Information technologies are accelerating at an exponential rate, ushering in the fourth industrial revolution. This is a digital revolution and the pace of change is unprecedented.
This revolution incorporates machine learning (think parallel processing and neural networks) and the concept of self-assembly or self-programmability. As technologies continue to advance, they accelerate the progress of other technologies, and so on, and so on.
To illustrate this, we can look at the evolution of disruptive technologies. In 2016, everyone was excited about the promise of 3-D printing. Now, we’re gearing up for 4-D printing, an emerging technology that will enable us to print objects that reshape or assemble themselves on-the-fly, based on intelligent data.
To make this level of self-assembly a reality, we will need dynamic and agile systems. Enter the Internet of Things (IoT) as the digital platform of the future.
But the potential of the IoT has evolved into the “Intelligence of Things.” Even Uber, the popular ride sharing app, has advanced its concept of on-demand travel to incorporate a fleet of electric aircrafts (called “Elevate”) to lift us up and out of the chaos of gridlocked ground traffic (yes, just like in “The Jetsons”).
“Any company designed for success in the 20th century is doomed to failure in the 21st.”
– David Rose, 2015
The old approach to technology development moved linearly at the speed of human coders. The new model progresses exponentially at the speed of data, intelligence and self-assembly. Based on this new model, here are my top picks for technology trends that will dominate in 2017.
The Automatic Enterprise
Thanks to parallel processing, big data, cloud technology, and advanced algorithms, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are becoming more powerful. As tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple invest in AI, it is becoming more mainstream. People already interact with virtual personal assistants (PAs) like Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant. Facebook successfully created technology to identify people’s faces with its facial recognition app. Recommendation engines and robo-advisors are becoming a reality in financial services. And robotic butlers are delivering room service in hotels around the world. T
he analysts are jumping on board, with Forrester predicting that investments in AI will grow 300% in 2017 and Gartner forecasting that 50% of all analytical interactions will be delivered via AI in the next three to five years. These are impressive numbers. But how will these investments pay off for the enterprise? Are computers really more intelligent than people?
Many jobs will disappear through automation and others will change significantly as the enterprise becomes more automated and intelligent. Over the next few years, some of us could be answering to robo-bosses. From a productivity perspective, we spend a third of our time in the workplace collecting and processing data—AI could all but eliminate this work. Every job in every industry will be impacted by machine learning.
The upside? The opportunity to think exponentially means that the potential applications for these technologies are limitless. For businesses, understanding cognitive systems, big data analytics, machine learning technology, and AI—and how to leverage them—will be critical for survival. In the short term, these technologies will give organizations faster access to sophisticated insights, empowering them to make better decisions and act with agility to outpace their competitors.
The Year of Intelligent Things
The capability of smart machines increases substantially as they are infused with standalone intelligence. AI and machine learning will be embedded into everyday things like appliances, cars, sensors and drones. Even our thermostats will continue to become more intelligent; they will not only learn our heating and cooling preferences, but also analyze factors like on- or off-peak use, weather forecasts, and previous consumption patterns to give us recommendations to reduce utilities bills.
This intelligence will be coded into apps. These apps will be driven by data and context, they will synthesize vast amounts of information, learn our behaviors, and react and adapt in real time to deliver relevant and personalized outcomes. Whether they make us more productive at work, optimize our health, or manage energy and utilities consumption in our homes, intelligent things and apps have the power to direct our actions and influence our interactions to help us make better decisions and, ultimately, improve our quality of life.
Your Digital Twin
In 2017, advances in connectivity and machine intelligence will enable us to demonstrate the large-scale advantages of digital twins. A digital twin is a dynamic software representation of a piece of equipment or system that emulates the original’s materials, measurements, component parts, and behavior.
More important, a digital twin also includes data that is unique to the asset it represents. Digital twins are created and maintained to allow simulation, analysis, and control. Initially developed by the military for aircraft, digital twins are gaining traction in other industries, such as renewable energy and manufacturing. The GE Digital Twin has created cloud-based computer models of wind farms which connect turbines while collecting and analyzing data to make them 20% more efficient. Black & Decker has digital twins of assembly lines and materials in one of their factories and has reported improvements of 12% and a 10% increase in throughput.
Over the next year, organizations will use digital twins to boost efficiency, optimize design and performance, and improve quality. Over the next five years, billions of objects will be represented by digital twins, including equipment, facilities, environments, processes, and even people. For every physical asset there will be a virtual copy running in the Cloud. Their potential lies beyond demonstrating proof-of-concept to mirroring an entire supply chain to support globalization and promote economic gain.
In the not too-distant future, our own digital twins will help us make better decisions. As the next version of the virtual PA, an algorithm-based identity will maintain all of our preferences and relevant data, prompting us to act based on this information through notifications, reminders, recommendations, and more.
The Evolving Mesh App and Service Architecture
With all the apps, networks, devices, and channels, how do you make the experience seamless for the user? This is a question that will influence tech R&D in 2017.
The “digital mesh” refers to everything that is connected across digital ecosystems—from people to processes to things. As more services and apps connect across more channels and networks, the digital mesh is growing and as it does, it is fundamentally altering the user experience.
Consumers expect a seamless experience that flows across a shifting set of devices and channels, combining the physical and virtual. This kind of ambient user experience requires that the supporting platforms, technologies, and architectures must also change. Enter Mesh App and Service Architecture (MASA), a modern architecture that allows for modular, flexible, and dynamic solutions.
MASA connects devices, apps, services, and other information sources in a consistent user experience across the digital mesh. It leverages cloud and server-less computing, containers and micro-services, and dynamically supports user needs as they interact with their technology and devices. MASA is an architectural shift that will require significant changes to enterprise infrastructure and R&D.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Adaptive security tops the CIO agenda. While moving to digital presents enormous opportunity for business growth, it also presents great risk for cybercrime.
In 2016 alone, cybercrime was the second-most reported economic crime. As the number and sophistication of cyberattacks increases, an effective enterprise security becomes more critical than ever. The traditional (reactive) approach that relies on antivirus software and firewalls to protect the perimeter and responds to incidents as they occur is just not good enough.
In 2017, the enterprise will go on the offensive, assuming that its network is constantly under attack. To pre-empt cyber-attacks and information leaks, organizations will implement an adaptive security architecture with continuous, real-time monitoring, big data, and analytics. As the next generation of security, an adaptive architecture delivers the preventative intelligence needed to uncover anomalies and potential threats and prioritize risks.
Digital Platforms Lay the Foundation for the Future
Digital platforms will continue to play a prominent role into 2017 as foundational platforms for transformation. For enterprises that have already transformed, they will be key to supporting future growth. In particular, Digital Experience (DX) platforms and the IoT will be essential.
The year 2016 bore witness to a pivotal tipping point with shoppers making more than half of their purchases online. As this number continues to rise, CX will become an integral digital platform for the enterprise. In 2017, the digital customer experience may be the only interaction consumers have with a brand. It will be important for organizations to get this experience right the first time. We also saw an estimated 5.5 million new devices connect to the IoT each day in 2016. This exploding ecosystem of tightly interconnected devices and people will only get smarter. The result will be digital environments that respond to each individual in highly personalized ways.
In 2017, we will build a new world. Using digital platforms and leveraging the existing IoT infrastructure, interconnected intelligent devices will transform the way we interact with each other and our environments.
A Hyper-Connected Global Ecosystem
Over the past few years, business networks have been driving opportunity for business. In 2017, as business networks expand into new ecosystems, they will transcend geography, industry, and language to create exponentially more opportunities for digital enterprises.
Much of the technology required for this ecosystem (like AI, robotics, sensors, and the IoT) already exists. A culture of information sharing and collaboration is required to connect the dots. Data and standardization are also fundamental for the development and sustenance of digital ecosystems. When business networks are reliably and securely connected, they can be layered with intelligence. As information is added, the ecosystem and opportunities for growth will only increase.
Organizations are connecting across industries to form digital ecosystems with the customers at the hub. Auto manufacturers like Tesla and Fiat are partnering with technology companies to integrate GPS, navigation, social media, and entertainment services in ways that are transforming the driving experience. Adding intelligence for predictive maintenance and servicing integrates suppliers into the network to deliver efficiency and convenience. Taking advantage of the emerging concept of the connected car, it’s only a matter of time before standardization enables cars to tap into a broader range of networks, like smart transportation systems that automatically locate vacant parking spots, for example. When all of these services are connected in the self-driving car (or aircraft), we will truly be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Customer-Centricity Drives Transformation
In 2017, customer-centricity will drive transformation across all industries. In 2009, Uber created history by disrupting an entire market. Today, the company supports global operations and is valued at over $60 billion. What is the secret of its success? Many would say disruptive technologies or even intelligent data, but in fact, Uber’s customer-centric approach played an even greater role in the company’s success.
Uber stepped into a market that needed an overhaul to offer more responsive and convenient travel for consumers. By focusing on the customer, Uber was able to quickly build trust. And while it is true that technology has given consumers more choice than ever before, technology is only an enabler. The key to success lies in customer-centric approaches, technologies, and business models.
Over the coming year, digital leaders will shift from marketing digital products and services to embracing customer-centric operations. They will invest in IT to become more responsive. Customer-led self-service will be a requirement, along with AI and predictive analytics, innovation, and the agility needed to adapt to changing customer needs. In the digital world, consumers have come to expect higher levels of service. The fight for differentiation will be won by excelling at customer experience and this can only be achieved through customer-centricity.
Whether you’re ready or not, the fourth industrial revolution is here. We are witnessing incredible breakthroughs in every industry, driven by disruptive innovation. And the possibilities for application are unlimited.
To quote Sun Tzu: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
Mark Barrenechea is the CEO of OpenText.