This article appears in the Winter 2018 digital issue of DOCUMENT Strategy. Subscribe.

Image by: PhonlamaiPhoto, ©2018 Getty Images

The disruptive nature of the digital business cannot be overstated. As technology continues to get smarter and smarter, what separates the digital world from the physical one will be harder and harder to differentiate. The growing interconnectivity between people, devices, and content is giving rise to a new way of working. These changes will set off deep and profound reverberations for your current business models. Every year, Gartner releases their list of top technology trends expected to have a broad impact. While many of the technologies related to these trends won't reach full maturity until 2022, enterprise leaders can prepare by understanding the disruptive forces at work.

1. AI Foundation

While the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) seems boundless, according to a recent Gartner survey, 59% of respondents are still in the process of building out their AI strategies. Optimizing data-driven decision-making and enhancing customer experiences with AI technology are very attractive benefits for such an investment. However, enterprise leaders should focus on “narrow AI” that can deliver a particular business result. Narrow AI is defined as highly scoped machine-learning solutions that target a specific task. Gartner recommends targeting one or two business scenarios where AI can drive the highest level of value, and leave the other stuff to science fiction writers.

2. Intelligent Apps and Analytics

The emergence of virtual customer assistants, virtual personal assistants, and chat bots are challenging the very notion of how we work today and the state of the modern workplace. Gartner predicts that almost every app, application, and service will use some level of AI technology. Certainly, there is no shortage of large technology vendors placing their bets on AI, with Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft all embedding advanced AI capabilities into their current solutions. For example, Microsoft is focused on enhancing Office 365 and building up their developer ecosystem. Gartner recommends examining how these vendors plan on using AI to deliver advanced analytics, intelligent processes, and new user experiences.

3. Intelligent Things

Gartner defines intelligent things as either semiautonomous or fully autonomous, meaning they can operate independently for a sustained period of time to complete a task. Some examples include robotic vacuum cleaners, autonomous vehicles, smart speakers (such as Amazon Echo), and autonomous drones and robots. AI has opened the door to many new intelligent things, and as a result, these standalone devices could soon build interconnected networks with each other, working together to achieve a task.

4. Digital Twins

Gartner estimates that by 2020, there will be more than 20 billion connected sensors and endpoints. As the Internet of things (IoT) continue to multiply, more interest is being paid to the concept of digital twins. This is when a software object or model is implemented to mirror a real-word object. Through this mechanism, it is easier to understand the state of the physical object, make adjustments as needed, and improve the decision-making process. While current application of digital twin assets focuses on an expanding IoT model, it's certainly not limited to only "things." Gartner predicts that we will see the evolution of more sophisticated digital models, including those of humans with valuable medical data, business operating systems, and models of cities and buildings.

5. Cloud to the Edge

The distributed nature of IoT systems is also renewing interest in edge computing. The concept of edge content delivery has been around for some time, where processing and collection of information occurs closer to the user or "thing" to avoid delays in transferring data. Cloud and edge computing can be seen as complementary approaches, where cloud facilitates a service-oriented model and edge computing delivers the ability to execute on the distributed aspects of the cloud. Some examples of vendors delivering such functionality to the edge include Microsoft Office 365 and AWS Greengrass. Gartner predicts that we will see more solutions like Office 365 on the horizon.

6. Conversational Platforms

By 2019, Gartner predicts that 20% of our interactions with smartphones will be through virtual personal assistants (VPAs). Common examples of VPAs are Amazon Alexa, Apple's Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft's Cortana. All of these assistants leverage conversational platforms, where the system takes a request from a user with natural language and then performs an action, delivers content, or asks for further information. While these systems are still limited to very simple interactions and structured modes of communication, their usefulness and integration with third-party services will supersede any headaches along the way.

7. Immersive Experience

In the digital world, the user experience is being rewritten. Technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) are changing the way people perceive and interact with each other, "things," and their increasingly immersive experiences. Pretty soon, spaces could come alive with the integration of VR and AR with mobile devices, wearable IoT, and conversational platforms. However, the market is nascent. Gartner recommends examining real-life scenarios to make employees more productive using these technologies, such as improving employee training or providing hands-free information.

8. Blockchain

Last year, we wrote about how "blockchain will revolutionize trust. Since blockchains are distributed, immutable ledgers, all parties can trust them." Therefore, it is fast-evolving into a platform for digital transformation. While the potential to optimize business operations is very real, this technology is still immature and unproven in critical business environments. When considering this technology, it is very important to define what blockchain means for your use case, as the terminology is in flux.

9. Event-Driven Model

As a digital business, information technology (IT) leaders must be sensitive to the opportunities that await them. These event-driven moments rely on many different parts of an organization. The more intuitive our response is, the more value we can extract from this information. In fact, Gartner reports that such "real-time situational awareness" will be required for 80% of digital solutions. As a result, we will see more event-driven products, like Salesforce's Platform Events and SAP Event Stream Processor.

10. Continuous Adaptive Risk and Trust

While all the technologies listed here offer transformative business approaches, they also introduce real, unmitigated risk. The "hacker" reality can't be met with the same-old "perimeter defense" of yesterday. Rather, security and risk management leaders need to focus on detecting and responding to threats continuously as well as protecting access to the digital business as systems and information become more open. In this environment, trust and risk must be assessed in real time as the interaction is occurring. With this model, companies will need to adopt people-centric security, empowering developers to take personal responsibility for security capabilities, and compensating with continuous monitoring and a "trust and verify" mindset.

Allison Lloyd serves as the Editor of DOCUMENT Strategy Media. She delivers thought leadership on strategic and plan-based solutions for managing the entire document, communication, and information process. Follow her on Twitter @AllisonYLloyd.
  • Every day, large organizations face multiple challenges with the hundreds or thousands of pieces of mail received through the USPS and other carriers, documents that include general business mail, cus
  • Personalizing things is not new. We have engraved items and composed personal letters and communications for centuries, but can we do this economically and efficiently?
  • It’s no secret that digital channels have become foundational to the delivery of customer communications, with customers increasingly indicating mobile apps, SMS, email and other digital delivery me
  • Artificial intelligence’s (AI) emergence as a transformation catalyst has redefined the landscape of industries and processes
  • In today’s market, customers have more choices than ever. Robust internet access has made it easier to find alternative providers