Technology trends impress but sometimes the hype vastly outweighs the reality, so let’s consider what’s real with current and future technology trends.
According to IDC ‘60% of Enterprises will use a flexible, lower-cost, IT consumption model by 2023’. So what are the real drivers for technology change, now and in the next few years?
Cloud is old(er)
People still talk about cloud computing like it’s in its infancy, but it isn’t; cloud more like a teenager, maturing, with issues, hopes and dreams but still with a lot of uncertainty about what it will be in the future.
Many SMEs are on their second or third iteration of what cloud means to them yet lots of organisations are still hybrid, and some are still firmly rooted on-premise. So is AWS and Microsoft right that cloud is the ultimate destination, or is hpe right that hybrid, in the form of Greenlake, should be the de-facto standard? Maybe all of them are right and maybe none of them are too.
For the last decade IT globally has been about a journey to the cloud and for some organisations that destination hasn’t been reached, typically due to legacy, complexity or trust. Hybrid may be the half-way house but for now the route is still being calculated and recalculated, a bit like a Sat-Nav dropping signal.
Ultimately, multi-cloud (which we called ‘many clouds’ before the latest moniker) seems like it will be the logical data repository, with analytics and some processing but assisted by decision-critical processing at the intelligent edge rather than the cloud core, because even with faster comms and zero latency some decisions are simply better, or indeed necessary, at the edge.
Many organisations consider the endpoint as a commoditised purchase nowadays, but that may be short-sighted. We believe the endpoint will be every bit as important as the cloud in the next few years.
Big Data gets bigger with IoT
We’re hearing lots about ‘Big Data’, ‘exponential data growth’, or worse still, ‘data is the new oil’ – clichés and hyperbole on this subject abound but aside from the rapid growth of data, which is huge, and set to get even bigger, the security of our data has never been more important. With significantly more legislation (especially around personal data) and financial penalties for breach, not to mention potential damage of reputation, the risk is real and the probability high.
The solutions are there but so is apathy and whilst there’s complexity to navigate, it’s something we all really need to get to grips with right now, both for our organisations and personally, before it becomes a much bigger problem.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to make the data situation a thousand-fold more challenging as 5G fuels IoT adoption and endpoints are no longer just smartphones, tablets and laptops; they will be vehicles, buildings, plant, machinery and even people in some cases, worrying though that may seem. At this stage it’s not too presumptuous to predict that IoT will be as big if not bigger than cloud but they are intrinsically linked.
Whilst 5G will give fast, lower-latency, always-on, connectivity, some endpoints will evolve in tandem to make ‘intelligent edge’ decisions and feed results and data to and from the multi-cloud hub. Machine Learning (ML) will make more automated decisions on the path towards true Artificial Intelligence (AI). Speaking of which…
AI doesn’t exist (yet)
AI is a fascinating subject but massively hyped because... it isn’t real.
DeepMind Technologies, founded in 2010 and acquired by Google/Alphabet in 2014, is solely focussed on ML and AI and has already produced some genuine breakthroughs in medical, energy and scientific fields, amongst which it claims that its AI can recommend patient referrals as accurately as world-leading expert doctors for over 50 sight-threatening eye diseases.
IBM’s Watson, also created in 2010, was designed to be capable of answering questions in natural language to the US quiz show Jeopardy. It has an ability to process hundreds of language analysis algorithms simultaneously and development over the last decade has seen Watson used in a variety of scenarios including weather forecasting, healthcare, tax preparation, advertising and teaching.
Most recently Elon Musk’s Neuralink has been in the news after the company implanted a chip into a pig called Gertrude. Controversial as this may be - and Musk courts controversy – the potential for this technology is huge, hypothesising the ability to overcome Parkinson’s disease, directly control prostheses and save/replay memories. Musk has gone as far as to say that this could, in future, improve human cognition and be ‘almost like telepathy’.
The current research and developments in AI are quite incredible and, in conjunction with robotics and cybernetics, the possibilities could truly revolutionise or even evolve our species but it’s important to recognise that, as sophisticated as it is, AI doesn’t yet truly exist.
When people say they use AI right now, they’re not necessarily lying, it’s more likely an exaggeration of what they’re doing with ML to automate routines and decision-based scenarios. Software still requires programming; machines still need to be ‘taught’ and the results are still man-made in origin… for now. Quantum computing might change that but for now true AI isn’t here and now; it lies in the future… probably.
This phrase has become a cliché catch-all for anything to do with modernising technology in organisations. Similar to ‘cloud’, the phrase can mean a multitude of things but according to Wikipedia, ‘Digital Transformation (DT or DX) is the use of new, fast and frequently changing digital technology to solve problems. It is about transforming processes that are non-digital or manual towards completely digital processes.’
Typically, DT involves the use of cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and a more agile approach to technology with emphasis on the user Interface (UI) and Customer Experience (CX).
For some people moving to Microsoft 365 might be ‘their’ digital transformation but it’s not a huge step. For others it might be 100% cloud computing, or going paperless, or achieving carbon neutral, or simply adding better tools to achieve strategic objectives faster.
With such generality and a plethora of possible meanings the key point must be to focus on the outcomes the transformation will achieve rather than the transformation itself. What will it deliver and where’s the tangible benefits? When you look at the fundamentals; ensuring technology is functional, fast, secure, scalable and resilient - the ‘functional’ bit is hugely important - the tech must deliver what’s needed for specific aims.
That being the case Digital Transformation doesn’t seem a lot different to an IT Strategy, aligned to organisational or business aims, but it does have a snappier title.
The increase of ecommerce at the expense of bricks and mortar retail has been a rising trend over the last decade but COVID-19 has massively increased that. Online sales reached a record high of 22.3% in March 2020, according to The Office for National Statistics (ONS). As shops closed and Government restrictions were applied consumers switched to online purchasing in massive numbers and… they got used to it. That trend will only continue and accelerate.
Retailers now face an enormous challenge as so many people have become comfortable, and feel safer, shopping online. With a backdrop of falling sales and less investment, hastened by pandemics and a changing supply chain, it’s not hard to imagine a situation a few years hence when the High Street might be purely recreational and niche.
As consumer technology has advanced people logically want a similar experience in the workplace. A recent study by PwC shows that whilst 90% of leaders believe their organisation pays attention to people’s needs when introducing new technology, only 53% of staff agree. That gap is significant, as is the potential for ‘shadow IT’, where people use their own devices to access company data, often without suitable controls.
Often blamed on millennials, the use of mobiles within organisations is now significant, but only 60% of employees say they’re satisfied with the mobile options available to them at work. From choosing devices, to selecting apps, to opting for voice and video over text, people look for options that help them do their best work. Others want to gain a stronger sense of control by having more input on systems they will use regularly before leaders choose, but that still doesn’t happen in many cases.
Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) can solve a lot of this, and suitable controls exist too, so everyone should consider that because there are cost efficiencies to be realised, productivity gains too and an overall more ‘modern’ workplace feel for employees.
Social Media and Fake News
Is fake news real? Can social media manipulate entire countries? How much is reality getting distorted?
Along with the environment and the pandemic, the effect of social media is possibly one of the most worrying trends in our society right now, as our screen time increases and by increasingly sophisticated algorithms and things become increasingly polarised by design.
Watch ‘The Social Dilemma’ on Netflix if you can, it summarises the situation really well - addiction, manipulation and fake news.