Tech trends on the radar screen

IT managers must systematically focus on key technologies likely to impact their industry

Each year, IT managers must deal with the mammoth task of identifying the key technologies that will drive business change for their organisation. Faced with hundreds of technologies, many new and immature, the IT manager must systematically focus on those likely to impact their industry.

To assist with this process, Gartner analyst, Brian Prentice, delivered a snapshot of the most significant tech trends currently on the radar screen at the research firm's annual symposium on the Gold Coast.

In line with technologies, maturing enterprise equipment that was once too costly to purchase will become more widely available. For example, 3D printers and scanners will drop below $10,000. “In the short term, this technology will accelerate prototyping and manufacturing processes and support customisation on a scale that previously wasn’t economically viable,” Prentice said.

As more devices and physical assets connect to the internet, there are a number of technologies that will drive emerging trends. One of those technologies is embedded sensors that detect and communicate changes (ie accelerometers and GPS) and it’s now expanding from mobile devices to an increasing number of places and objects.

“The ongoing connectivity with a device and the interpretation of that data stream provides a myriad of opportunities to convert a one-off product sale into an ongoing service with plenty of upsell and cross-sell opportunities,” Prentice said.

Image recognition technology is another driver of emerging technology trends. Prentice said smartphones and tablets equipped with cameras have pushed this technology from industrial applications to broad consumer and enterprise applications.

Another is NFC payment which allows users to make payments by waving their mobile phone in front of a compatible reader. “Once NFC is embedded in a critical mass of phones for payment, industries such as public transport, airlines, retail and healthcare can explore other areas in which NFC technology can improve efficiency and customer service,” Prentice said.

Business decisions will be driven by predictive analytics, a set of techniques and technologies that incorporate statistics, advanced mathematics and artificial intelligence with data management to determine the probability of a future outcome. Prentice said, “Although still underutilised, the field is mature in terms of tools and techniques. Business insight tools will continue to expand alongside social media, Google maps, government data and RSS feeds.”

A technology that is very hot right now is in-memory databases which store the entire database structure in memory and access the database directly allowing applications to run completely in-memory. Prentice said this technology will enable real-time analytics for planning systems, inventory control and other pattern-based applications requiring real time access to data.

At the same time, interfaces are expanding beyond the traditional variations of physical device and visual interaction to encompass the full range of human senses. Prentice said this will lead to a broad range of human-machine interactions and new means of data presentation, visualisation and human-computer interfaces.

Mobile robots are finally emerging from their traditional niches of military, toy and hobbyist markets. Prentice said they are starting to provide practical value in the home and enterprise markets. “A recent development is combining Web-style videoconferencing with a mobile, robotic platform,” he said. “By breaking the tethered relationship to a fixed screen, and being able to control and guide the location of the robot remotely – users can project a level of remote presence otherwise unattainable through conventional videoconferencing and tele-presence systems.

“Then there are the business trends like gamification.”

Gamification is where game dynamics, such as leader boards and personal goals, can act as a strong motivator outside game environments.

“Decades of experimentation in behavioural science have delivered a wealth of insight about how people reach decisions and how those decisions can be influenced,” Prentice said. “In the past, this goldmine of knowledge has been restricted to sales and marketing departments.

“This is changing with leading organisations hiring behavioural economists to support key design decisions in website, product and service and process design.”

A wide variety of digitally accelerated business models are also emerging that build upon the three mega capabilities – capturing new information, exposing new patterns and delivering just in time insight and access. Prentice said IT managers need to make sure innovation activities are focused on where it matters most. This includes filtering opportunities according to two main elements – the business value context and the risk context.

Step one is identifying where the innovation focus should be, then it is important to track new ideas with periodic reviews. “When identifying opportunities for innovation, organisations should be selectively aggressive,” Prentice said. “To find opportunities that are relevant within your industry, without limiting yourself to copying your competitors, watch what leading-edge companies with similar characteristics are pursuing.”

Other recommendations include evaluating the role of information in your organisation to identify patterns and just in time delivery of insights. Prentice recommends IT managers to conduct a regular trend scan to identify technologies with the potential to transform your organisation. “It is important to formalise innovation activities, both centralised and distributed – to ensure a proactive approach to identifying and driving opportunities,” he said. Part of this process should involve assigning responsibility for the innovation process in the next 90 days and evaluating and delivering at least one business transformational opportunity in the next 12 months.

Other trends include life-logging. This is the process of capturing all of your life’s events on camera for later recall. Gartner said this is moving from a niche activity to mainstream, especially with everyone uploading photos and videos to social media. “With the commercialisation of wearable cameras and other sensors and monitors, even more information will be captured and stored on a routine basis,” Prentice said. “Opportunities will come from managing and analysing these information streams, and from services that protect people’s privacy and reputation.”

Another trend is evidence based healthcare. Rather than seeing a doctor, patients will make greater use of digital monitoring equipment. “The digitalisation of health records will make available massive amounts of vital statistics over long periods for the first time,” Prentice said. “This trend will bring many areas of digital diagnosis within the reach of less skilled practitioners.”

This article is also available in Indonesian and Simplified Chinese.

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