Even though we haven’t quite hit the final quarter of 2017, you could say it’s been an eventful year in digital transformation. Just as I predicted last year at this time, user experience (UX), big data, smart machines — and of course, change itself—have proven big players in the business landscape this year. As we round the bend to 2018, we get a sense of what’s ahead in the digital transformation—barring any unexpected disruptions, of course.
1-4. The IoT Will Push Us To The Edge — Literally (IoT, Analytics, Edge, 5G)
One thing I noticed in putting this list together is that the IoT kept popping up, repeatedly. This is why it has found its way to the top. Gartner estimates more than 8.4 billion "Things" are on the internet today, up more than 30% from just one year ago. However, IoT alone is just the start. It isn't so much about the things, but rather what we do with these things once they are connected and supplying us data. Three of the main trends I see — the analytics revolution, edge computing, and 5G cell processing—are all driven by the IoT at their core. In fact, IDC predicts that up to 40% of all compute will happen at the edge in just the next couple of years. This is why trends 1-4 all rest with IoT.
• Analytics (2): If you’re maxing out on data and analytics in 2017, just wait. The mass amount of information being created by the IoT has the power to revolutionize everything from manufacturing and healthcare to the layout and functioning of entire cities — allowing them to work more efficiently and profitably than ever before. One company, for instance, found that it was able to reduce the cost of managing its fleet of 180,000 trucks from 15 cents per mile to just 3 cents. That same kind of efficiency can be exercised in almost every industry, from retail to city planning. Tech giants such as Microsoft, IBM, SAS and SAP are all heavily investing in Analytics, more specifically IoT Analytics as they are seeing the power of this combination in driving new business insights across a vast array of industries and applications.
• Edge Computing (3): If you think you’ve already been pushed to the edge when it comes to digital transformation, look out: you haven’t seen anything yet. Just when many companies are finally beginning to move toward cloud computing, edge computing — driven by the sheer volume and speed of information produced by the IoT—is jumping to the forefront of the business scene. Industry leaders such as Cisco and HPE have made huge hardware, software and service bets on this movement, which I look at as strong validation of this trend. As smart drones, autonomous vehicles, and other AI-powered smart devices seek to connect and communicate instantly via the IoT, the matter of sending data “all the way” to the cloud will become highly impractical. Many of these devices will need real-time response and processing, making edge computing the only viable option. For those of you who have just jumped into the cloud generation: don’t fret. Though edge will continue to be the go-to choice for processing real-time data, it’s likely that the most important and relevant data will still head cloud-ward.
• 5G (4): Just as the amount of data produced by the IoT will force data to the edge, it will also force mobile providers to move faster than ever — toward 5G. The level of hyper-connectivity expected by users today leaves little room not to move forward on the 5G path, but don’t get too excited. The move to 5G won’t happen overnight, and it will likely be patchy at best throughout the coming year. This year we are seeingGigabit LTE (the stepping stone between current LTE and 5G) making leaps with devices from Samsung and Sony leading the way. Today much of the Gigabit LTE movement is being powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon technology, but others will certainly seek to become involved in this rapid growth market for mobile.
5. Blockchain Finds Its Way
While its more popular cousin Bitcoin continues to blow away stock market analysts, Blockchain may finally find its place in 2018. Gartner shows that as of February this year, blockchain was the second top search term on its website, increasing 400% in just 12 months. To me, it’s no surprise. While the financial industry will be the first to begin utilizing this amazing tool, numerous others — from healthcare to entertainment to hospitality — will not be far behind. Granted, the move to blockchain will not come overnight either — just 20% of trade finance globally will use it by 2020. But once it finds its sea legs — most likely this year — there will literally be no turning back.
6. AI Goes From Newbie To Mainstream
“Yeah, yeah, I know — artificial intelligence.” That’s likely the response you’ll get when talking about AI in 2018. With everyone from toddlers to seniors using Alexa, Siri, and customer service chatbots, it’s no wonder AI may soon begin to feel like old news—at least to mainstream users. On the business side, however, so much power remains in AI — in everything from customer service and robotics to analytics and marketing. Companies will continue to use AI to surprise, connect, and communicate with their customers in ways they may not even appreciate or realize. This includes faster, cheaper, and smarter automation of everything from emails and content generation to industrial manufacturing. I believe we are still only at the beginning here, but we have seen the likes of IBM Watson, SAP Leonardo, Salesforce Einstein and other major software companies all launching embedded AI right into their platforms. This is a sign of what is to come.