As software and adjacent technologies continue to eat the world, we see the pace of digital transformation accelerating in 2018 as organizations strive to enhance their customer and operational intelligence.
Organizations will grapple with a variety of digital technologies and skillsets this year to become more data-driven in order to improve their agility and decision-making capabilities. As always, they’ll be looking for ways to simplify operations and get more done with less. We predict the concepts and trends listed below will light a path for organizations to show them the way forward:
- Climbing the Stairway from the Edge to the Cloud
The ongoing journey to move data, apps and other digital assets from private, on-premises data centers to public clouds will continue unabated as organizations look to reduce or eliminate internal ICT functions and responsibilities. Even in the midst of cutting costs, organizations will still struggle with concerns around cloud vendor lock-in via PaaS which will benefit IaaS virtual machines, container technologies like Docker and container orchestration technologies like Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, Mesos and Marathon. Overall, Amazon AWS plus Microsoft Azure and Office365 will continue to be the biggest beneficiaries of the public cloud megatrend. Along the way, one of the stair steps that remains on-premise is something called the Fog or the Edge. If you’re familiar with how content delivery network (CDN) proxy servers around the world cache and speed the delivery of Web content to your browser, Edge gateway devices do something similar. With more and more of an organization’s compute occurring in distant, public clouds, Edge devices residing on the local network can cache, aggregate, analyze and speed up cloud content to give employees inside the office a better experience. Edge devices can also be used with the Internet of Things where they connect to machines and cache, aggregate, and analyze data locally instead of waiting for that data to be transported to a distant cloud. Since neither people nor machines are vary tolerant of too much latency, expect the adoption of Edge gateway devices and associated local storage to surge in 2018.
- Enhanced Networking Inside and Out
As organizations reduce the number of digital assets and activities that take place in-house, the primary role of ICT departments will be to create and maintain fast, reliable connectivity via wired and wireless technologies. Wired networking will be “more of the same” as we push speeds forward with fiber optics and Gigabit Ethernet to shuttle employees out to the Internet. Wireless is where things get more interesting. Inside the office, organizations will continue rolling out 802.11ac Wi-Fi access points running in the 5 GHz band to deliver data and high-bandwidth content like HD video to any device. Outside, the 3GPP has officially signed off on the first 5G specification which promises to deliver greater bandwidth, lower latency, better coverage, lower battery consumption and a higher number of simultaneously connected devices. As you might imagine, it will take some time to roll out technology based on this spec so we will look to get more mileage out of 4G technologies like LTE Advanced. On the slower side of things, you have Low-Power, Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) technologies that are making great strides for certain Internet of Things use cases. The ability to create a large wireless network in places where no cellular coverage exits is compelling for organizations capable of managing such a system. If you have devices or machines that don’t send much data every day, require years of battery life, or need to send data over long distances, one of the many LPWAN technologies might be a good fit. Whether you’re inside or outside, looking for narrowband or broadband, there’s plenty of wireless choices for organizations in 2018.
- Mobility for People and IoT for Machines
- Digital Twins make Everything Digital
The rise of Digital Twins will give every organization the starting point they’re looking for to begin their Digital Transformation. A Digital Twin is essentially a digital representation of a physical object. It can be a machine, a person, a complex mechanical subsystem, a collection of machines working together on an assembly line, or even a process. These twins have attributes or properties that describe them like a person’s heart rate or a motor’s temperature or current revolutions per minute (RPM). Organizations can assign key performance indicators (KPIs) to the current values of these properties. A red heart rate KPI might be 200 whereas a green motor temperature KPI might be 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Digital Twins can exhibit behavior by executing programming language and/or analytics code against the combination of their current property values and associated KPIs. Not only does this bring everything in an organization to life, it also facilitates the running of simulations to see how things will behave when different types of data points are fed to these Digital Twins. This is definitely the most promising and exciting technology for 2018.
- Security, Privacy and GDPR cause Organizations to Stumble
Unrelenting cyberattacks keep organizations in a defensive posture rather than moving forward with important digital initiatives and deployments. While we won’t cover the myriad security steps every organization must follow in order to stay ahead of individual and state-sponsored hackers, this is one of the most important functions of an ICT department. Organizational leaders who don’t take this seriously by not funding the appropriate security technology or staffing the appropriate security employee headcount do so at their own peril. Needless to say, organizations must prioritize the privacy and protection of data, people (employees and customers), and systems if they want to remain viable. To turn up the heat a bit, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) becomes enforceable on May, 25 2018. This regulation gives control back to EU citizens and residents over their personal data by strengthening data protections for all individuals within the European Union as well as the export of personal data outside the EU. Quite a few companies operating in countries across the globe play it fast-and-loose with the security and privacy of individual data without user consent. This comes to an end in May when companies can be fined up to €20 million or 4% of their global annual revenue, whichever is greater, for violating this regulation. Any company operating in the EU must obtain explicit consent for all data collected from an individual as well as reason/purpose of using and processing that data. Additionally, that user consent may be withdrawn. Many companies around the world haven’t made the necessary changes to their digital systems to be compliant with GDPR and will be in for a rude awakening in 2018. Data privacy and security matters in a big way.
- Making Sense of an Avalanche of Data with Advanced Analytics
While data and analytics systems have been around for decades, the amount of data collected for analysis by organizations has increased exponentially. With a 50x growth rate from machines alone, the Internet of Things has become the newest data source for organizations to analyze. Lots of little data integrated from people, machines and business systems adds up to an overwhelming amount of Big Data to make sense of. Luckily, there are an increasing number of streaming and batch analytics systems and tools to tackle this job. Making this trend better is that most of these technologies are open source and free which helps level the playing field between small, mid-sized and large organizations with varying amounts of money to spend. Head over to Apache.org. Another interesting trend in data science is how Python has surpassed R as the most popular language for Machine Learning. An increase on online courseware, an abundance of scientific libraries, and the fact that Python is one of the easiest programming languages to learn, means you don’t always have to be a PhD in Statistics to get the job done. Virtually every organization in the world is looking for Machine Learning/Deep Learning expertise, so this trend should help the supply side of this equation. The last analytics trend that is coming on strong in 2018 has to do with where data is analyzed. It will no longer be the exclusive domain of the cloud or large clusters of servers. The need to answer questions and make decisions more quickly is driving analytics of all types out to the Edge. Thanks to Moore’s Law and the need to eliminate latency, more and more edge gateway devices will be performing IFTTT and even Machine Learning predictions (with models trained in the cloud). There’s no shortage of important trends that are simplifying advanced analytics for organizations in 2018.
Clearly, 2018 is going to be a transformational year where properly-equipped decision-makers and leaders can shift their organization into the next gear to accelerate their digital transformation. Hold on tight.