This is the second installment of the annual Gartner prediction/trends set. The last one focused on strategic predictions. This one focuses on Gartner’s technology trends.
This year’s list feels a little like a redo (with some new names for already pretty well-defined trends). Part of the problem with solid research organizations like Gartner is how visible they are. They host conferences, publish reports and through their consulting practice evangelize the technology trends they endlessly discuss in their travels. So the annual lists cannot help but disappoint a little since so many of us have heard a Gartner analyst or consultant describe the trends, or have seen a bunch of Gartner Hype Cycles and Magic Quadrants.
More Obvious Than Good or Missing
With all that said, let’s look at the trends. Some of the trends are good, some are obvious and some are missing.
The first trend is “autonomous things.” Gartner believes in autonomous things! Sorry, but this trend is about as obvious as a Trump rally. Investments in autonomous things – especially vehicles – have been spiking for years. In fact, there’s a bona fide race to autonomy of all shapes and sizes among some of the largest companies in the world – and some of the (very well-funded) smallest! And yes, autonomous things will be enabled by a variety of technologies, including especially IOT and AI. No one knows, for example, what % of air, land and sea vehicles will be partially or fully autonomous in five years, and, yes, connectivity will be part of the rollout of all things autonomous. Good, but obvious.
“Augmented analytics” is a true emerging trend: we’re on our way, but the number of applications is still thin. I’m not too sure about Gartner’s “citizen data scientist” concept, but if it helps us understand and define the interrelationships among data preparation, the automated and quasi-automated generation of insights, and “human assistance” in areas like natural language processing (NLP) and auto-generated visualization, then I guess “citizens” are better than traitors. There’s no question that AI will assist with big data analytics. The open question is the distribution of tasks: who does what? Another good, though obvious trend.
AI will also impact development. Gartner believes by 2022, 40% of new application development will involve AI co-developers. This trend is a good callout. Gartner identifies AI services, platforms, frameworks and infrastructure as enablers of applications across domains. Gartner is right. AI will augment autonomous vehicles, analytics and application development, among scores of other activities and platforms will emerge to accelerate development and deployment. Good.
Gartner and others have been talking about “digital twins” for a while now. “Digital twin refers to a digital replica of physical assets (physical twin), processes, people, places, systems and devices that can be used for various purposes … digital twins integrate artificial intelligence, machine learning and software analytics with spatial network graphs to create living digital simulation models that update and change as their physical counterparts change.”
Yes, digital twins can help us describe, explain, simulate, predict and prescribe activity and behavior across and within entities, which is well underway. Good and obvious. It’s been around for decades, though now the replication and simulation technology includes all of the emerging digital technologies.
The next Gartner trend is the “empowered edge,” where computing will extend well beyond centralized facilities to the “edge” of the network where data can be stored, processed and displayed. What I like most about edge computing is its exploitation of microservices architectures where chunks of application functionality can be sent to edge devices. This expands computing power indefinitely, which is the real story around edge computing. This is a really important trend that’s not as obvious as it might seem. Gartner’s got this one just right (again), and hopefully will say a lot more about it going forward.
Gartner neologizes well. Its “immersive experience” is a twist on virtual/augmented/mixed reality (VR/AR/MR) with additional sensory features. VR/AR/MR is well underway; Gartner has expanded the concept to include additional stimuli and responses. It’s more than likely that companies with products and services that can be enhanced with “multi-experience”-based VR/AR/MR will play with the expanded technology. They must play with the technology. Gartner thinks the number is 70%. I think it’s closer to 100%. This trend is safe, good and obvious.
Gartner believes blockchain will be a $3.1 trillion business by 2030. Not $2.9T or $3.1T. Or $2T. Who really knows? Blockchain platform growth, standardization and use across industries is a safe bet and a legitimate technology trend. Very good, and very obvious.
“Privacy and ethics” are complex trends areas. It’s not clear how this plays out. On the one hand, everyone loves the convenience of, for example, e-Commerce. But, on the other hand, e-Commerce is underwritten by data collected from their online behavior. The trade-offs here are unclear, at best. Would the average Amazon shopper forgo their online experience for more privacy? Yes? What part of the experience would the average Amazon shopper sacrifice for assurances their data would not be sold without their permission? How important is privacy to the average shopper if it means losing some fabulous “deals”? This trend is very difficult to define especially for consumer-driven economies like the US. This is an important trend that bears watching.
Gartner likes “smart places.” The term applies to smart cities, buildings, factories and supply chains, among other places. Connectivity, integration and intelligence are residents of smart places. Nothing new here: obvious, good trend.
The last Gartner trend is quantum computing. Gartner is appropriately cautious about this trend, which calls its validity as an important current trend in question. In my world, quantum computing is an area to be tracked on a quarterly basis, recognizing that it may take a decade or two to extract significant value from quantum computing.
Some Missing Trends
What’s missing from the list? Applications architectures are changing. Monolithic architectures are yielding to microservice architectures. Big monolithic software applications – the ones which still dominate many large enterprises – will be replaced by architectures far more flexible, distributed and scalable than older ones. Edge computing assumes microservices. Extended governance models assume microservices. The cloud is built for microservices. This is an important trend that should be watched especially when its time to upgrade a monster monolithic application or re-architect distributed computing.
Another trend is the “platform-itization” of emerging technologies. Blockchain-as-a-service, VR-as-a-service, microservices-as-a-service, augmented-analytics-as-a-service, AR-as-a-service, IOT-as-a-service and AI-as-a-service. You get the idea. The important trend here is the evolution of cloud-provided services well beyond desktop-as-a-service, storage-as-a-service and security-as-a-service. Cloud providers will become the trends enablers, prototypers, innovation labs and more. A trend to watch is the number and depth of new services cloud providers offer.
A third trend to watch is wireless technology, especially 5G (and beyond). Many of the Gartner identified and other trends depend upon faster communications. The explosion of data, the interconnectivity of devices, people and places, and the integration of intelligent applications into expanding ecosystems all require faster communications. This trend is just around the corner – 2020 is a safe bet. Companies should be tracking this trend monthly and defining (and launching) pilots right now.
There are other trends we could add to the list, like the role 3D printing will play in boutique manufacturing (and beyond), how implanted wearables will impact healthcare and how natural language processing will enable human-like conversations among organic and digital agents. Everyone has their list. Maybe next year.