CUTTER BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY JOURNAL VOL. 31, NO. 1
Cutter Fellow Steve Andriole describes five accelerating trends to watch for in 2018 and predicts which ones will carry the most momentum, using a concrete score on a 1-5 scale. Andriole goes on to recommend paying very close attention to the companies providing the services you deeply depend on, as he warns of upcoming volatility in the technology industry itself.
Every year we look at trends. Lots of companies, consultancies, and research organizations do the same. And every year many of the trends are simple extrapolations of the previous year’s trends. But every year there are also some breakout trends. Perhaps of greatest interest are the rates of acceleration some trends experience in any given year. Some trend quickly; some more slowly. Momentum is driven by technology maturity, adoption rates, and how well — or poorly — the use cases evolve. Momentum scores are perhaps as useful as the trends themselves.
This year is no different. There are some old favorites and some new ones. There are some breakout trends and applications attracting a lot of attention, and there are some trends that will generate serious momentum in 2018. Let’s look at five of them and assign them a momentum score (1-5).
1. Just Talk to Me
We’ve known for decades that users love talking to machines, searching with graphic interfaces, and immersing themselves with video. However, the state of the technology matters more than the preference. Comcast, Google, Amazon, and others led the use of voice interfaces in 2017. Comcast built some of its advertising based on the differentiation its Xfinity voice interface enables. This trend will accelerate in 2018 and beyond. We all get pleasure from talking to our apps. We love saying, “Hey, Google” or calling out to “Alexa.” The greatest impact, however, comes from connectivity via the Internet of Things (IoT) to enable additional functionality. The infrastructure is now in place to enable voice-controlled smart homes, cars, buildings, and cities. If you don’t feel like talking, you can authorize Alexa (and others) to just manage increasingly more aspects of your life. Momentum score? 5
This one is easy — but important. 2018 will be more about blockchain platforms than cross-industry applications. While the financial industry will lead the way, healthcare will follow quickly. Blockchain will completely free itself of its cryptocurrency identity in 2018. It will become a legitimate transaction platform that mainstream technology vendors and vertical industry leaders deploy. Momentum score? 4
This trend is disturbing, and digital technologists must assume significant responsibility for the creation, housing, and distribution of fake data, information, and news. “Digifake” will continue to explode in 2018. There’s no technological limit to the amount of fake in the system. Even worse, fake is profitable, which means there are incentives to the creation, housing, and dissemination of fake. The effects of the explosive growth of fake are impossible to calculate, but it’s safe to say that they are never healthy and will undermine the credibility of democratic institutions and the technology industry itself. The bloom is already off the digital rose. Watch for technology professionals to express resistance to the trend. Momentum score? 4
4. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are upon us in full force. In 2018, they will continue to leap forward. Following the work that has been going on in this space for years, AI and ML platforms and applications will be true debutantes in 2018. But the most notable trend in this area to watch will be AI’s attack on knowledge workers. 2018 will launch phase one of a prolonged war against cost and inefficiency. Translation? Knowledge-based automation is coming for accountants, lawyers, and diagnosticians, among other knowledge workers, while lower/no knowledge task automation continues to grow. Momentum score? 5
5. Internet of Everything
2018 will encourage more investments in sensors, connectivity, and the applications that energize them. Ignore trends that predict the number of connected devices. No one knows. Do track trends that describe the impact of device interconnectivity and check your business models at the pre-Internet of Everything (IoE) door. The key trend here is not explained by any one piece of technology or a single killer app that someone developed in an incubator. IoE represents the integration of technology trends in much the same way that analytics generates (or fails to generate) the ROI around all technology trends. IoE is therefore as powerful as the trends that enable it, so track trends in sensor technology, power technology, integration technology, connectivity, AI, and other technology areas that accelerate the adoption of IoE. Momentum? 4
And Let’s Not Forget ...
There’s one more trend that deserves some attention: the structure of the technology industry itself. There will be significant consolidation in 2018. At the same time, there will be growing legislative pressure to break up the technology giants, especially as digifake continues to explode. Pressure will also mount as more and more technology darlings find themselves described in publications like the Paradise Papers. So, in addition to the volatility of emerging and digital technologies, there will be volatility in the technology industry itself. That may be the most important technology trend of the year. Pay very close attention to the companies that provide the services you depend on so deeply. Pay equal attention to how technology is governed and therefore distributed. Momentum? A clear 10.
Everyone loves annual predictions. They make the turn-of-year season more interesting and entertaining. My takeaways from the list are that AI is making progress; IoE is spreading; blockchain is real; lots of digital content is fake; and big, rich companies may be regulated in ways they never anticipated. We also like to talk to machines — especially when everything’s connected. The momentum around all these trends is strong and likely to accelerate in 2018.
Annual predictions are obligatory. Everyone expects them, and they generate some credibility. They’re also usually a little vague (thereby providing plausible deniability after the fact). Let’s face it; no one wants a client to transform its business based on predictions that could be wrong. Annual predictions should therefore not be specifically actionable. The most important trend is momentum. Predictions that gain momentum deserve the most attention. Declining ones can be sent to the back of the line — at least until next year.