A few weeks I ago, I presented a technology session to the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees. In that, I decided to focus on five megatrends I though they should keep an eye on rather than being subject to the short-term bumps we see when a new device or service is released. After all, as exciting as the release of a smartphone might be, it's unlikely to change your IT strategy.
As Gartner moves towards their annual Symposium/Expo events, they have identified three key megatrends through analysis of the Hype Cycle. Let's see if they agree with me.
Gartner says Artificial intelligence (AI) everywhere, transparently immersive experiences and digital platforms are the three big trends they expect to drive business into the next decade.
AI is an obvious one. We're seeing that permeate products from chatbots, to smartphones, home assistants and security tools. They say the critical technologies to consider are things like autonomous vehicles, drones, conversational user interfaces and enterprise taxonomy.
This afternoon, I'll be presenting at the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees' Ideas Exchange conference. It's an interesting gig as my job will be to help a bunch of non-IT people navigate the rapidly changing world of technology. With so much happening, I decided that the best way to help them was to strip away the minutiae of seemingly daily updates and get to the big trends influencing the way businesses work today.
Transparently immersive experiences seems a very generic term to me. Gartner says this is about tech that will "become more human-centric to the point where it will introduce transparency between people, businesses and things". In simpler words, it's about user experiences that seamlessly transition from one medium to another.
Digital platforms is another generic catch-all. It pulls together a bunch of technology focussed on using larges volumes of data and increasing computing power. By decompartmentalising systems, you end up with ecosystems and platforms rather than disparate islands of processing and data.
In contrast, my five megatrends were
- Always on and everywhere
- You can't assume the end-point
- DIY is dying
- Engagement is critical
- Privacy and security are core business for everyone
Why is this stuff important?
Looking at long term trends and preparing for them is important, regardless of the size of your business. Generally, I'd suggest looking around three to five years out. Any longer than that means you are dealing with greater and greater uncertainty.
Data, such at that presented by Gartner, is a useful guide. It will help you when making long-term decisions such as whether to invest in traditionally-licensed software or some sort of "as a Service" offering. Or whether to hold on to an asset for an extra year as there is likely to be some sort of technical shift that would render a new investment redundant.
When I was responsible for building a long-term financial plan for a large IT department we needed to model our IT spend over a rolling five-year window (there was a regulatory requirement because of the industry I was in). Each year, I'd survey each major business function about the long term trends they foresaw, the projects they expected to undertake and asked for some key data.
- What the project was
- Whether they saw it as small, medium or large (we called anything under $100,000 small, over $500,000 large, with the rest as medium)
- The likelihood of it falling within a specific financial year
- Priority (whether a project must happen or was nice to have)
That let us carry out a crude, but useful calculation.
By multiplying the anticipated cost with the likelihood, we could notionally allocate a value to a project. For example, a project expected to cost $300,000 (estimates were, I admit, a little rubbery but experienced people can come up with reasonable high-level estimates) with a 50 per cent chance of occurring in a particular year would get a $150,000 allocation in that year.
Once we did that for all possible projects across five years, we had a good idea of whether we were going to overload our team or budget in a particular year.
We also looked at the pool of potential projects and assessed whether that project had a broader strategic value. Some projects form the platform for future innovation.
The other thing this list helped us do is better understand the long-term needs of the business. IT departments are uniquely placed to add value to an organisation. They are able to look right across the business and see the connections between different functions in both a strategic sense but also operationally.
That internal view, coupled with analysis of emerging trends, allows IT teams to strategically advise the business.
Big pictures are important
One of the tools used by cloud vendors, particularly in the SaaS market, is to bypass IT and sell directly to operational business units. That has proven very successful to the bottom lines of companies like Salesforce but has created headaches. Plenty of compnaies have ended up with silos of corporate data and multiple instances of the same product.
By looking at emerging trends and across the needs of the entire business, IT departments can move beyond being a utility service, delivering bits and bytes, into a function that can offer strategic advice. But that means being very consultative internally and keeping a watchful eye over what's going on outside.