Gartner defines its strategic technology trends as those technologies that have the most potential to significantly impact individuals, businesses and IT organizations over the next three years. Indeed, this year’s batch of technologies come with little surprise as the Internet of Things (IoT), smart machines and 3D printing are all among the research firm’s annual list.
While it is now evident that 3D printing has gone mainstream in the enterprise, the IoT, smart machines and computing everywhere are key fixtures for 2015. The list, which was presented by Gartner Fellow David Cearley at the firm’s Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, shined the spotlight on our shift towards merging the real and virtual worlds.
“You need to be looking at linking to customers in new and unique ways; what technologies set the foundation to enable these moves,” explained Cearley. “And in the end all things run through a completely secure environment.”
This simply refers to the concept of ubiquitous access to computing capabilities. Cearley says the idea here is that the trend is not just about applications but rather wearable systems and intelligent screens. These Intelligent screens and connected devices will proliferate, and will take many forms, sizes and interaction styles. Gartner urges that smartphones and wearable devices are part of a broader computing offering to include connected screens in the workplace and other areas of our daily life.
“Phones and wearable devices are now part of an expanded computing environment that includes things like consumer electronics and connected screens in the workplace and public space,” said Cearley.
With the continued advancement in smartphone technology, the firm assesses that an increased emphasis on serving the needs of the mobile user in diverse contexts and environments, as opposed to focusing on devices alone. Cearley did warn, however, that IT departments may not be well equipped for the design challenges involved in ubiquitous availability, and stated that companies may need to acquire the expertise. Cearley went on to emphasize that user experience design will be of critical importance in the coming years.
“Increasingly, it’s the overall environment that needs to adapt to the requirements of the mobile user. This will continue to raise significant management challenges for IT organisations as they lose control of user endpoint devices. It will also require increased attention to user experience design.”
Internet of Things
While the concept of IoT isn’t exactly new, we are entering an era of connected things and smarter objects — many of which enabled by Atmel | SMART ARM-based microcontrollers. Over the next couple of years, we can expect to see the IoT continue to expand, fueled by the ubiquity of user-oriented computing. Cearley pointed out that organizations will need to embrace the “Maker culture” so people within these companies can devise new solutions when problems arise. Gartner posits that this will be replicated both in industrial and in operational contexts, as it will be the focus of digital business products and processes.
Cearley believes IoT has enormous potential to deliver value to businesses, and said even small sensors that can detect problems in equipment before failure occurs, can save a business a significant amount of money.
“This is central to digital business products and processes. Deep embedding of technology will create touch points for users everywhere and create the foundation for digital business,” stated Cearley.
While sit may seem like this trend has been on Gartner’s radar for several years, it appears that things are rapidly changing in this realm. Though the technology has been around since 1984, it is now maturing with shipments on the rise. While quite a bit of buzz surrounds consumer 3D printing, it’s really the enterprise use that can deliver immediate value. The cost of 3D printing will decrease in the next three years, leading to rapid growth of the market for these low-cost, [AVR XMEGA, megaAVR and SAM3X8E] MCU-driven machines. Industrial use will also continue its rapid expansion. According to Cearley, that expansion will play an integral role throughout the industrial, biomedical and consumer sectors, proving that 3D printing is a viable way to reduce costs through improved designs, streamlined prototyping and manufacturing.
Advanced, Pervasive and Invisible Analytics
“Every app now needs to be an analytic app.” As Cearley posits, analytics will continue to advance due to the Internet of Things and other embedded devices that are expected to snowball. Furthermore, security analytics will be at the heart of next-gen security models.
“Big data remains an important enabler for this trend but the focus needs to shift to thinking about big questions and big answers first and big data second – the value is in the answers, not the data.”
Context Rich Systems
Knowing the user, the location, what they have done in the past, their preferences, social connections and other attributes all become inputs into applications. Embedded intelligence that is ubiquitous combined with pervasive analytics will facilitate the development of systems that are alert and responsive to surroundings. Gartner highlights that context-aware security is an early application of this trend, but that others will emerge.
“Context-aware security is an early application of this new capability, but others will emerge,” said Cearley. “By understanding the context of a user request, applications can not only adjust their security response but also how information is delivered to the user, greatly simplifying an increasingly complex computing world.”
To demonstrate the role smart machines will play in the near future, Cearly pointed to IBM’s Watson, which is “learning” to fight cancer, and mining company Rio Tinto, which is using automated trucks in its mines. According to Gartner, analytics combined with an understanding of context will usher in an era of smart machines. These “machine helpers” will continue to evolve from the existing prototypes for autonomous vehicles, advanced robots, virtual personal assistants and smart advisors.
“Prototype autonomous vehicles, advanced robots, virtual personal assistants and smart advisors already exist and will evolve rapidly, ushering in a new age of machine helpers. The smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT,” Cearley revealed.
Cloud and Client Computing
This highlights the central role of the cloud. An application will reside in a cloud, and it will be able to span multiple clients. Mobile computing and cloud computing continue to converge and lead to the growth of centrally coordinated applications that can be delivered to any device. Gartner notes that cloud computing is the foundation of elastically scalable, self-service computing for both internally and externally facing applications. Apps that use intelligence and storage of client device effectively will benefit from lowering bandwidth costs, coordination and management will be based on the cloud. The analysis goes on to note that over time applications will evolve to support simultaneous use of multiple devices.
Cearley explains, “The second screen phenomenon today focuses on coordinating television viewing with use of a mobile device. In the future, games and enterprise applications alike will use multiple screens and exploit wearables and other devices to deliver an enhanced experience.”
Software-Defined Applications and Infrastructure
Agile development methods for programming of everything from infrastructure basics to applications is essential to enable organizations to deliver the flexibility required to make the digital business work. Application programming interface calls render cloud services software configurable, and applications have rich APIs to access their function and content programmatically. Gartner notes that in order “to deal with the rapidly changing demands of digital business and scale up – or down – systems rapidly, computing has to move away from static to dynamic models.”
He added, “Rules, models and code that can dynamically assemble and configure all of the elements needed, from the network through the application, are needed.”
In its analysis, Gartner refers to web-scale IT as a pattern of global-class computing technologies that deliver the capabilities of large cloud service providers. Gartner notes that more companies will think, act, and build applications and infrastructure in the same way that tech giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook do. There will be an evolution toward web-scale IT as commercial hardware platforms embrace the new models and cloud-optimized and software-defined methods become mainstream.
“The first step towards the web-scale IT future for many organisations should be DevOps – bringing development and operations together in a coordinated way to drive rapid, continuous incremental development of applications and services.”
Specifically, Gartner envisions more attention being placed on application self-protection in the near future. Cearley explained that all roads to the digital future success lead through security. Methods, once commonly looked to by organizations, will be broadly recognized as inadequate, and as a result, companies will seek multi-faceted approaches.
“Perimeters and firewalls are no longer enough; every app needs to be self-aware with regard to security, and self-protecting,” Cearley concluded.