2017: a year of living virtually

Each year about this time, analysts, pundits, and pretty much anyone else with an opinion begins to pontificate about what the next years will bring. And this year, what’s not on the lists is as interesting as what is there.

Gartner came up with ten items. And unlike its lists from the last decade, neither cloud nor mobile was explicitly mentioned – they’ve finally been taken for granted as part of the present, rather than as future technologies.

This year’s prognostications began with a technology that is close to the bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment on Garner’s latest Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies: the notion that, by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in augmented reality (AR). Not virtual reality (VR), which has actually crept out of the Trough of Disillusionment and is crawling into the mainstream, but AR, which overlays the real world. Gartner predicts that by next year, one in five leading global retail brands will deploy AR.

Gartner Hype Cycle 2016
Gartner Hype Cycle 2016

That may be a bit optimistic, but there’s no doubt that AR is coming into its own. It’s just doing so quietly, in gaming, and in some areas of industry that the person on the street doesn’t see. For example, maintenance workers can now use AR to overlay readings from components on the device being monitored, or to see exactly how to disassemble something to replace a part – and, more importantly, how to put it back together again.

Prediction number two said that by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be conducted without a screen. Say what?

They’re serious – Gartner believes that by year end 2017, 5 percent of consumer-facing websites will feature voice-enabled chatbots. So people will, indeed, be interacting sans display, because they will be talking to their computers – or, more likely, to their phones – instead. If that does become the norm, we’ll live in a much noisier world, so I suspect that the bots will also have some sort of keyboard interface to accommodate environments where chatter is not appreciated, or to let users interact in places too noisy for proper comprehension of voice.

Number three is, at first blush, rather counter-intuitive – by 2019, 20 percent of brands will have abandoned their mobile apps, and by year-end 2017, the number of branded applications with monthly usage growth will have declined compared to the end of this year. But when you stop to look at the apps, you realize that many of them, quite frankly, aren’t very good. They cost a lot to build and maintain, and companies aren’t seeing the expected return on their investment, so it makes financial sense to rethink.

Gartner recommends that companies build adaptive web apps instead, apps that work on both computer and on mobile devices. The downside I see to this is that web apps require connectivity to work at all, while a standalone effort can have some functionality even when there’s no Internet available. And, let’s face it, much as we try to delude ourselves that ubiquitous connectivity has arrived, the painful truth is we’re not there yet.

Prediction four sounds very Big Brother-ish. Gartner thinks that by 2020, algorithms will positively alter the behaviour of over one billion global workers, and by year-end 2017, there will be reports of increased profit margins due to positively altered employee behaviours. Our electronic overlords will nudge us in the direction of what the algorithms determine are the best behaviours for our companies.

That’s all very nice in theory, but we must realize that algorithms are created by humans, so in the end, their effectiveness depends on how they’re designed and implemented. We also have to take into account the human factor; many people don’t care to be bossed by a machine.

The next one is a bit more realistic: by year-end 2017, multimode Blockchains will be deployed across industries, and by 2022, a Blockchain-based business will be worth $10 billion. While it’s still a relatively new technology, Blockchain definitely fills a need, so while the $10 billion number may be optimistic, unless something drastic happens, we will see Blockchain in general use soon. But, I think, not the proposed “editable” Blockchain – that defeats the purpose of the technology, which is to provide an irrefutable, time stamped record of transactions, something desperately needed in a world where nothing is as it seems.

Lynn Greiner, IT journalist and frequent contributor to InsightaaS
Lynn Greiner, IT journalist and frequent contributor to InsightaaS

Number six is definitely within the realm of possibility as well. It suggests that by 2018, there will be at least two “digital giant” brands per kitchen, where those giants are Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon,

Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, and by 2021, 20 percent of all activities in which an individual engages will involve at least one of the group. Given the reach of those companies, it’s not too much of stretch to imagine. Gartner recommends that businesses either join or compete with the digital giants’ platforms and ecosystems, making things digital, programmable, and smart.

Number seven, in a way, flows out of the previous prediction: by 2019, for every dollar enterprises invest in innovation, they will have to spend $7 in core execution. Furthermore, Gartner recommends that companies engage in modernization of their existing infrastructure before jumping into innovation and transformation efforts. That makes sense. There’s no point spending a lot of money creating new until you know what of the old can be fixed or repurposed.

The last three predictions revolve around one of the hottest areas in technology: the Internet of Things (IoT). Gartner believes that, by 2020 data storage needs created by the IoT will increase by less than 3 percent, and, at least by year-end 2017, there will be no new regulations requiring storage of IoT data. However, analysts say companies should conduct pilot tests on their own IoT infrastructure to see what they will need to store for their own uses.

They’re definitely right, given the glacial speed with which regulatory bodies move, that mandatory storage of data won’t be in place by the end of next year, but the future after that depends in large part on what bad things happen. Governments tend to get involved faster if malicious activity occurs, and the industry in question doesn’t move to correct the situation.

An investment in IoT will pay off though, if the prediction of $1 trillion in savings for business and consumers comes true. Gartner expects that predictive maintenance alone will save 10 – 20 percent over preventive maintenance.

One form of preventive maintenance features in the final prediction, however. Gartner says that, by 2020, 40 percent of employees will be able to cut their healthcare costs by wearing fitness trackers. In fact, it thinks that by the end of 2017, multinational corporations will sponsor their use.

One impediment I can see, aside from the cost, is the fact that the trackers may or may not be accurate. In addition, while it’s obvious that most employees aren’t fit enough, and that it adversely affects their overall health, the trackers are optimized for certain forms of activity that may not be appropriate for some individuals. And, there’s the privacy question – who will see the data generated by the trackers, and how will it be used. That could get messy.

But, says Gartner, predictions are increasingly about what disrupts our lives, and this batch contains some major disruptions. They probably won’t all come true (Gartner claims a 78 percent success rate), but, as VP and Gartner Fellow Daryl Plummer pointed out in his presentation, “If you’re not wrong, you’re not trying hard enough.”





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