“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
Many attribute these words to William Gibson, the famed science fiction writer whose works explored the effects of technology and computer networks on social order, among other concepts. Gibson contributed to the canon of speculation surrounding the new age of information, as well as the rise of the Internet in the 80’s and early 90’s.
It’s fitting, then, to start with Gibson as we peer into the next wave of technological advancements. New trends like the Internet of Things (IoT) will affect every industry, and the software industry is no exception. Such disruption has already begun, changing the ways in which software companies both develop their offerings and market their visions to businesses.
With that said, be on the lookout for these 3 “futuristic” software trends in 2017 and beyond – they’re not as distant as you might think!
1. IoT and Cloud-Based Software
The IoT revolution and accompanying shift towards predominantly cloud-based offerings is probably the most widely-adopted trend in the software world so far. In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s a quick definition of the IoT, from Jacob Morgan at Forbes:
“Simply put, this is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cellphones, coffee makers, washing machines… and almost anything else you can think of.”
The IoT brings the prospect of internet connectivity to any inanimate object or machine, and our good friends at Gartner estimate there will be over 26 billion connected devices by 2020, with $300 billion in incremental revenue opportunity for IoT suppliers.
Cloud-based software products are perfect tools to harness previously untapped connectivity because they grant access to “smart” objects wherever and whenever there is internet access. To provide a few hypothetical examples:
- A field service management product could tap into sensors on a dispatched worker’s vehicle, optimizing a route for that worker’s daily appointments in real time.
- An oil and gas product could connect to smart sensors on an oil rig, controlling the activation of the drill itself.
While the possibilities are endless, they aren’t without inherent risk. Every software company utilizing the IoT will need to double-down on cybersecurity. Hackers who gain access to a certain software system will, in turn, have access to the smart objects controlled by that system.
David Cearley, Vice President and Gartner Fellow in Gartner Research put it best in his team’s report on 2017’s strategic technology trends: “Security teams [will] need to work with application, solution and enterprise architects to consider security early in the design of applications or IoT solutions.”
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
At this point, most of us have interacted with an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or other machines that register and react to voice commands. These types of tools are becoming smarter all the time with built-in natural language processing and speech pattern recognition.
Instead of asking Alexa how much a polar bear weighs, or commanding “her” to play the Bee Gees on Spotify, imagine interacting with such a system to organize and develop actionable insight from big data at the enterprise level. Businesses stand to gain from increased AI, and its arrival has already expedited and standardized typical, analytical functions. As one article from the BCG Henderson Institute explains, “…while humans are fast at parallel processing (pattern recognition) and slow at sequential processing (logical reasoning), computers have mastered the former in narrow fields and are superfast in the latter.”
Additionally, we can’t ignore that AI has also begun to change the customer experience, as those customers interact with online machines to investigate different products and services in an increasingly fast-paced and competitive world.
Given that AI will benefit businesses’ internal workflows and external customers, the software that powers these businesses will need to support such capabilities. A report from Accenture postulates that AI could double annual economic rates for the world’s 12 most developed countries by 2035, as well as increase labor productivity by 40% over the same period.
3. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
Imagine you’re a B2B sales executive working for a budding software startup. You’ve finally landed an in-person meeting with a company you’ve been pursuing for over a year. Every possible decision-maker will be in attendance, and the startup needs this win for both the revenue and the credibility.
If I were this particular sales executive, I’d be nervous, to say the least. I’d practice for hours in front of the mirror, running through every possible direction the meeting might take.
Now imagine that this sales executive could use VR/AR to simulate the meeting multiple times before it ever happens. This executive could see and interact with all the faces of his prospects – digital characters programmed to counter his main points with expected pushback.
Technically, VR is the digital recreation of a real life situation, while AR is the placement of digital images in a real life situation – relatively simple concepts. But those concepts in the context of the business world open up a plethora of distinct applications. The hypothetical scenario involving the sales executive shows how VR/AR can enhance corporate training for both new and existing employees. To provide another example, VR/AR could also give R&D professionals the ability to test prototypes of new products and services from the perspective of a consumer before releasing those offerings to the market.
The integration of VR/AR into the software that businesses rely on already would create a “new normal” for employee engagement, product testing, and many other business functions. It’s no surprise, then, that the International Data Corporation (IDC) expects worldwide revenues of VR/AR to grow from $5 billion (in 2016) to more than $160 billion (by 2020).
Although VR/AR technology is fairly expensive these days, its expected proliferation and expansion over the next few years should accompany declining costs. Software companies should start examining use cases for VR/AR within their product suites. They could easily become signature features in a number of different industries.
For the purposes of these post, I focused on 3 of the more imminent tech trends that software companies ought to plan for. Any others you’d add? Please don’t hesitate to comment below – we’re all in this together!