Annual reports on tech trends can be tricky to navigate.
These reports can't always predict the future -- and, sometimes, forecasted trends turn out to be a miss. Other times, they're somewhat repetitive, with much of what was predicted the year before appearing on newer lists, yet again. Sometimes, these trends are listed without context on how they became trends, and the preceding technologies that laid the groundwork for them.
Which is what makes Deloitte's Tech Trends 2019 particularly interesting.
For the past year, Deloitte has published an annual Tech Trends report, and for the 10th anniversary edition, it organized the idea of "trends" into three key areas:
- Tech trends that have, arguably, been the most formative to technology over the past ten years.
- Tech trends that are on their way to becoming as fundamental as the previous three, as they experience "more investment and ... adoption across industries."
- Tech trends that pave a road from the first three, fundamental technologies to the latter, up-and-coming ones.
Together, the sum of trends in this list creates what the report's authors call "formative macro forces." It's worth the read, but there's a catch: It's 142 pages long.
That's why we broke down some of the reports highlights. Here's a closer look at the report's trends and insights that stood out to us the most.
Formative Tech Trends
The following tech trends -- which perhaps have aged beyond the "trend" phase -- are those which the Tech Trends report authors say "have consistently captured the most mindshare (and investment dollars) over the last decade" and "today they are the pillars upon which many ambitions for the future are built."
To understand the concept of the digital experience, one must trace the history of the word "digital" entering the human vernacular -- something that that happened about seven years ago, write Tech Trends 2019's authors.
When the idea of "digital" first entered business and workplace vocabularies, it was "shorthand for customer-facing sales and marketing with an emphasis on a specific channel, be it social, mobile, or web." As a reminder: Facebook turned 15 this year, adding a bit of context and perspective to the timeline of social media becoming a dedicated marketing channel.
But as digital became less of what some believed to be a "passing fad," its growing presence in day-to-day business operations -- from marketing to the execution of tasks -- became synonymous with "experience," on the employee and user ends alike.
The fundamental nature of a digital experience has become particularly tangible on the user side, according to the Tech Trends report, moving from a "trend" to an imperative segment of marketing and communications strategies. It's built "a new generation," the report writes, of "unprecedented levels of customer intimacy, targeted engagement, and precision impact.”
The push for personalization through digitalization, the report says, has hatched an "emphasis on the human experience" -- which goes so far as an expectation of organizations to "understand wants, needs, and previous interactions."
And while that emphasis on understanding the consumer on a profound level can create what the report calls "an optimal brand experience [that] demonstrates emotional sensitivity,” it has also set the foundation for the misuse of personal user data: an issue that made several headlines in 2018.
The concept of data analysis within business is far from new -- and far from a "trend." Where Tech Trends 2019 sees the concept as pivotal, however, is in the diversified sources of analytics made possible by advances in technology.
In the earliest days of analytics, organizations used them to "predict (I have a good idea what will happen next) and prescribe (I can recommend a response)." But for a while, the report says, the analytics that were available weren't enough -- and made human synthesis of this data both challenging and more prone to error.
Where analytics branches from a fundamental technology to a tech trend, Tech Trends claims, is in the onset of newer trends that become supplemental to making the best use of the data -- of efficiently and effectively executing the aforementioned predict-and-prescribe. Among them: machine-taught algorithms.
The Trends Whose "Stories Are Still Being Written"
The following tech trends are those which Tech Trends 2019 believe, over the next five years, are slated to become as crucial as digital experience and analytics.
"Even though their stories are still being written, their novelty is already beginning to wear off," the report reads. "Each is garnering more investment and seeing adoption across industries."
It's one thing to create a digital experience for consumers and businesses that's engaging and interactive. Now, we're entering an era when these experiences need to become immersive -- and as realistic as possible.
The importance of immersion is two-fold. On the consumer side, it allows people to experience a brand or a product in a riveting way that provides some sense of what it's really like to drive in a certain car or sit in a certain room, for example.
On the business side, it provides the same experience in an enveloping manner that gives new meaning to the idea of hands-on learning. It's the evolution of digital experience into digital reality -- technologies like virtual, augmented, and mixed reality.
That's why Tech Trends 2019 advices shifting the focus from the devices and hardware that "sometimes dominate mindshare" -- e.g., a virtual reality headset -- to, instead, "the interactions and experiences unlocked that would otherwise be impossible," but are made possible by the technology itself.
And according to the report, the greatest opportunity within the realm of digital reality is actually on the business side -- more so than it is for the consumer market.
"Enterprise investment is outpacing consumer adoption," the report says, "even as products and offerings in media, gaming, and entertainment continue to advance."
The Tech Trends 2019 report defines "cognitive" as "technologies such as machine learning (ML), neural networks, robotic process automation (RPA), bots, natural language processing (NLP), and the broader domain of artificial intelligence (AI)."
AI made a brief appearance earlier in the list when the report credited algorithms and their ability to make a more effective use of data and analytics. Much of the time, these algorithms are machine-taught -- and such advances in AI "allow machines to decision and actuate core business capabilities."
The next step in AI for business, the report says, is the evolution of companies into fully "AI-fueled organizations": a stage of cognitive technology that allows humans and machines to work in tandem to execute tasks and most effectively leverage data, among other things.
The onset of automation points to a historical pattern of human-machine synergy that, over time, has contributed to various stages of industrialization and productivity -- at times, diminishing some roles and the skills required of them while creating new ones.
"In the early 20th century, new tabulating machines helped workers organize data and perform calculations. The 1950s saw the emergence of programmable systems—early antecedents of today’s computing and internet technologies," the report explains, pointing to two historical examples of the aforementioned pattern. "And at the dawn of the new millennium, cognitive technologies such as AI, ML, and robotics began augmenting and amplifying human intelligence, a transformation that continues to disrupt operational models and illuminate new opportunities.“
"As we move into the AI-fueled model, workers will have to adapt to a more advanced end state in which humans and machines interact and collaborate in ways that, until recently, existed only in the realm of science fiction.”
- Deloitte Tech Trends 2019
The Bridge From Formative to Future
Finally, we arrive at the tech trends that have forged a pathway from the first two formative technologies listed -- digital experience and analytics -- to those whose stories are still being told.
"When we say we need to imagine tomorrow and get there from today," Tech Trends authors write, "these three macro forces put in place the foundation needed to make it happen."
Below, we've highlighted select excerpts from Tech Trends 2019 -- each of which summarizes these three connecting trends.
The Business of Technology
“In the end, the business of technology is the broader story of how companies integrate technology into their strategy and reengineer their IT organization to cost effectively thrive in this new world of technology. It requires much more than a CIO or CTO making changes to her own team. Indeed, this is a CEO and board-level discussion that helps the company understand, prioritize, and execute against everything that disruptive technology represents.”
In other words: Technology is no longer an emerging aspect of business -- and the trends listed here aren't bound to be "nice-to-haves" for much longer. Trends are coming forth and becoming fundamental to all areas and levels of businesses at a rapid rate.
“Consider which assets address things about which the business cares deeply, such as the ability to respond to market conditions and address evolving customer needs. Then layer in technology concerns -- reliability, security, and scalability. The answers you uncover can serve as a lever that helps you prioritize where and how to invest to modernize."
In other words: Determine the ways your business goals -- both internal and those that solve for the customer -- align with the tech trends listed here, and how they can best work in tandem.
“The convergence of multiple macro technology trends and continually evolving digital transformation agendas that affect multiple stakeholders within an organization outside of the IT function -- marketing, sales and customer relations, regulatory and legal, finance and human resources -- underscores the need for cybersecurity to be the purview of the entire enterprise.
Organizations can infuse artificial intelligence and machine learning into a rules-based environment to augment the expertise gained from previous, known cyber threats with detection of new, evolving threats."
In other words: While assessing cyber risk might be categorized by some as a "trend," it becomes more salient as a growing amount of information becomes digitalized at all levels of the organizations. It's one area where trends emerge -- in part, with AI aiding in the monitoring and combat of cyber risk,