“My vision for the future state of the digital economy – I see a movie. I see a story of everybody connected with very low latency, very high speed, ultra-dense connectivity available. Today you’re at the start of something amazing… I see the freeing up, not just of productivity and money, but also positive energy which can bring a more equal world.” -Vittorio Colao, CEO, Vodafone, Speaking at the World Economic Forum – Davos, Jan 2015
As is customary for this time of the year, Gartner Research rolled out their “Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2018” report a few weeks ago – https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3812063. Rather than exclusively cover the IT technology landscape as in past years, Gartner has also incorporated some of the themes from the 2016 US Presidential election, namely fake news and content.My goal for this blogpost is to provide my frank take on these trends to the reader. Also, as always – to examine the potential impact of their recommendations from an enterprise standpoint.
Previous Gartner Reviews…
The predictions themselves can be organized in five specific clusters – Web-scale giants, Cryptocurrencies, Fake News & AI, IT job markets & IoT/Security.
Let us consider –
Prediction Cluster #1 -Of Web Scale Giants, Bots & E-Commerce…
This year, Gartner makes two key predictions from the standpoint of the webscale giants, namely the FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google/Alphabet) companies plus Apple. These companies now dominate whatever business areas they choose to operate in largely due to the general lack of traditional enterprise competition to their technology-infused business models. They have not only gained market leadership status in their core markets but are also branching into creating blue ocean business models. Gartner’s prediction is that by 2020, these giants – which will largely remain unchallenged – will need to innovate via self-disruption to stay nimble and competitive.
This prediction is hard to disagree with and is fairly obvious to someone who has followed their growth over the years. Virtually every major advance in consumer technology, mobile business models, datacenter architectures, product development methodologies over the last ten years has originated at these companies. The question is how much of this forecasted organic disruption will happen due to their cannibalizing existing product lines or creating entirely new markets e.g. self-driving tech, VR/AR etc.
The critical reason these companies have such a wide business moat is that they’ve incubated the Digital Native customer category. Their users are highly comfortable with technology and use services offered (such as Google’s range of products, Facebook services such as the classical social media platform, Instagram, Uber, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc) almost hourly in their daily lives. As I have noted before, these customers expect a similar seamless & contextual experience while engaging with the more mundane and traditional enterprises such as Banks, Telcos, Retailers, Insurance companies. They expect primarily expect a digital channel experience. These companies then have a dual fold challenge – not only to provide the best user expereince but also to store all this data as well as harness it for real-time insights in a way that is connected with internal marketing & sales.
As many studies have shown, companies that constantly harness data about their customers, internal operations and perform speedy analytics on this data often outshine their competition. Does that seem a bombastic statement? Not when you consider that almost half of all online dollars spent in the United States in 2016 were spent on Amazon and almost all digital advertising revenue growth in 2016 was accounted by two biggies –Google and Facebook.
Which leads us to the second prediction, that – by 2021 early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30%.
This prediction is also bolstered by the likes of comScore which notes that voice & visual search have rapidly become the second and third leg of online search. Every serious mobile app now supports both these modes. Further Amazon with their Alexa assistant is bringing this capability to bear in diverse areas such as home automation.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are technologies that will completely change the way humans interact with one another and with intelligent systems that make up the Digital Mesh. Uses of these technologies will include gamification (to improve customer engagement with products and services), other customer & employee-facing applications etc.
Prediction Cluster #2 – By 2022, Cryptocurrencies create $1B of value in the Banking market…
We have discussed the subject of bitcoin and blockchain to some degree of depth over the last year and this prediction will seem safe and obvious to many. The explosion of market value in Bitcoin and other alt-currencies also supports the coming of age of cryptocurrencies. However, Gartner pegging cryptocurrency led business value at just $1B by 2022 seems way on the lower end. Cryptocurrencies are not only widely accepted in various forms of banking. E.g. Payments, Consumer Banking loans, Mortgages etc but they are on the verge of gaining Central Bank support. I expect an explosion in their usage and institutionalization over the next two-three year horizon. Every enterprise needs an Altcurrency and Blockchain strategy.
Prediction Cluster #3 – Fake News and Counterfeit Reality run amok…
Keeping in line with the dominant theme of the US Presidential election of 2016, fake news has become a huge challenge across multiple social media platforms. This news is being manufactured by skilled writers working for foreign and often hostile governments as well as AI driven bots. Gartner forecasts that by 2022, the majority of news consumed in developed economies will be fake. This is a staggering indictment of the degree of criminality in creating a counterfeit reality. Germany has led the way in passing legislation that goes after criminals who sow racial discord by planting fake news on internet platforms which have more than 2 million users.  The law applies to online service providers who operate platforms that enable sharing and dissemination of data. If offending material is not removed from social network platforms within 24 hours, fines of upto €50 million can be levied by the regulator.
Enterprises need to guard similarly against fake news being shared with a view to harming their corporate or product image. Putting in place strong cyber defenses and operational risk systems will be key.
Prediction Cluster #4 – IT jobs in the Digital Age…
We have spoken about the need for IT staff to retool themselves as Digital transformation & bimodal IT projects increasingly take a seat in the corporate agenda. Accordingly, IT needs to increasingly understand and communicate in the language of the business. Gartner increasingly forecasts that IT staff will become versatilists across the key disciplines of Infrastructure, Operations, and Architecture.
Gartner also forecasts that AI related jobs will experience healthy growth staring in 2020. Until then AI will result in widespread time and effort savings with AI augmenting existing workers with time and productivity savings.
Prediction Cluster #6 – IoT and Security…
There are two key predictions included this year from an IoT standpoint. The first is that by 2022, half of IoT security budgets will be spent towards remediation and device safety recalls rather than in providing protection. Clearly, as threat vectors increase into an enterprise by their adoption of IoT, it is key to put appropriate governance mechanisms to ensure perimeter defense and to ensure appropriate patching & security policies are followed. You are only as secure as the weakest devices inside your organizational perimeter.
Secondly, In three years or less, Gartner predicts that IoT capabilities will be included in 95% of new electronic designs. This is not a surprise given the proliferation of embedded devices and the improvements in operating systems such as embedded Linux. However, the key gains will be made in platforms that harness and make this data actionable.
This year’s Gartner’s predictions have largely underwhelmed in three broad areas.
Firstly, the broad coverage of all leading tech trends that were evident in the earlier years is clearly missing. For instance, sensor technology enabling autonomous vehicles such as LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) being pioneered by the likes of Alphabet and Tesla is conspicuous by its absence on the list. Elon Musk has been on record saying that self-driven transportation is just two or three years away from being introduced by the car makers. Next, any mention of 5G wireless capabilities which enable a range of IoT workloads is expected to be a reality in 2020. This is another obvious miss by Gartner.
Secondly, some of the most evident areas of enterprise innovation such as FinTechs, InsurTechs are conspicuous by their absence.
Thirdly, Gartner has included quantitative data such as percentages and dates that with each trend that can leave one scratching their head. It is unclear what methodology and logic were employed in arriving at such exact numbers.
 “Germany’s Bold Gambit to Prevent Online Hate Crimes and Fake News Takes Effect” – Evelyn Douek, Lawfare