As we enter the fourth year of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – the era of connected intelligence, our relationships with technology and its impact on global society will come into even sharper focus. The primary new technologies of this decade – Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud, mobile/5G, cybersecurity, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) – are even more significant and impactful than we may realise.
It is critical that we look ahead into what is possible, lead and thoughtfully shape this fourth industrial revolution. If we succeed, the outlook for information technology to impact and improve our lives will be very bright.
1. Your app is your brand
Today, over one-third of shoppers use smartphone apps to browse, research or compare prices before they buy. Almost every organisation already has a digital presence and a digital entrance and apps have become the new “shop front”. As a result, customers will develop a perception of brand through a digital experience instead of the touch-and-feel experience of bricks and mortar stores and service centres.
2. From mobile-first to AI-first
AI is advancing rapidly across areas such as sensory systems, predictive analytics, image analysis, speech recognition and machine learning. AI commoditisation through plug-and-play solutions will accelerate as leading technology providers, notably Google (e.g. Google Assistant, TensorFlow), Microsoft (e.g. Cortana, Azure Machine Learning) and Amazon (e.g. Alexa, SageMaker), make new announcements almost weekly. Surprisingly, business adoption is lagging but this is not expected to last long.
3. Infrastructure as code
Despite retail outlets struggling, shopping is as popular as ever. The in-person shopper experience is making way for digital and software is dominating design and deployment of shopping malls as well as almost all physical infrastructure, from buildings and transportation to IT itself. IT infrastructure is shifting from a system of physical boxes to just one or a few software entities and operated as code.
4. Economic dislocation as tech reality bites
Existing challenges such as unemployment (through automation), unemployability (which is worse), cyber risk, fake news, algorithmic accountability and digital distraction will be more obvious and acute. New challenges are also emerging. Power is shifting from government into the hands of a small number of powerful multi-national technology organisations based in the US or China. Government intervention for law enforcement (encryption), national security, data protection, ethical AI (AI-to-human and AI-to-AI), data/algorithm bias and copyright will escalate alongside new regulation. The shortage of women in technology is a priority especially as demand for technology-based jobs grows at the expense of other traditional, manual types of work.
5. Expanding to Cloud
Even public cloud providers now understand that it may take longer, if ever, to expand to public cloud. This realisation has impacted expectations such as timing and investment and market dynamics. Cloud capabilities such as serverless computing, edge computing, containers, microservices and AI toolkits provide compelling options for rapid, cost-effective development and deployment of modern software and applications. Expanding to cloud will require a sharper focus on telemetry, policy and AI to manage, secure, orchestrate and automate operations.
I shall discuss the rest of the trends next week.
Kevin Bloch, Chief Technology Officer, Cisco ANZ