The Coming Disruption: 2014 Technology Predictions from Gartner’s Daryl Plummer

November 8, 2013 Balakrishna Narasimhan

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With advances in cloud, mobile, social, big data, and crowdsourcing all happening at once and at incredible speed, it’s undeniable that the disruptive effect of technology has shifted both the way businesses are run and the way individuals operate. According to Managing VP & Gartner fellow Daryl Plummer, IT disruptions now go extensively beyond the IT function- changing political realities, affecting occupational realities, personal and medical realities, and our own security. As we approach 2014, it’s worthwhile to evaluate the way these disruptions impact business and IT growth strategies, as well as individual behaviors within the business.

During his webinar earlier this week, “Top 10 Strategic Predictions: Gartner Predicts a Disruptive and Constructive Future for IT”, Plummer identifies several areas that, based on disruptive trends, can serve as a framework for strategic planning. With these predictions in mind, here’s a look at what the future of technology will hold for businesses and individuals:

The Digital Industrial Revolution Will Enable Us to be “Digitally Free”

The Digital Industrial Revolution allows us to now access and share massive amounts of data, process information regardless of location, and make nearly anything with 3D printers. As Plummer states, we’re digitally free to do what we want. So how does this digital freedom affect businesses? 3D printing, in particular, is advancing at an extremely fast pace- a pace so fast that a “digitally free” society may not know how to rationally and safely use the information accessible to them. Using 3D printing to create human organs for transplants, for example, inevitably stirs up the global debate about the ethics behind using 3D printers for bioprinting. Scanning and reproducing products raises the intellectual property boundaries that may be crossed in doing so. As these issues emerge, Plummer advises enterprises to “develop policies for acceptable research parameters in this area, as well as investigate the legal aspects of protecting the resulting intellectual property.”

Our take: 3D printing is growing fast, but isn’t yet dramatically affecting supply chains or fulfillment. This is more of an area for businesses, especially those in manufacturing, to monitor. The broader trend around digitization and how the physical world is increasingly merging with the digital is one for every business and IT leader to pay close attention to.

Businesses are Becoming Digital and using Crowds as an “Accessory”

Simply put, digital business is about accessorizing the business with digital assets and capabilities. Plummer refers to the digital use of crowds as one of the main ways to accessorize business moving forward. He states that by 2017, “over half of consumer goods manufacturers will achieve 75% of their consumer innovation and R&D capabilities from crowdsourced solutions.” As crowdsourcing technology continues to improve, we can expect to see an increase in its use; furthermore, companies that use crowdsourcing will see an increase in their ability to generate revenue. Moving forward, Plummer’s advice to CIOs in the enterprise is to think about how to use crowds within their own organizations to solve business problems.

Our take: The sharing economy is coming fast. In our personal lives, we see this in the form of services like AirBnB, Lyft, Relay Rides, Task Rabbit and many others who are disrupting established business models through direct peer-to-peer sharing. Open source communities have demonstrated the power of crowdsourcing in the enterprise, but so far, few companies have embraced crowdsourcing as a core part of their talent strategies. We at Appirio are big believers in the power of crowdsourcing. Through our CloudSpokes and Topcoder communities, we see first-hand what’s possible when you can get a world of experts competing to solve your challenge. We encourage all IT and business leaders to experiment with crowdsourcing for design, development and testing through communities like 99Designs, Topcoder, CloudSpokes and uTest.

Smart Machines Will Become Part of our Daily Lives

The notion of a “smart machine” isn’t necessarily one that thinks, but one that can assist us by making decisions based on knowledge that it accumulates. Automated assistance is becoming more widely accepted and will soon have more of a disruptive effect on the way that businesses function. Plummer states that by 2020, “most knowledgeable workers’ career paths will be disrupted by smart machines in positive and negative ways.” It will be beneficial for IT professionals to recognize that smart machines will create competitive advantages and new processes within the business, and they will need to determine where to apply those processes to more effectively compete.

Our take: Smart machines sounds a bit like science fiction until you realize that this concept encompasses everything from Siri to Google Now to IBM’s Watson. So far, we haven’t experienced these types of intelligent machines in our work lives, especially in enterprise IT. It’s not just enterprise IT that should be looking into smart machines, but as Plummer says, there’s a new type of automation coming, and we should be looking for opportunities to rethink our business processes using smart automation.

Businesses Will Need to Keep Up with the Internet of Things

Plummer predicts that there will be 15 billion things connected together by 2020. In a digital world, things will be more widely connected than ever before and be able to directly give us more accurate information. The question, then, is how companies will keep up with the digitally connected world and take advantage of it. Use cases are growing rapidly for wearable devices, the technology continues to improve, and the ability to collect data is expanding. Smartphone consumer data sharing is expected to double by 2015, as more consumer data will be collected. Plummer encourages designing wearables for new use cases, rather than replacements for existing technology. IT professionals should take time to investigate how wearables will affect planning for future apps, as well as how to best leverage these in IT strategy.

Our take: Connected devices and sensors are making many new types of tracking possible. Three things are happening simultaneously, which really open up the possibilities of a connected device world. First, the cost of sensors is dropping rapidly. Second, the cost of data storage is dropping rapidly as well so all the information that’s being collected can be stored and analyzed. Finally, crowdsourcing is making it possible for companies to take advantage of communities of data scientists to analyze their data and build predictive models that can enable them to do everything from prevent breakage on a product line to determining when a customer is likely to buy a product or churn.

The trends that Daryl Plummer talked about today would have seemed far-fetched even a few years ago. The fact that the world has changed so rapidly over the past five years since the growth of cloud, mobile and social is hugely exciting for technologists in business. As a recent IBM survey found, technology is now the #1 external factor that CEOs think will impact their business. Technology is now inseparable from strategy, and those who can harness both technology and crowds to reimagine their business will separate themselves from their competitors.

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