Every year in October, research firm Gartner publishes its top 10 strategic technology trends for the following year. This year, it says the top trends tie into the ‘intelligent digital mesh’ as the foundation for future digital business and ecosystems.
The first three strategic technology trends explore how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are seeping into virtually everything and represent a major battleground for technology providers over the next five years. The next four trends focus on blending the digital and physical worlds to create an immersive, digitally enhanced environment. The last three refer to exploiting connections between an expanding set of people and businesses, as well as devices, content and services to deliver digital business outcomes.
David Cearley, vice president and Gartner fellow, says, “IT leaders must factor these technology trends into their innovation strategies or risk losing ground to those that do.”
The top 10 strategic technology trends for 2018 are:
AI foundation Creating systems that learn, adapt and potentially act autonomously will be a major battleground for technology vendors through at least 2020. The ability to use AI to enhance decision making, reinvent business models and ecosystems, and remake the customer experience will drive the payoff for digital initiatives through 2025.
“AI techniques are evolving rapidly and organizations will need to invest significantly in skills, processes and tools to successfully exploit these techniques and build AI-enhanced systems,” said David Cearley. “Investment areas can include data preparation, integration, algorithm and training methodology selection, and model creation. Multiple constituencies including data scientists, developers and business process owners will need to work together.”
Intelligent apps and analytics Over the next few years, virtually every app, application and service will incorporate some level of AI. Intelligent apps create a new intelligent intermediary layer between people and systems and have the potential to transform the nature of work and the structure of the workplace.
“Explore intelligent apps as a way of augmenting human activity and not simply as a way of replacing people,” said Cearley. “Augmented analytics is a particularly strategic growing area which uses machine learning to automate data preparation, insight discovery and insight sharing for a broad range of business users, operational workers and citizen data scientists.”
Intelligent things Intelligent things are physical things that go beyond the execution of rigid programming models to exploit AI to deliver advanced behaviors and interact more naturally with their surroundings and with people. AI is driving advances for new intelligent things (such as autonomous vehicles, robots and drones) and delivering enhanced capability to many existing things (such as Internet of Things [IoT] connected consumer and industrial systems).
“Currently, the use of autonomous vehicles in controlled settings (for example, in farming and mining) is a rapidly growing area of intelligent things,” said Cearley. “For at least the next five years, we expect that semiautonomous scenarios requiring a driver will dominate. During this time, manufacturers will test the technology more rigorously, and the nontechnology issues such as regulations, legal issues and cultural acceptance will be addressed.”
Digital twin A digital twin refers to the digital representation of a real-world entity or system. Digital twins in the context of IoT projects is particularly promising over the next three to five years and is leading the interest in digital twins today. Well-designed digital twins of assets have the potential to significantly improve enterprise decision making. These digital twins are linked to their real-world counterparts and are used to understand the state of the thing or system, respond to changes, improve operations and add value.
Cearley says, “City planners, digital marketers, healthcare professionals and industrial planners will all benefit from this long-term shift to the integrated digital twin world.”
Cloud to the edge Edge computing describes a computing topology in which information processing, and content collection and delivery, are placed closer to the sources of this information. Connectivity and latency challenges, bandwidth constraints and greater functionality embedded at the edge favors distributed models. Enterprises should begin using edge design patterns in their infrastructure architectures — particularly for those with significant IoT elements.
Conversational platforms Conversational platforms will drive the next big paradigm shift in how humans interact with the digital world. The platform takes a question or command from the user and then responds by executing some function, presenting some content or asking for additional input.
“Conversational platforms have reached a tipping point in terms of understanding language and basic user intent, but they still fall short,” said Cearley. “The challenge that conversational platforms face is that users must communicate in a very structured way, and this is often a frustrating experience.”
Immersive experience While conversational interfaces are changing how people control the digital world, virtual, augmented and mixed reality are changing the way that people perceive and interact with the digital world. The virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) market is currently adolescent and fragmented. Interest is high, resulting in many novelty VR applications that deliver little real business value outside of advanced entertainment, such as video games and 360-degree spherical videos.
Mixed reality is emerging as the immersive experience of choice providing a compelling technology that optimizes its interface to better match how people view and interact with their world. Mixed reality exists along a spectrum and includes head-mounted displays (HMDs) for augmented or virtual reality as well as smartphone and tablet-based AR and use of environmental sensors.
Blockchain Blockchain is evolving from a digital currency infrastructure into a platform for digital transformation. Blockchain technologies offer a radical departure from the current centralized transaction and record-keeping mechanisms and can serve as a foundation of disruptive digital business for both established enterprises and startups. Although the hype surrounding blockchains originally focused on the financial services industry, blockchains have many potential applications, including government, healthcare, manufacturing, media distribution, identity verification, title registry and supply chain. Although it holds long-term promise and will undoubtedly create disruption, blockchain promise outstrips blockchain reality, and many of the associated technologies are immature for the next two to three years.
Event driven Central to digital business is the idea that the business is always sensing and ready to exploit new digital business moments. Business events could be anything that is noted digitally, reflecting the discovery of notable states or state changes, for example, completion of a purchase order, or an aircraft landing. With the use of event brokers, IoT, cloud computing, blockchain, in-memory data management and AI, business events can be detected faster and analyzed in greater detail.
Continuous adaptive risk and trust To securely enable digital business initiatives in a world of advanced, targeted attacks, security and risk management leaders must adopt a continuous adaptive risk and trust assessment (CARTA) approach to allow real-time, risk and trust-based decision making with adaptive responses. Security infrastructure must be adaptive everywhere, to embrace the opportunity — and manage the risks — that comes delivering security that moves at the speed of digital business.
Gartner defines a strategic technology trend as one with substantial disruptive potential that is beginning to break out of an emerging state into broader impact and use, or which are rapidly growing trends with a high degree of volatility reaching tipping points over the next five years.