Over the last few years, most discussions about the next year’s Digital Transformation trends had begun to feel a bit repetitive: Cloud, Edge Compute, the IoT, AR… It always seemed like the same chairs being rearranged around the same old room.
2020 will be a departure from that. While the same core technologies that dominated these discussions will continue to be foundational to our collective digital transformation journey, 2020 will be defined by a fresh new class of technologies ready to graduate to the sidelines to center stage. Among them: 5G, AI, advanced data analytics, but also some that may surprise you. Without further ado, here are the 10 among them that I believe will be the most significant in 2020.
1.5G for You and Me: 2020 will be the year of 5G. With some of the biggest names in telecommunications, like Qualcomm, AT&T, Verizon, Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei making sure that global 5G deployments stay on pace, and the world’s best Android handset makers already releasing 5G phones, 5G will hit the ground running in 2020. In addition to bringing us all faster broadband speeds and more reliable mobile networks, the proliferation of 5G will also accelerate advancements in smart city, smart vehicle, smart manufacturing, and scores of IoT-intensive technologies hungry for 5G. In other words, the true value of 5G won’t be limited to phones. Just about every industry that touches our daily lives will be transformed – for the better – by the technology evolution that will define 2020.
2. A faster WiFi for a faster world: Although WiFi 6 and 5G are completely different technologies, both will be bringing us much faster processing and wireless connection speeds in 2020. 5G and WiFi 6 working in concert will create the perfect end-to-end combination of ultra-fast connectivity for home and office. Expect download speeds up to 3x faster than were achievable with WiFi 5, but that isn’t the best measure of the new standard’s value. The real value of WiFi 6 will be its ability to extend faster data speeds to far more devices than WiFi 5 was able to manage. This is important for two main reasons: the first is that the number of connected devices on the average WiFi network is expected to grow from roughly 10 now to 50 over the next few years, and that increase will require a faster, more efficient, and smarter WiFi capabilities. The second reason is that the quality and volume of data consumed through WiFi networks are both increasing as well, and WiFi 5 can’t handle the load all that well. WiFi 6 will eliminate these pain points beginning in 2020.
3. Analytics are the Competitive Advantage: Companies that still aren’t investing heavily in analytics by 2020 probably won’t be in business in 2021. There is simply far too much valuable customer data to be collected, processed and turned into insights for any company to remain competitive without making full use of modern analytics tools. Flying blind and following your gut are no longer viable options when every other business is leveraging sophisticated analytics tools to identify problems, opportunities, and solutions. That’s why we are seeing a consolidation of analytics capabilities across the tech world, from Salesforce acquiring Tableau, to Microsoft creating its own Power Platform. Every major tech company has already figured out that the future is in data—most specifically, the real-time processing of it – and so, regardless of what industry you’re in, analytics will again be one of the most dominant focal points of digital transformation in 2020.
Bonus Insight: I see a continuation of acquisition, investment and growth for companies like Alteryx, Splunk, SAS and Qlik and Tibco, as the bigger platform players, just like Salesforce did with Tableau, are going to seek acquisitions, joint ventures and/or strategic partnerships.
4. AI and Machine Learning become force multipliers for data analytics: If you are going to invest in analytics, you also need to invest in AI and machine learning to be able to navigate the vast, churning seas of information and data you aim to put to good use. The value of AI and machine learning to data analytics can be distilled into three separate value propositions: speed, scale, and convenience. Speed and scale speak to the advantage of automating the analysis of massive data sets as opposed to assigning human data analysts to the task. Thanks to AI and machine learning, complex data sets can now be analyzed in a fraction of the time it used to take just two years ago. This is not because computers have become faster or better, but rather because AI and machine learning algorithms have gotten extremely good at data analysis, and because that analysis can easily be scaled in the cloud. On the convenience side, unlike data analysis tools of yore, the addition of AI and machine learning to analytics tools has made them intuitive, easy to use, and much more reliable. As good as they are already getting in 2019, their speed and accuracy is expected to improve considerably in 2020.
5. Blockchain moves beyond Crypto: I called it last year: Blockchain was overhyped and thus always going to be a bust in 2019. But coming into 2020, I believe that we will finally start to see scale for some meaningful use cases for blockchain beyond cryptocurrency. We know that Amazon Web Services democratizing blockchain technology with their subscription based blockchain-as-a-service platform. And they are not alone on this effort. Many other global leaders are also playing in this space, including Samsung, Microsoft, IBM and China’s Alibaba. What’s more, we are beginning to see real use cases for the technology beyond payments and cryptocurrencies. Look to how blockchain will be used in food safety, intellectual property and royalties, and real estate/asset management for instance. 2020 could be the start of the true rise of Blockchain.
6. RPA catches a second wind: Robotic Process Automation isn’t new, and is widely considered to be the lowest hanging fruit on the AI tree, but it is nevertheless a very hot topic at every tech and manufacturing conference I have attended in the last eight months. Attended RPA leads the way but as interest and investments continue to grow, and RPA proves itself trustworthy, I believe that 2020 will be a very big year for RPA investments, just as 2019 was with money being poured into companies like Automation Anywhere, UiPath and Blue Prism. Also, enterprise companies like Cisco are already using RPA to help create wiggle room to upskill and augment the value of their existing workforce, and that model is certain to quickly grow into a winning formula. (Smart companies: take note.)
7. Conversational AI becomes a legitimate interface: I know, Siri still sucks (mostly), and it’s still near-impossible to use voice-to-text to craft a decent chat message. However, I do believe we’ll see at least some form of conversational AI become useful in 2020. On the software side, projects like Microsoft Conversational AI are working incredibly hard to build platforms that cannot just hear correctly, but follow complex conversations and understand the nuances of emotion, all while continuing to improve over time. On the silicon side, chipsets and SOCs developed specifically for smart devices are becoming exceptionally good at isolating human voices from noisy backgrounds, and accurately processing natural language in real time. Will we see radical improvements in everyday consumer tech in 2020? Likely no—but I think that the foundations for the next generation of reliable conversational AI will be solidified in the coming year.
8. ACPCs transform the laptop market forever: We’re always connected, so we need PCs that are always connected as well. We’ll see an expansion of ACPCs this year with embedded 5G and LTE connectivity, and of course we’ll see some smart business partnerships follow suit (Lenovo and Qualcomm comes to mind, but I anticipate more will come out of the woodwork as ARM based technology makes it possible.)
Bonus Insight: ACPCs tend to enjoy near-full-day battery life, and may even bring multi-day battery life to laptops next year, making computers truly portable at long last.
9. Connected vehicles, autonomous drones and Smart Cities become our new reality: Hear me out. I know we’ve been talking about them for years, and we are still not quite there yet, but I think that the combination of edge compute and 5G will bring us significantly closer to truly autonomous cars, drones, and smart(-ish/-er) cities in 2020. Tesla, clearly is the first name on the board in terms of bringing this to market, but this isn’t something only Elon Musk is trying to tackle. This is happening through close strategic alignment between automotive manufacturers and technology makers. Companies like Intel/Nvidia/Qualcomm and BMW/Volvo/Ford are partnering up while Uber is building their autonomous fleet and Amazon is looking to ship your every need to your door via an autonomous drone. to finally bring these long-promised technologies to the market.
10. XaaS, UX/CX, and privacy: How technology-adjacent Digital Transformation trends will take to center stage in 2020: I have focused a lot on technologies, but let’s face it: Digital Transformation is about more than just the sum of its technological parts. Change itself is a core driver of Digital Transformation, and change almost always transcends the tools that enable it. Because of this, I need to highlight the technology-adjacent trends that I believe will dominate Digital Transformation discussions in 2020: Top of my list are XaaS (everything as a service), UX/CX (User/Customer Experience), and digital privacy.
XaaS:Everything-as-a-Service will gain even more momentum in 2020 than it did in 2019, in even the most hardware-driven industries/sectors of technology. Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced they would offer everything in their portfolio as a service by 2022. This is just one big example, but all of the on-prem providers are moving in this direction. As we continue to see the evolution of onsite, off-side, cloud, hybrid, etc., “big IT” will move on-premises as-a-Service, right alongside big data, analytics, blockchain and more. Everything as a Service has been building up to this for a few years now, but 2020 will be the year it goes completely mainstream.
User and Customer Experience: As digital transformation success is intimately tied to user and customer experience(UX/CX), that emphasis will continue to drive business investments in digital transformation. On the one hand, this is especially true as organizations increasingly transition from building internal competencies and improving efficiency to executing on their vision. On the other, improvements in connectivity (5G, WiFi 6), compute capabilities (cloud, edge, machine learning), smart automation (RPA, AI), and intuitive user interfaces (conversational AI, gesture analysis, AR) will combine to make 2020 an inflection point for UX and CX across a breadth of industries ranging from retail and hospitality to transportation and healthcare.
Digital Privacy: Thanks in part to scores of privacy failures from technology companies in recent years, the establishment of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and growing calls in the U.S. to impose controls on technology companies, we will be seeing more companies finally get serious about privacy and data security issues in 2020. I expect that many will adopt privacy and transparency as a brand differentiator, allowing users to opt in or out of data collection schemes with greater ease and awareness than in the past. The real question will be whether companies like Amazon (via Alexa) and Facebook will join in or continue to quietly gather all the data they can from users. Beyond that, the opportunity for legacy high-tech companies like including but not limited to Dell, Cisco, IBM and HPE to create some real and meaningful structure around data security and privacy could lead the way to a digital privacy renaissance starting in 2020. It will be interesting to see what companies step up to drive privacy, which companies stay status quo, and what companies continue to raid data like it’s the “Lost Ark.”
While older, more mature foundational technologies will continue to find themselves at the center of most digital transformation initiatives, especially in the enterprise, I believe that these ten specific trends will both dominate digital transformation discussions and inform the trajectory of successful digital transformation programs in 2020. If you were looking for a cheat-sheet of the ten most critical business trends to prepare for (or invest in) in 2020, this is it.