Deloitte Consulting cites seven emerging technologies as critical to the future of IT: dark analytics, mixed reality and blockchain included.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

February 13, 2017

9 Min Read
Source: Pixabay

Deloitte Consulting has published its eight annual report on the state of technology, calling the 2017 version, Tech Trends 2017: The Kinetic Enterprise. CTO Bill Briggs suggested in an interview that as the pace of switch-over to the digital economy picks up, it could also be called "The Frenetic Enterprise."

The ongoing technology changes will continue to have an impact on IT and how it works. But the heart of the report highlights seven trends that cast a spotlight, amidst general change, on the most significant developments out there, from Deloitte's point of view. Briggs said Deloitte is surveying all the activity it can see on the horizon, not just corporate projects with which it is involved as a consultant.

In Deloitte's preferred order of importance, they are:  

1.Dark analytics, or "illuminating the opportunities hidden within unstructured data." Various estimates have labeled 80% of the data being generated in the enterprise as "dark" data, such as one by John Kelly, IBM's senior VP who is sometimes described as the father of Watson analytics.

Relational data in SQL databases is sometimes thoroughly analyzed, but not all of it is put to use. Some of it remains dark data, not to mention all the information in emails, corporate contracts and other raw text documents and meeting presentations. Dark data also includes images, video and audio files, all of which can be searched for useful information and insights.

But doing so takes staff that is skilled in the modern, neural networks and other technologies that can analyze images and video for objects, facial expressions and details of consumer choices evident in them. Briggs said that with effective image analysis, retailers would have a major tool in predicting which fashions are about to become current and where to place that bets on lines of clothing.

With sufficient raw text analysis, venture capitalists have a better idea of where to put investments in the next big thing. With audio analysis of heavy equipment operation, pending breakdowns in construction equipment or factory line equipment would be detectable to a trained system, he said.

Want to learn more about how cloud figures into future IT? See Private Cloud In Retreat; Public Cloud To The Fore.

2.Machine intelligence might overlap dark analytics in some areas, but when it comes to all the sensor data being generated on the Internet of Things, or the "deep learning" applied to server logs or specific assembly line operations, machine intelligence takes on a distinctive meaning. It's a combination of machine-generated data with analytics. But unlike the majority of analytics systems, which are performing historical analysis or taking a compilation of data and looking backward at it, machine intelligence is trying to look forward. What's needed, said Briggs in the interview, is to be "looking for insights that are predictive and prescriptive," he said. In other words, identify known, pending problems or dilemmas, along with where their possible solutions might lie.

Machine intelligence can help augment people do their jobs by making them smarter in a situation, make better decisions, and offer greater engagement with customers. The Wall Street insurer, AIG, has created virtual assistants called co-bots for its IT staff. Those co-bots know a lot about previous network or other service outages and can be fed information on how previous problems have been resolved. It has used the automated assistants in the resolution of 140,000 trouble tickets, minimizing or eliminating the amount of human intervention required, Briggs said.

"They've proven the concept of virtual assistants inside their own IT staff. They've established their creditability and proven they have an ROI. Now they're asking, how can they apply co-bots to their business processes," he said.

3.Mixed reality is another word for virtual reality or augmented reality, where digital systems add to sensory perception or substitute an engineered, virtual world for the real one. The subtext on this technology section in The Kinetic Enterprise says, "experiences get more intuitive, immersive and empowering." It's possible to overlook the potential of virtual reality as it moves beyond the two-dimensional screen and conventional interfaces to incorporate voice or gestures by the user to interact with systems and "the increasingly intelligent world around us," the report said.

Data streaming from sensors on the Internet of Things will help construct real world scenarios useful in managing complex processes and equipment, from power plants to the factory floor. Likewise, data streams from personal health and wellness systems will construct a virtual reality that helps guide users on the path to health that they wish to follow or bring them through a medical treatment and into recovery.

"Education will be a huge field that will benefit from mixed reality," including employee education and training as workers take on new tasks, said Briggs. Field service will also benefit as technicians keep complex machines or systems working in the field with the help of digital systems that share the knowledge of the most experienced repairmen or illustrate how a fix needs to be done.

Once enterprises understand the educational power of virtual reality and augmented reality, their "adoption rate will push consumer adoption" instead of the other way around, Briggs said.

4.Inevitable architecture: Complexity gives way to simplicity and flexibility. The Deloitte authors used this concept to describe the rapid evolution away from inflexible, monolithic systems in IT in exchange for an approach that allows more flexibility and change. Containers, cloud-first computing where the cloud is the default for new applications, open standards and open source code are all part of building this more flexible architecture, they said. "Platforms are virtualized, containerized and treated like malleable, reusable resources," the report continued.

Likewise IT applies more automation and self-healing systems to keep systems running as intended. The world of IT appears headed toward a more standard model built around open systems and reduced costs. Such systems will be loosely coupled, self-learning and quickly deployed to meet new business challenges. The Deloitte authors called this inevitable architecture a changeover from "managing instances to managing outcomes" and one of the main ways that companies of the future will be able to sustain innovation and growth.

The approach is currently more characteristic of startups than mature companies, but the need for it is rapidly percolating into the thinking of IT even in mature and successful companies, the report said.

5.Everything as a service means "modernizing the core through the service lens," the report said. It is the "operational blueprint" that follows on the heels of adopting a flexible architecture, and allows companies to deliver services that can be used both for internal operations and to satisfy customers.

Unless you're a startup, however, it means upgrading aging core systems such as ERP to those that are organized around services, and refactoring the legacy systems that the company has depended on for years with few changes. Re-engineering legacy systems is a daunting task, the authors conceded, but it must be done to move the company into a future where flexible services replace brittle, hard-wired systems that may have outlived their usefulness.

6.Blockchain is a protocol that enables the trust economy, said Briggs in the interview. Blockchain has a current, adolescent identification with cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, where it established a trustworthy ledger that couldn't be tampered with. In fact, it's more generally useful as "a gatekeeper in the emerging trust economy," the report said.

The shared-ledger technology can be used to translate company reputation into a digital identity that can be used in trusted contracts, currency transactions and information sharing without resorting to extensive middlemen and transaction systems, the report said. In a digital economy, blockchain may serve the purpose of substituting for "banking systems, credit rating agencies and legal instruments," the report said.

"Blockchain is a protocol of trust" that is still in its infancy and poorly understood, said Briggs. But IT staffs are going to "need enough people who understand the mechanics of how it works to sift through the (blockchain) vendors and the systems they offer" to implement it, he added. Briggs said blockchain will not suddenly become understood in 2017 and widely adopted but it's here to stay. "It will be on the Deloitte list for a while," he predicted.

7.Nanotech, biotech, quantum and more: As if blockchain, inevitable architecture and machine learning weren't enough, a fresh round of disruption is coming from nanotechnology, biotechnology, sophisticated energy systems and quantum technologies. "Though these emerging forces may be distant on the horizon, they'll disrupt industries, strategies and business models soon enough," the report warned.

Such technologies are still 3-to-5 years out, but when they do manifest themselves, "the speed with which they impact markets will likely grow exponentially" over that shown by their predecessor disrupters. Their predecessors 3 years ago might have been listed as artificial intelligence, robotics and cybersecurity, the report said.

Nano-engineered materials, synthetic biology, energy storage and quantum optimizations have all attracted significant investment and are likely to yield results affecting IT system in the 3-to-5 year timeframe. Intel is shipping chips with 14-nanometer circuits. As manufacturing heads toward a single nanometer, three carbon atoms side by side will become the new measuring stick and storage, compute and networking systems will shrink further in size and increase in power. A human hair in contrast is 80,000-100,000 nanometers in diameter.

Some companies may capitalize on more energy efficient ways to operate. The Tesla motor company is producing lithium ion batteries that will be used by the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii to store excess solar energy during the day from a new solar plant and release it when demand is high in the evening. The use of energy storage will extend the contribution of solar power to its grid, already at a level of 70%.

Synthetic biology, where genes in a living organism are altered to produce a desired substance, could be used to produce algae that generate alcohol for fuel.

Quantum technologies would use exotic materials with durable atomic and sub-atomic quantum mechanics. The wave energy of a quantum state might be harness-able into a new type of computer. If so, then a simple quantum computer would be many times more powerful the world's most power supercomputers of today.

"The ability to harness computing power at a scale that, until recently, seemed unimaginable has profound disruptive implications," the report concluded.


About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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