NWT gazes into its crystal ball and outlines the key technology trends for the year ahead
Many organisations, consultants and technology companies make predictions at this time of the year in respect of the technology trends for the next year, and many are based on areas of expertise or supplier influence. At NWT, we have listed key trends that we feel will be beneficial to our customers and are practicable in terms of being implemented in this period.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to computer systems built to mimic human intelligence and perform tasks such as recognition of images, speech or patterns and decision making. Many forms of AI already exist including machine learning, predictive analytics, intelligent automation as well as voice and optical character recognition. The benefits of AI include reducing time spent on tasks, lowering costs and improving flexibility and responsiveness.
Over the last few years, AI has become part of our lives, whether we realise it or not, as businesses large and small begin to utilise it for data analysis.
Recently we have seen just how practical AI can be when its applied to pressing real world issues. One impressive example to mention is Intel and their partnership with hospitals in China developing an AI to detect COVID-19, with 97% accuracy, from a CT scan in only three seconds.
Over the past year, consumers, because of COVID-19 restrictions, have been rapidly forced to interact with both business and government services digitally, opening greater opportunity for AI to be incorporated to analyse data, offer as-a-service. Whilst it may be easy to see the advantages and opportunities of AI, the preparedness of organisations to develop and operate large scale AI projects is often overlooked. If they have not already done so, 2021 is the year when business needs to release the potential of AI by embracing a different way of working to implement this capability.
This is the body of technologies, processes and practices designed to protect networks, devices, programs and data from attack, damage or unauthorised access. As companies continue the digital transformation and adapt to a globally connected world, security must remain a priority, as it is no longer possible to rely on physical barriers to protect our data.
No business can hope to grow and expand without utilising digital demand and therefore cyber security for these new solutions cannot be ignored. The security of business’s now needs to extend beyond their physical location, placing virtual walls to protect the company and its employees. Although Cyber security might not seem like an emerging technology, given that it has been around for a while, we have included this because it is continually evolving to combat the ever-growing threats.
Cyber security needs to become a key part of every business and it needs to be at the forefront of every decision as part of the business’s operating model, as the appropriate protection needs to be in place to allow businesses to progress safely.
So how will cyber security evolve in the coming year? NWT believes that cyber security must be enhanced to support a distributed architectural approach that is evolving to support the new digital models. As new approaches such as distributed cloud computing are adopted, new approaches to secure distributed assets must be in place.
With employees commonly working from home, business’s virtual defence has been stretched further, to protect business’s data as well as their employees. For example, greater focus is being placed on protecting additional devices, such as employees own personal devices, as the requirement to access systems and data from various locations continues to grow.
To allow businesses to introduce cyber security quickly and correctly, we believe there will be a rush to either re-skill or recruit, along with the need of a fast, agile business plan to carry this out, with vision and appetite for change being the driving force behind this.
Hyper automation (HA) is the term now being used in industry where business and IT processes are automated as much as possible using tools like AI, machine learning, event-driven software, robotic process automation and other types of decision process and task automation tools.
The benefits that are delivered through hyper automation include increased efficiency, decreased unit cost, increase in total production and the need for fewer staff. At the beginning of its popularity HA was used by mostly large corporations due to its expense, time consuming development and the high skill required to integrate it into the business. This gave companies such as Amazon (who atomised most of their warehouse operations) a huge competitive edge over smaller businesses. But the world has become more digital, and businesses are increasingly using technology as a core driver to create business value through Digital Transformation, either by design or by influence, through external factors such as competition or market forces. Hence, in a world where digital acceleration is a key driver, business leaders are looking to implement significant digital improvements in their operational capability as well as ensuring that it is both safe and reliable. HA is key to achieving improved digital excellence and reliability in operations.
Software and hardware to support hyper automation are becoming widely available and are flexible enough to support almost any business process. If you or your business repeat a process more than once, there is no reason for you to not automate it. With so many of the barriers to starting HA being removed, it is most definitely a huge part of the near and far future for all businesses.
Why do we believe this trend is going to take off in the coming year? The impact of our new digital world, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has resulted in the digitisation of key business and IT processes as well as improved communication and use of data by digitising company and customer artefacts. This requires automated processes and orchestration
across business functions with no delay or need for human intervention. This approach benefits both the businesses and its customers as they receive an improved and quicker quality of service and the company save on cost and can more easily manage and look after its resources.
So why have some businesses not yet taken up HA? Think back to our introduction and the three critical areas of vision, operating model and recruitment/re-skilling. Many of the answers and means to accomplish this change are dependent on these being addressed. This is not going to be solved by a single tool but adopting a long-term strategy and plan by aligning business vision and goals, identifying processes to optimise and choosing the right complementary technologies to help to implement.
No-code platforms allow software developers to quickly build applications by a simple drag-and-drop tool, enabling non-technical users to test and build applications. Using codeless software (CS) ensures better data security, improves data management and control, and helps market new apps faster with lower costs and risks, resulting in decreased opportunity cost to IT departments, decreased investment required to enter the digital market and the decrease/removal of skill barriers.
We have seen CS being introduced into the wider market through companies such as Wix and Squarespace, both website builders, who have very effectively utilised codeless software. They provide customers with a service, but in effect, they just give their customers the tools needed to fulfil the service and then sit back while the customers build their own website.
CS has given small businesses a huge step up into their digital services, increasing their brand image and ability to compete with larger organisations. No longer does a business require the services of developers and coders to go digital, saving them a huge cost and removing entry barriers to the digital market.
We have also seen CS being integrated into larger organisations, with a widely used practical example being CRMs. Salesforce being the first to incorporate codeless software into their platform with the aim of appealing to end users, primarily sales reps, allowing them to easily complete some coding tasks such as producing workflow automations that would have previous required the effort and attention of IT specialists.
This is likely to change business operating model as IT departments will have less interaction and involvement with the day-to-day operations of the business as employees are capable of handling codeless tasks such as basic workflow automation. A large benefit this provides is it leaves IT employees more time to focus on solving far more complex technical tasks, along with added time to manage their cyber security to better protect the business digitally.
And to summarise
One trend that underlies everything we have mentioned is the increasing pressure and acceleration to develop digitally. 2020 did not necessarily create new trends, instead it brought a few niche trends to the forefront of digital development and accelerated their development of what we thought possible, cramming years of development into mere months, showing our ability to change when forced to do so. The ones left behind are those who are either resistant to change or heavily in digital debt and therefore lacking agility. Businesses who are agile and capable of altering their vision, operating model and appropriately re-skilling and recruiting staff are no doubt going to thrive in this new environment, as they have the capability to keep pace with the accelerating trends.