lot of promise in machine-to-machine communication enabling 'smart' devices. IoT is really an aggregation of technologies with sensors that gather data, machine-to-machine communication and networks to a 'gateway,' big-data and analytics to enable storage, analysis and review of the findings. Innovative ideas range from applications in wearables, smartphones, smart meters, vehicles, factories, machines to other places where imagination takes us.

  • Immersive Experiences, Virtual Reality and gaming

A combination of immersive and Virtual Reality technologies has been raising consumer expectations of video games. These technologies, enabled by advances in hardware and high-performance computers, are beginning to blur the line between the physical, digital and simulated worlds, creating a sense of immersion.

  • Voice recognition and Voice Activated UI

Adoption of voice recognition and voice-activated technologies have been advancing at a fast pace. Voice-based applications in the corporate world are also continuing to make strides. Widespread adoption of Interactive voice response (IVR) at call centres and for CRM based solutions are beginning to enhance productivity by allowing computers to interact with humans through the use of voice input.

  • Blockchain

Bitcoin technology - The blockchain technology - popularized by digital currency Bitcoin - is increasingly being used to enable trust across industries. The underlying blockchain technology is a trust-based protocol enabled by globally distributed, secure platform that enables a ledger or database where value could be stored and exchanged without powerful intermediaries.

  • Technologies from Self-Driving cars

Auto manufacturers, rideshare and technology companies are advancing research and development of self-driving cars. 2017 also saw a lot of mergers and buyout of niche technology companies. Autonomous vehicles are the leading edge of artificial intelligence investment and development and investments in that sector is a precursor of things to come in fields like natural language processing, image recognition, and others as these technologies gain commercial momentum.

  • Robotics and automation

Automation and use of bots aided by emerging techniques like artificial intelligence and machine learning are advancing at fast pace. Intelligent machines and 'bots' are already being employed in ways we never thought possible a few years ago. However, automation and robotics continue to be a niche and fragmented business. Most large companies and manufacturers aggregate and integrate services from small, niche suppliers innovating on automation and robotics.

Challenge and the opportunity

A high-level review of 'Top 10 technology trends,' may not pose a big challenge, especially given the number of reports and blogs circulating. Rather, the challenge is to understand the implications of the technologies on your business; and the ability to recommend solutions that leverage some of these as the need arises. Such reviews need to be part of an ongoing process as digital transformations in organizations take a life of their own.

This brings us back to Digital Technology forecasts for 2018: None of these will tell you if the price of Bitcoins will rise further and cross $25,000 or come crashing down. Some of them may hype-up the underlying Blockchain techniques, but you will still have to decide if they are applicable to your business.