Gartner’s annual release of its hotly anticipated list of the top 10 technology trends for the upcoming calendar year often serves as both impetus and reassurance for IT leaders.
Announced at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, several — but certainly not all — of the trends that made this year’s list should come as no surprise to digital-minded CIOs and IT leaders. But, as David Cearley said during his presentation, it’s not just the individual trends that CIOs have to pay attention to in 2019 — it’s the collective.
“This year in particular, we’re seeing a convergence and an overlap and interplay between a lot of these trends,” said Cearley, distinguished vice president and analyst at Gartner. “So, it’s particularly important not to look at them just as stand-alone, but to look at how they come together … to help you build what we [at Gartner] call the ‘intelligent digital mesh.'”
Gartner lingo aside, advanced intelligence, in its many forms, was at the heart of most of Gartner’s 2019 top 10 technology trends — from autonomous things and augmented analytics to AI-driven development and smart cities. Cearley broke down the top 2019 technology trends and the critical role they’ll play in disrupting industries and fostering perpetual innovation, integration and delivery.
1. Autonomous things
Gartner predicted, by 2021, 10% of new vehicles will have autonomous driving capability, compared with less than 1% in 2017.
But this trend is not all about cars. There are robots that are replacing people, and there are drones that can be controlled remotely, to name a few. The first autonomous ship also recently made a transatlantic crossing.
Cearley said we’re moving along a spectrum of autonomy — from human-assisted capabilities, to partial automation, to conditional and high automation and, finally, to full autonomy. Full autonomy is still a ways away, he said. Cearley said he sees coordination and collaboration between these different levels of automation as a key aspect of next-gen autonomous things.
As autonomous technology matures, the big issue over the next few years isn’t going to be the technology, but the legal framework to see what we can do with this technology, Cearley said.
2. Augmented analytics
Gartner predicted, through 2020, the number of citizen data scientists will grow five times faster than the number of expert data scientists.
“What [the enterprise is] doing is automating the data science function and putting that in the hands of mere mortals and business people to drive this forward,” Cearley said.
We’re entering the third stage of analytics capabilities, Cearley said. The first stage was IT-driven and had very static dashboards. The second stage was more business-driven and had more flexibility with products like Tableau and others that were more visual and user-defined. The third stage is machine-learning-led augmented analytics.
The future, according to Cearley, is natural-language-narrated insights and automated visualization capabilities built into intelligent systems.
3. AI-driven development
Gartner predicted, by 2020, at least 40% of new application development projects will have AI code developers on the team.
There are AI frameworks and AI infrastructures out there with AI platforms, but the key focus for CIOs going forward will be on the increasing number of cognitive services on top of that, Cearley said. This “higher level of abstraction,” delivered in large part as a cloud service, is the key battleground for the likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft and the Chinese companies.
“This higher level of abstraction makes it easier for developers to build AI-enhanced systems without the need for a data scientists,” Cearley said. “The bad news is, with these cloud services you’ve got, there’s a lot of competition, and you’ve got to decide which direction you want to go.”
4. Digital twin
According to Gartner research, 24% of enterprises implementing IoT projects are using digital twins. That number is likely to go up to the 50% to 60% range over the next one to two years, Cearley said.
Gartner defined digital twin as a digital representation of something in the real world. The research firm said it sees the biggest use case for digital twins in maintenance and reliability, but they’re also being used in industrial equipment manufacturing and business process and asset optimization.
In the near future, Cearley and his colleagues said they see digital twins moving beyond “things” to encompass organizations, cities and even people. For digital twins of people, he gave the examples of a doctor doing a virtual surgery before the real surgery or viewing a digital twin of a real human heart to gather data about a heart condition.
5. Empowered edge
The empowered edge is essentially where the digital world meets the physical world, according to Cearley. Gartner predicted storage, computing and advanced AI and analytics capabilities will expand the capabilities of edge devices through 2028.
There’s increasingly more intelligence at the edge, with AI and cloud capabilities embedded directly into edge devices. But while that’s a good thing, it also adds complexity and ongoing management and integration challenges, because the edge now consists of many parts with different lifecycles, Cearley said.
“So, it’s a good news/bad news [situation],” he said. “We’ll see more and more capabilities, analytics and activities at the edge, but managing all of those is going to be a chore.”
A faster and more capable 5G-enabled edge will start rolling out in 2019, making for more robust connections to and from the edge, Cearley added.
6. Immersive experiences
Gartner predicted, by 2022, 70% of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use, and 25% will have deployed to production.
Immersive experiences aren’t just about virtual reality; it’s about how we control the digital environment and how we perceive the digital environment, Cearley said. And behind all of that is a fundamental shift in user experiences, where the complexity is shifting from the human to the system.
This shift includes more voice-activated and voice-driven systems. But it’s not just voice that will create these immersive experiences — it’s the use of all the senses, Cearley said. It’s about delivering an immersive, ambient user experience in which the world around us is the computer with which we’re interacting.
“It’s the advent of a multiexperience world. But it’s a 10-year journey,” he said.
Would it be a top 10 technology trends list without mention of blockchain? Gartner predicted that blockchain is going to create $3.1 trillion in business value by 2030, but it will be a slow ramp-up getting to that point.
First, the basic definition: Gartner sees blockchain as a shared, tokenized, digitized record of assets that’s decentralized and distributed with immutable, traceable transactions and a sort of consensus mechanism, so there’s no single authority.
But blockchain is mutating: Smart contracts and similar projects are opening up blockchain to have more centralized management, some controlled access and alternative consensus mechanisms, which violates the pure notion of blockchain, Cearley said.
“What this gives us is a model that’s moving from blockchain-enabling through blockchain-testing to what I call ‘blockchain-inspired’ solutions today, which might not have a consensus mechanism,” Cearley said. “It may not be as fully distributed.”
8. Smart spaces
Cearley said smart spaces are physical or digital environments that are populated by humans and enabled by technology that’s connected, intelligent and autonomous.
Smart cities have been around for a while, but we’re starting to see them mature and evolve with help from IoT, blockchain, AI and digital twins, Cearley said.
He broke down the evolution into four phases. Phase one is isolated, not-connected systems. Phase two is connected systems, with APIs to access capabilities and integrate systems. Phase three is more coordinated systems in which applications speak with one another and there’s semi-intelligence. Phase four — which is what Cearley said he is seeing mature now — is intelligent environments that are open, connected, coordinated and intelligent ecosystems.
9. Digital ethics and privacy
Cearley said everything on the list so far has digital ethics and privacy implications. And ignoring them doesn’t pay. Gartner predicted, by 2021, organizations that are caught lacking in privacy protection will pay 100% more in compliance costs than best-practice-adhering competitors.
With billions of endpoints collecting information now — and the intelligent edge expanding that — it becomes even more critical to pay attention to privacy, compliance and the ethics around data usage.
“Ultimately, there’s only one question,” Cearley said. “It’s not, ‘Can you do it?’ But, ‘Should you do it?’ Do you have permission from your customers? Are you carrying on a dialogue with the customers? So, this is a technology trend, but there’s a lot of nontechnology stuff that’s going to be the answer to this.”
10. Quantum computing
Gartner predicted, by 2023, 20% of organizations will be budgeting for quantum computing projects, compared with less than 1% today.
This is the most controversial of the top 10 technology trends because of how far it has to go to mature and become mainstream, Cearley admitted. But Gartner has seen significant advances over the last 18 months, which is why its productivity plateau phase on Gartner’s hype cycle has been reduced from a 10-plus-year window to five to 10 years. The sheer processing power alone has the potential to disrupt nearly every industry, Cearley said.
But it won’t involve a hardware purchase. If CIOs in the audience want to start experimenting with quantum computing, Cearley said they shouldn’t do it on their own.
“I’m not so sure you’ll ever buy your own quantum computer,” he said. “The quantum-as-a-service model, I think, is going to dominate for the foreseeable future.”