From artificial intelligence to augmented reality, these dozen disruptive technologies and trends will begin driving how business gets done at forward-thinking organisations this year.
This year technologies including artificial intelligence, natural language processing and computer vision are maturing. Moving away from being a phenomenal idea, but now becoming an essential part of a business. This year we will see these and numerous other technologies that will drive how business gets done as well as disruptive technologies that will launch in the not too distant future.
Smart health tech
In January 2018, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase announced a joint venture, to form an independent healthcare company for their employees in the United States.
Their focus on using technology to offer their employees and families ‘simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.’ This already impacted insurance stocks, with reports of drops.
Analysts have seen gains in preventative care. This year, Tech Market research firm ABI forecasts that businesses will adopt remote patient monitoring, with 18 million wearables incorporated into corporate wellness programs. Predictions are that this number will rise to 44 million by 2021.
ABI has identified smart manufacturing as a transformative technology to watch. The ultimate goal is to create a hands-free, heads-up experience where information can be accessed right where the work is performed.
In the meantime, industrial 3D manufacturing - for prototypes and parts that are created is growing. "ABI expects U.S. $75 billion in 3D printed products and parts in the U.S. by 2026. The value of technology-driven, lean manufacturing innovation is greater than the sum of its parts for players in industrial end markets, which are generally large, with a set of well-understood needs and slim margin.”
Video, Videoconferencing and Virtual Reality
In a survey conducted by MIT, which included 300 companies to determine what makes a great employee experience, it was found that; investments in video technology leads to innovation, as well as improved collaboration and productivity.
"We see firms investing significantly in interactive video technologies particularly as they spread the use of agile methodology beyond their software development teams to the rest of the business," said Kristine Dery, a research scientist at MIT's Sloan Center for Information Systems Research. "This highly interactive agile method of project delivery - with daily stand-ups - requires teams to either be face to face or to have the technologies that replicate those more intimate situations as closely as possible."
Dery predicts that video technology will continually stimulate face-to-face communication with new features, such as virtual reality (VR) and other immersive techs, especially as organisations work to fill skills gaps with distributed teams.
Customer services is another area which can benefit from where transformation to digital solutions is game-changing. These technologies are moving at a staggering pace, Gartner predicts that the average person will have more conversations with bots than they do with their spouse by 2020.
“In 2018, chatbots will rapidly become more sophisticated, dramatically reducing costs of routine customer care activities, and often improving the customer experience,” says Scott Zoldi, chief analytics officer for FICO. “In the coming year, chatbots will quickly understand the tone, content and predicted highest-value conversational paths to meet various objectives.”
Zoldi also offers a warning: “This subtle ‘engagement’ can turn to manipulation through AI that learns the magic words to sway our attitude, actions and possibly elicit en masse reactions.”
Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality - Immersive Experiences
Gartner has stated that they expect by 2019 augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality - which is a combination of both aspects - will be used by 20% of businesses.
“Immersive experiences in 2018 through the use of [head-mounted displays (HMDs)] will continue to improve at a rapid pace,” says Lewis Richards, head of 21st-century human practice at Leading Edge Forum. “All the major players are in a race to provide consumer tools that will build platform ecosystems,” Gartner predicts HMDs will create $72 billion in revenue for the devices alone.
Bill Bodin, CTO for Kony, an enterprise app maker, explains the use case for AR in a range of industries. “In retail, we augment store shelves and products in real-time,” he says. “In maintenance, repair, and many industrial applications, we create informational overlays on mechanical or electrical equipment, putting key instrumentation metrics directly in the hands of the people servicing the area. For airports, we create virtual displays, personalized to the traveller. In banks, we use augmented reality to direct customers to key service areas and dynamically show the names and speciality areas of the branch staff. For those that service banking equipment, such as ATMs, we provide views of internal peripheral failures and deliver secure repair references tailored precisely to the problem.”
Gartner has predicted AR will outpace VR for business use. “The technology will evolve from pilot projects with modest growth to sustainable business models, market maturity and global availability,” the firm says. “The technology shipping in 2020 will be markedly different than anything available today.”
Internet of Things
A recent report by CompTIA has found that IoT devices are aiding organisations to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.
“From gathering new data to automation of infrastructure,” the CompTIA study reports, “companies are finding many benefits from adding connectivity and intelligence to physical infrastructure.”
Rowan Trollop, senior vice president of IoT at Cisco, notes increases of IoT in smart factories, tying together devices, sensors and other assets. “Early adopters are already seeing big reductions, in equipment downtime … process waste, and energy consumption in factories.”
Increasing the adoption of IoT will present security threats and the need for manufacturers to work with IT groups to identify the potential risks and provide wide-ranging protection, Trollop continued Escalating risks mean that manufacturing — an industry generally slow to implement security measures — has to be more expeditious about taking action.”
Voice control and virtual assistants
Analysts and various experts are saying that in 2018, it will be a year where natural language processing improves substantially and takes hold within companies, a trend that will continue as workers who grew up with voice control integrated with cloud computing enter the workforce.
“Voice-activated assistants have already begun permeating the business setting, but it’s still early days in terms of tapping into and unlocking the power of what this technology can fully do,” says Christian Pedersen, chief product officer of S/4HANA Cloud at SAP. “We’re starting to see examples of both the demand and need for these technologies with the announcement of Alexa for Business late last year and the voice assistant takeover we saw at CES. To power today’s evolving business setting, we need to propel these businesses with trainable digital assistant technologies that are smart, predictive, have the capability to learn, and can quickly adapt to the new and changing environment.”
But what direct effect will voice assistants have in the workplace? “In the short term, we see assistants helping increase productivity and improve work-life balance. In the longer term, we’ll see voice assistants replacing our computer screens and keyboards,” Pedersen adds.
With industry buzz vehicles and smart stores like Amazon Go, computer vision is getting serious exposure.
"The strategy of tracking customer journeys has moved from the online marketplace to physical stores,” says Eli Portnoy, CEO of research and intelligence firm Sense360. “The proliferation of cost-efficient and generally available sensors, advances in computer vision and in artificial intelligence are creating a variety of new applications. While businesses like Amazon have been monitoring and recording our shopping habits, preferences and purchases for some time now, brick and mortar is increasingly looking to do the same to remain competitive.”
Hauling freight is an area that’s ripe for integration of AI and computer vision, says Chris Nicholson, CEO of Skymind. “FedEx and other large companies have been piloting this technology, while startups such as [trucking firm] Peloton are building it from the ground up.”
Companies looking to hire engineers in the field are finding it’s a hard ticket to punch. “Computer vision is the hardest position to fill,” says Mike Grandinetti, CMO and CSO of storage firm Reduxio. “Qualified candidates command $400K salaries,” Grandinetti says, and expect a lot of freedom and, at least at startups, a lot of equity.
Artificial intelligence for services
Neil Sahota, worldwide business development leader and master inventor for the IBM Watson group, says this year we’ll see AI make strides in industries as varied as real estate, law, and most visibly, in hospitality.
“As more guests demand an always-on and personalized concierge service, hotels are activating chatbots to create [concierges] that can help with any request in a timely manner,” Sahota says. “By remembering and processing tons of information that ranges from the nearest restaurant recommendations to tomorrow’s weather, AI can help developers create bots that cater to each guest’s preferences. Also, bots allow guests to engage with the hotel from any location through their mobile devices. Hotels like Marriott International and Cosmopolitan Las Vegas have already begun implementing bot concierge services, and there will be more hotels jumping on the bandwagon in 2018.”
Kevin Ryder, chief marketing officer at software firm Integrated Research, agrees. “AI is even helping to predict customer behaviour, providing advice to customer service reps on how best to solve a particular issue,” Ryder says. “In 2018, we will see even greater acceptance of bots as a legitimate alternative to human interaction for customer service.”
Amit Zavery, senior vice president of product development at Oracle Cloud Platform, says the effect of blockchain is being seen outside of the finance industry, in areas like improving the supply chain and addressing security.
“Already, greater than 2,500 new blockchain-related patents have been filed,” Zavery says, “while the financial impact is predicted to top $176 billion by 2025. In just two years, we expect blockchain to have become the disruptive standard in modern commerce. You could argue that blockchain has achieved this status already, and is beginning to influence other industries just as profoundly, in healthcare, retail, the public sector” and other areas.
Vincent Manier, CFO at Engie Insight, says we’ll see major disruption to companies’ finance departments that expand beyond accounting, “a 600-year-old double-entry system. It’s crucial for CFOs to not only closely examine the external disruption blockchain will set in motion, but also prepare for the impact on their internal finance organizations. Everything from reconciliation and cash application to PO and invoice matching could soon be taken over by a distributed ledger technology.”
Containers and Microservices
Containers and Microservices are gaining traction by organisations that need to develop apps quickly, especially ones that employ IoT and or the cloud.
“It’s interesting to see IoT projects pulling in many vogue technologies like edge computing, serverless and containers, along with organizational structures around DevOps and microservices,” says Todd Loeppke, lead CTO architect at Sungard AS.
Containers and Microservices platforms are attractive for smaller, new and lower risk projects, says Dan Jeungst, principal technology evangelist at OutSystems.
“As organizations become more comfortable with managing these modern container-based microservices architectures, we’ll see continued growth,” Juengst says. “Many organisations will stand up container orchestration platforms such as Docker, Kubernetes or Cloud Foundry to help manage the lifecycle of containers as their use grows.”
Combining cloud and edge technology offers the benefits of computing power at the source with the ability to host, manipulate and analyse data transferred from those sources.
“While it’s common to assume that cloud and edge computing are competing approaches, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the concepts,” according to a Gartner report. “Enterprises should begin using edge design patterns in their infrastructure architectures.”
“It’s a new paradigm, one that I see augmenting existing architectures for particular use cases,” says Glen Robinson, emerging technology advisor at Leading Edge Forum. “It help reduce latency, decouples systems, builds in resiliency, reduces cost, so it’s mostly a good thing, but the edge and the hybrid architectures where it adds value are ill understood.”
A frequently mentioned concern, as companies undergo a digital transformation, is the way in which they address a nearly overwhelming amount of data and glean insight.
Jewell Parkinson, head of HR at SAP, says these same issues will also affect human resources, where new streams of data offer opportunities and also challenges in maintaining companies’ focus on ethics, corporate culture, and compliance.
“What 2017 has shown us is the need for a dedicated focus joining forces with other key stakeholders across the enterprise operating as the key cultural safeguard for organisations of all sizes and industries,” Parkinson says. “In 2018, we’ll see continued focus on the importance of culture, reputation and socially responsible technology engagement.”