Trendspotting – how to plan for the future

Brid-Aine Parnell

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Peering into the murky future is a difficult but absolutely necessary task for any company and nowhere is that more true than in technology. Whether it’s IoT or 3D printing, experts agree that organisations need to be doing the groundwork and thinking about the wider business implications.

People never tire of pointing out how fast things move in the tech sector and that’s because it’s true – they move at lightning speed. Businesses need to be able to spot the next trend, no matter how unlikely it first appears. And every other business needs to be able to predict what their customers will be expecting them to use and what their workers will expect to see on their desks – not to mention what the next cost-saving measure could be.

It’s not easy to predict the future though, particularly when even the analysts don’t seem too sure about what’s coming next. In the same year that Gartner has put the Internet of Things and 3D printing at the top of its Hype Cycle, it’s also got them on the list of Top Ten Strategic Tech Trends for next year. It seems the lesson is: Just because something is overhyped now, it doesn’t mean it’s not coming down the pipeline.

Despite the fact that Gartner isn’t expecting IoT to be a real factor for at least three years – and it won’t hit maturity for five to ten years – it still reckons that businesses need to start thinking about it from next year.

“We have identified the top ten technology trends that organisations cannot afford to ignore in their strategic planning processes,” says David Cearley, vice-president and Gartner Fellow. “This does not necessarily mean adoption and investment in all of the trends at the same rate, but companies should look to make deliberate decisions about them during the next two years.”

Adam Thilthorpe, director for professionalism at BCS, Britain’s Chartered Institute for IT, told Think Progress that businesses need to start looking at the steps they’re going to take in order to benefit from IoT technology soon.

“[Five to ten years] may seem like a long time, but many organisations are already laying the groundwork for their products and services to be competitive in the IoT environment,” he says.

“The full benefits of IoT are yet to be realised, but the potential is enormous. However, we believe that there is more to be considered than simply the technology. The issues of the data that will be produced will create issues for privacy and trust that every organisation, including government, will face.”

Thilthorpe is also expecting to see wider adoption of 3D printing in 2015. Gartner is estimating that worldwide shipments of 3D printers will grow by 98 per cent next year, followed by a doubling of unit shipments in 2016, leading to a tipping point for the technology in the next three years.

“New industrial, biomedical and consumer applications will continue to demonstrate that 3D printing is a real, viable and cost-effective means to reduce costs through improved designs, streamlined prototyping and short-run manufacturing,” Gartner states.

Then there’s the stuff that it seems we’ve all been talking about forever, like mobile devices and cloud computing. Both Gartner and Oxford Economics, in its Digital Megatrends 2015 report, are predicting that mobile devices are reaching ubiquity, pushing them back up the company agenda.

“Phones and wearable devices are now part of an expanded computing environment that includes such things as consumer electronics and connected screens in the workplace and public space,” pursues Gartner’s Cearley.

“Increasingly, it’s the overall environment that will need 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.”

Oxford Economics recognises that no consumer technology has ever spread so fast around the world as mobile phones, not just in developed economies but in the developing world too.

“Mobile technology will open up a huge range of business opportunities and applications. Of these, executives surveyed agree that location-aware services will have the greatest potential impact over the next five years, and many will be moving advertising sales promotion and entertainment to the mobile platform,” the research firm predicts.

Marry the explosion of mobile tech with cloud computing and you have another top trend for next year, according to Gartner.

“Cloud is the new style of elastically scalable, self-service computing, and both internal applications and external applications will be built on this new style,” says Cearley. “While network and bandwidth costs may continue to favour apps that use the intelligence and storage of the client device effectively, coordination and management will be based in the cloud.”

Thilthorpe points out that now that adoption of the cloud is up and its uses have become better understood, organisations are going to be more intelligent about how they buy into the cloud and how they put it to work.

It’s not easy to predict the future, but if enough people are saying the same thing, it probably won’t pay to ignore them.