Five technology trends to watch out for in 2017

Next gen security, cognitive systems, Internet of Things, 3D printing, and natural user interfaces will have a profound effect on the business ecosystem


2017 will see the gradual influx of 3D printers into manufacturing firms, research labs and the possible odd hospital. Photo: iStock
2017 will see the gradual influx of 3D printers into manufacturing firms, research labs and the possible odd hospital. Photo: iStock

Imagine this: you are travelling for work to London and staying in an apartment rented through Airbnb. As you hail the Uber cab for your business meeting, your phone beeps an urgent message and you swipe your finger on the fingerprint scanner to read the notification. You learn that a critical machine on your shop floor is overheating, and the message tells you that based upon previous experience, it is likely to break down soon.

As a precautionary measure, the system has automatically sent a request to the in-house 3D printer to produce the component likely to be impacted. You pull out your Oculus from the briefcase, connect it to the app on the phone and get a visual of the machine and the impacted component. At the click of a button, the system also gives you three scenarios of the impact on the production if the machine goes down. You make the necessary phone calls using the low-cost WhatsApp and speak to the factory manager. Comforted by his response, your mind is clear for your upcoming meeting.

What you have just done is leveraging mobile, next-generation security, Internet of Things (IoT), cognitive computing, natural interfaces and analytics technologies to perform a simple but critical management intervention which ensured the smooth running of your business. Welcome to your new world, Ms CEO.

A tsunami of new technologies has hit the business ecosystem. The first ripples were felt in the middle of the last decade and were evidenced by the likes of Salesforce.com and that upstart called Amazon Web Services, Inc. What a curious idea it was for an e-commerce company to expose, and rent out, its underlying infrastructure to third parties! IDC predicts a third of all industry leaders will be replaced by 2020. That’s how profound the disruption is.

On the consumer side, the waves intensified towards the end of the decade as social media took centre stage and e-commerce boomed in every single major economy in the world. As I write this, Facebook has nearly 1.8 billion users and Alibaba has sold $18 billion worth of products in a single day. Consumer services companies, vividly exemplifying the sharing economy, have become household brands: today, more millennials possibly identify with Uber and Airbnb than they do with venerable corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, and GE. The force of the sharing economy is reshaping vast tracts of the consumer ecosystem, effecting the closure of retail giants such as Circuit City and Woolworths, and acquisitions such as that of Starwood Hotels by Marriott.

The waves are swamping those without the lifeboat of digital capabilities.

The first intense wave of change came with technologies which created what IDC calls the third platform of computing. The four pillars of the third platform, namely social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC), today aggregate to a market exceeding $0.5 trillion. According to IDC research, it’s still expected to grow in excess of 13% in 2016, taking more than 35% of overall technology spending. It accounts for 110% of the industry’s growth: traditional IT spending, while still two thirds of overall spend, is shrinking at greater than 5% a year. The third platform of computing is a profound shift in the computing paradigm. Users have moved from millions to billions, devices from tens to hundreds of millions and there’s enough data generated on Planet Earth to fill up the memory of a stack of Apple iPads all the way to the moon— and back.

SMAC technologies have transformed IT fundamentally, and opened up entirely new opportunities for businesses. From smart products to analytics businesses and from real-time system enabled mobile field forces to digital supply chains, businesses across the spectrum have embraced these in different ways to drive economic value.

The maturing of the third platform of computing has enabled entirely new technologies, and combinations, to develop and mature. IDC collectively calls them the innovation accelerators, as our research identifies their potential to drive not just technology and process but also complete business disruption.

Of these technologies, the following five are likely to take centre stage in India in 2017. Watch out for them.

Next gen security

If you’re like me and have a continuous wrestling match with your store of forgotten “capital letter-alphanumeric—change-them-every-two-weeks” passwords, then I can give you some comfort.

The era of the complicated password will soon pass. Next generation security systems are integrating biometrics (fingerprint, voice, iris recognition) with behavioural analytics (usage location, onsite/on-app behaviour, transaction patterns) to help make bank accounts, health records, government databases and countless other stores of sensitive information ever more secure.

Though not visible to most, the security of the networks our data whizzes around on, and of the data centres which power up the modern economy, is also undergoing radical modernization. For example, network security is not just about appliances detecting ‘bad actors’ anymore: it’s moving to a managed services model where the network is monitored for bad actors, real-time responses become a reality and damage control processes kick in instantly in the event of a hack.

From Apple’s fingerprint readers to behavioural security platforms being introduced by the likes of Intel Security and Cisco, the industry is racing to help us realize the possibilities these technologies unlock.

Expect a new paradigm in security to make life easier, and more secure, for you in 2017 and beyond.

Cognitive systems

The notion of intelligent machines has fascinated man for decades. It has been the subject of Hollywood movies, science fiction books and doomsday theories. Well, they’ve arrived but not in the way you thought. I must stress that intelligent machines of the current generation do not have native intelligence as humans do. They are getting ‘smarter’ on the back of their ability to process vast quantities of data really fast, and identify patterns and trends to be used. Who knows what the next generation of machines brings, though?

A common example is the “May I help you?” assistants, which have appeared on e-commerce websites. Increasingly, you are not interacting with a human but a piece of software if you do ask a question. It has been programmed with learning algorithms, and fed masses of product catalogue and user behaviour data to be able to help you. Intelligent machines are also parsing through all the published legal cases and court decisions in recorded history to help lawyers serve their clients better; and doing exactly the same with doctors trying to figure out what might be wrong with a sick patient.

IBM’s Watson platform is perhaps the best known in this space, but it’s not the only one. Google has a different approach with the TensorFlow and Google Cloud Machine Learning combination. The analytics platforms from the likes of SAS are evolving too, as are new-age data storage systems from NetApp, HP Enterprise and their peers.

The year 2017 will see consumer services firms in different sectors adopting cognitive technologies more aggressively. Expect the likes of banks, e-commerce companies, telecom service providers and hospitals to deploy them faster than others. From a wider perspective, the full story will unfold in 2018-19.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet today has enabled interactions and engagement in society in ways which were not imagined even a decade ago. Video calling through the phone at practically zero marginal cost, cloud computing which allows organizations to think at global scale without the need for massive technology investments and a plethora of consumer services at your doorstep are just three manifestations of the amazing power of the Internet.

The next wave is now upon us: machines are now interacting with each other and triggering processes without human intervention. In the process, mountains of data are being generated daily, enabling machine learning and cognitive computing. This is IoT. The 2016 IDC IoT survey in India, which covered 470 companies, reveals a great enthusiasm for IoT already. Process manufacturing companies as well as logistics services and trucking firms are leading the way. The Industrial Internet is born.

The year 2017 is likely to see the inflection point of IoT adoption in India. Billions of sensors will help monitor oil pipelines remotely, control home air-conditioning systems and track trucks and pallets as they move through our vast countryside. Its potential is staggering, its promise mouth-watering. It can generate crores of rupees worth of efficiencies and productivity gains in the corporate sector; for consumers, it could mean being able to switch on your air conditioner before you reach home; or your coffee machine grinding the beans when the sensors in your bedroom note that you’ve up.

3D printing

At a recent conference, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, shared that they had put a 3D printer in a school as part of corporate social responsibility and R&D initiatives. The group was keen to see what innovation the children might come up with if they are given the right tools. The results are awaited but early signs are promising.

The term 3D printing, in some ways, is a misnomer. They are actually capital goods equipment which operate visually like printers do. In the future, this technology is likely to radically remake manufacturing.

Supply chains will be disrupted and the manufacturing process for many products will be democratized, with the possibility of garage-based production and retail store production already being realized. Nike’s Fly Knit shoes are made in-shop after your foot is scanned and the images sent to the 3D printer. Skin grafts have been synthesized in labs; auto parts are being 3D printed.

In 2017, we will see the gradual influx of these machines into manufacturing firms, research labs and the possible odd hospital.

It will take some time and price cuts before 3D printers go mainstream. But it holds much promise and would be especially useful for far-flung areas of the nation.

Natural user interfaces

What I wouldn’t give to not have to get up for the remote control, and simply change the channel on the television with a swipe of my hand, or through a conveniently placed gadget that would recognize my voice and change the channel! That’s Natural User Interface (NUI) for you and it’s here to stay. But really, while that TV remote is still important, a lot of what we experience is now being redefined by new forms of cognitive controls.

The shift from text to graphics was a major leap, courtesy of Xerox Corpo ration, and popularised by Apple with their hallmark Macintosh OS in 1984. More recently, we’ve witnessed a revolution of sorts in the UI space: touch (smartphones), voice (Siri) and even gesture (Microsoft Kinect, Nintendo Wii).

Today consumers want amplified, immersive and authentic experiences from what they consume; NUI enables just that.

The human-machine interface is fast changing our experiences, thus heralding an era of multi-touch surfaces, powerful and lightweight mobile devices and now the emerging market of wearable technology. We are entering a fascinating world sans constraints physical and virtual.

On the enterprise side, firms today are increasing the connect with their ecosystem of customers, employees, suppliers and partners, moving away from mere CX (customer experience) to authentic experiences. At IDC, we’re seeing this extensively in media and gaming; it is a matter of time before NUI permeates retail, healthcare, fashion and automobile verticals.

It is my considered view that when the neural capabilities of touch, voice and gesture and the capable hardware that’s available to process these inputs (at consumer prices to boot) are coupled with the large scale APIs to leverage these NUI opportunities, a new age of platforms which can redesign and revolutionize your experience will dawn.

2017 shall be a year when the increasing clamour for experience by consumers and the omni-experience transformation needs of enterprises shall see a scaling up of investments towards this aim.

As this technology transformation evolves, so too will its impact on consumer experience and the digital business ecosystem.

In sum, 2017 will see the next technological revolution reshaping Indian society, business and the government landscape.

Recent events have already triggered the digitalization of the payments ecosystem at warp speed. The five technologies described above, individually and in combination, will herald the dawn of the next technological age.

Jaideep Mehta is managing director, IDC India and South Asia.

Five trends that can change the tech world by 2021

Internet-of-things (IoT) software and solutions: IoT will be driving new levels of customer insight and engagement for some by 2021, but technology diversity and the need for organizational changes will still stymie or delay many firms.

Intelligent agents: Intelligent agents and related robots will have eliminated a net 6% of jobs by 2021.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR): By 2021, AR will be commonplace, while VR will remain niche.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive technology: Solutions powered by AI/cognitive technology will displace jobs with the biggest impact felt in transportation, logistics, customer service, and consumer services.

Hybrid wireless: 5G will be rolling out by 2021, creating a high-bandwidth cellular backbone to support IoT devices. In addition, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi will expand their capabilities to support IoT devices.

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