Tech is in a state of constant state of evolution. That seems like a throwaway statement, until you start to think about how quickly you can get left behind when you don’t keep with emerging trends.
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Technology trends are, after all, disruptive trends. Even within tech though, there are different levels of disruption.
According to Gartner vice president and fellow David Cearley, in the earliest stages of a disruptive technology’s life-cycle it’s uncertain what impact it will have. From there, its impact is clarified and becomes clear and finally it starts to go mainstream. If a business allows a disruptive competitor to get to this final point then it’s almost inevitably too late.
So what trends should we be looking at as we head into 2015 and beyond?
Well for a start, says Cearley, who was speaking at the Gartner Symposium in Cape Town, “the digital and physical worlds are increasingly coming together.”
Merging of the real world and the virtual world
1. Computing everywhere
While this has been happening for years, we’re reaching a tipping point where the digital and physical worlds are coming together. Computing is already everywhere. It is all around us and is only likely to proliferate even further in the future.
Indeed, some have suggested that we’ve reached the post mobile era. That may sound a little odd when everyone around you is still staring intently at their smartphones.
The point though is that mobile devices are just a part of a world in which there is computing everywhere and embedded in everyday objects, from T-Shirts to shoes and even our cars.
The first examples we’re seeing of this include companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft doing everything they can to provide universal experiences across multiple screen sizes.
All of this means that we’ll have new ways of interacting with the world and the user experience specialists who can guarantee good experiences in these interactions stand to gain massively.
2. Internet of Things
According to Cearley, when we talk about the Internet of Things, we can no longer talk about it as something abstract that will happen in the future. Remember Google’s purchase of smart thermostat maker Nest is more than nine months old already.
We live in the age of the Internet of Things, now we need to start talking about its impact.
On the business front, that means thinking intelligently about how and where you deploy internet-connected sensors, how you aggregate the data they provide and using smartphones as a bridge between the real world and the world of the Internet of Things.
According to Gartner, the kind of technologies used to connect objects to the Internet of Things mean that seemingly complex problems can be solved by approaching them as if you were a hobbyist maker.
3. 3D printing
When we talk about 3D printing’s impact on the world, we need to think about what kind of 3D printing we’re talking about. Bioprinting, consumer and enterprise 3D printing are all at different levels of maturity and the people interacting with them all have different expectations of them.
The variety of use cases is also pretty astonishing, ranging from Airbus using 3D printing to refine some of its components and multiple companies using it for straight up injection-molding through to creating new prosthetic limbs for amputees.
4. Advanced pervasive and invisible analytics
When it comes to analytics, says Cearley, we should “start by throwing away the term big data”. By his reckoning, big data is not where the value is. Instead he says we should be concentrating on big answers and big questions.
Think about security for instance. If you have a load of data around online security breaches, there’s not a lot you can do about it unless you’re asking the right questions or looking for the right answers.
5. Context aware systems
This one relates heavily to the kind of analytics we were talking about above. In the consumer space, we’ve become pretty used to context aware systems through things like Google Now, Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.
There’s definitely a lot of space for increased understanding of it in the business world though. You could, for instance, provide a much more nuanced kind of security if you understood where and how your employees were using their devices to access stuff related to the work they do for you.
6. Smart machines
While mobile personal assistants are a great way of illustrating contextually aware technology, they only scratch the surface of smart machine technologies.
Smart machines are contextually aware sure, but they can also adapt to and learn from their surroundings autonomously.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this is autonomous motoring. That’s still a good few years away from being something that general members of the public can experience though.
Much closer to the present are businesses that are already using smart machines. Perhaps the most visible example is mining giant Rio Tinto, which uses autonomous self-moving trucks in its Australian operations.
In the future though, we’ll probably see imperceptibly small smart machines capable of adapting to their environments and talking to each other, with the earliest examples of this technology still in the research phase.
The new tech reality emerges
7. Cloud/Client Architecture
The convergence of cloud and mobile computing will continue to promote the growth of centrally coordinated applications that can be delivered to any device.
“Cloud is the new style of elastically scalable, self-service computing and both internal applications and external applications will be built on this new style,” says Cearley.
“While network and bandwidth costs may continue to favour apps that use the intelligence and storage of the client device effectively, co-ordination and management will be based in the cloud.”
In the near term the focus for cloud/client will be on synchronising content and application state across multiple devices and addressing application portability across devices. Over time applications will evolve to support simultaneous use of multiple devices.
“The second screen phenomenon today focuses on coordinating television viewing with use of a mobile device,” Cearley says. In the future, he reckons, games and enterprise applications alike will use multiple screens and exploit wearables and other devices to deliver an enhanced experience”.
8. Software-defined infrastructure and applications
When you live in the kind of “computing everywhere” world that Gartner sees emerging through 2015, it’s important to remember that everything is programmable.
Cloud services are software configurable through application programming interface (API) calls, and applications too increasingly have rich APIs to access their function and content programmatically. “To deal with the rapidly changing demands of digital business and scale up – or down – systems rapidly, computing has to move away from static to dynamic models,” says Cearley.
“Rules, models and code that can dynamically assemble and configure all of the elements needed, from the network through the application, are needed.”
9. Web-scale IT
Web-scale IT is a pattern where most businesses end up behaving like the really big web guys. “More organisations will begin thinking, acting and building applications and infrastructure like web giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook,” said Mr Cearley.
Web-scale IT does not happen overnight but will evolve over time as commercial hardware platforms embrace the new models and cloud-optimised and software-defined approaches reach mainstream.
“The first step towards the web-scale IT future for many organisations should be DevOps – bringing development and operations together in a coordinated way to drive rapid, continuous incremental development of applications and services,” added Mr Cearley.
In order to get to this stage, we need to have a cultural shift and businesses need to be able to build systems that can fail without it being a catastrophe.
10. Risk-based security and self-protection
All roads to the digital future lead through security. However, in a digital business world security cannot be a roadblock that stops all progress. Organisations will increasingly recognise that it is not possible to provide 100% secured environments.
“Once organisations acknowledge that, they can begin to apply more sophisticated risk assessment and mitigation tools,” says Cearley.
On the technical side, recognition that perimeter defense is inadequate and applications need to take a more active role in security will give rise to a new multi-faceted approach.
Security aware application design, dynamic and static application security testing and runtime application self protection, combined with active context-aware and adaptive access controls, are all needed in today’s dangerous digital world.
According to Cearley, “this will lead to new models of building security directly into applications. “Perimeters and firewalls are no longer enough; every app needs to be self-aware with regard to security, and self-protecting”.