Predicting the future of technology isn’t easy. New innovations pop up every day. Mobile, social, cloud, Big Data, and the Internet of Things have all been major disrupters in the workplace. They’ve become forever intertwined within our organizations, drastically changing the way we work, communicate, and collaborate with one another.
And this is just the beginning. Every year, technology innovators deliver products and services that change our lives. Think about it: Just over five years ago, the iPad didn’t exist. Remember how the naysayers laughed at the technology (and the name!) when the product first hit the market? Today, tablets are everywhere.
Such devices have dramatically changed our daily routines. Services that we previously needed our computers to access—banking, paying bills, surfing the web—are now available on our tablets and smartphones. Can you imagine not being able to check your email at a stoplight?
To talk more about the massive technological changes that are taking place in our personal and professional lives, I sat down with David Evans, cofounder and CTO at Stringify and former Chief Futurist at Cisco.
When it comes to the future of technology, Evans is an optimist. Unlike many folks who worry about the threats posed by intelligent technology, such as job loss and losing control to machines, Evans sees a bright future in which we humans continue to advance our skills, while the machines around us become even smarter.
“We're experiencing an intersection between Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law,” he says. “We’re becoming a massively hyperconnected digital planet. Because things are smaller, faster, and cheaper, and everything is connected, things we couldn’t do a few years ago are becoming commonplace.”
Just like the last five years, the next five will continue to redefine how we function at work and home. Will we live like the Jetsons with humanoid robot housekeepers, flying cars that fold into briefcases, and camping trips to the Moon? Maybe not in the next five years, but these things aren't inconceivable. Many things we once thought were impossible are now possible due to technology.
As consumers, we'll buy anything that makes our lives more connected and convenient. To be successful, new technology must be easy to use, mobile, and social.
While we may not live like the Jetsons (yet), here’s what I do think we’ll see in the next five years: robotic technology will make its mark, machine intelligence will improve, and sensory technology will expand. The "Internet of Things" will no longer be a buzzword; it will be a fact of life.
We won't live like the Jetsons, but here’s what the next five years will bring: improvements in robotic technology, artificial intelligence, and sensory technology.
Everything will be connected. More and more data will touch the cloud, and the speed of network connections will increase. Technology will become more social, with information traveling faster than ever, and rigid IT service applications will be replaced with platform-centric models that support app development.
The Future of Technology and the Service Desk
Let’s start with where we are today. I bet just this month you’ve received at least a handful of requests from your employees for machines, software, and apps that were never before considered “important” to the business.
What organizations think is important no longer matters. The power is shifting to end users who, as consumers, are surrounded by mobile and social technology that’s incredibly easy to use.
The entire manner in which businesses embrace technology has been flipped upside down. Technology is no longer controlled and driven from the top down. It’s evolving through a must-have app and hardware culture driven by tablets, smartphones, and wearables like Fitbits and the Apple watch.
Gone are the days when IT issued laptops, software, and phones. This new generation of consumers are more savvy than ever. They’re leading the workplace digital revolution, bringing their own technology to the office and purchasing apps that suit their business needs. They expect to stay connected to their personal interests during the workday, and thus are more willing to respond to workplace communications after hours.
IT is no longer in complete control. For some organizations, that’s a hard pill to swallow. But it’s the reality, and for many companies, this brave new world presents plenty of opportunities.
As Evans points out, “IT folks will benefit as well because they're consumers who will also appreciate the advanced technology.”
In order to remain relevant, the traditional technical support organization has to transform. Technology is kicking unnecessary processes, security concerns, and excess work that hinders the agility of IT organizations to the curb. This isn't to say that all processes and documentation procedures are going away. Instead, IT organizations will sacrifice some control in order to become more agile and achieve greater end-user satisfaction.
IT is no longer in complete control, and for some organizations, that’s a hard pill to swallow.
By doing so, they’ll be able to access the endless flow of innovative mobile and web apps that are available to manage business travel, communications, and productivity. They’ll leverage social media and alternative platforms to collaborate with employees, business units, and their own teams. App stores will take the place of manual software deployment processes. Business applications will evolve to include much more user-friendly and touchscreen capabilities. Sensory technology will advance beyond opening doors and adjusting thermostats.
Getting Ready for the Future
How can organizations scan the horizon and sift through the flood of “next big things” in order to focus on the technologies that stand to have the greatest impact? The answer is to start planning now.
The next five years of technology will evolve even faster than the last five. Automation will be essential in order to keep up with the speed of change. Of course, automating processes using IT solutions is nothing new. Every team out there talks about how they are reducing the number of service desk calls with automated workflows and increasing staff productivity with preprogrammed scripts that simplify tedious manual tasks. Automation has been around in some way, shape, or form for years, but new types of technology are becoming available to take existing forms of automation to the next level.
Take robotics, for example. Robotic intelligence will play a major role in the IT operations of the future. There are already several major industry sectors out there that rely on this technology. Assembly line manufacturers use robotics to speed up operations and NASA uses them to explore distant planets. Why not leverage these capabilities to streamline activities performed by IT support staff?
Robotic intelligence is becoming more mainstream everyday and can function as intelligent frontline support for service desks. These robots are programmable and able to handle tasks with precision and accuracy, even taking on activities that were once only performed by highly skilled support staff, allowing them the freedom to innovate further. Robots can also be used in tasks like on-boarding a new staff member, systematic database management, and provisioning. The opportunities are endless.
The last major change I see affecting IT teams is open-source development.
Technology providers know that in order to thrive they need to deliver industry-specific application platforms with open APIs or functionally-rich marketplace solutions that provide both professional developers and citizen-developers the ability to easily create and publish business apps. IT innovators can use these tools to build products and services to help improve their specific lines of business. The solutions they develop can even be shared with other organizations. This simplifies traditional IT processes and enables them to carry over to other lines of business.
As we forge ahead, it’s a good idea to adopt technology solutions that will yield a concrete return on investment for a new era of productivity. For example, mobile devices keep employees in contact all the time, and tablets are much more mobile than the traditional laptop or desktop. Consider arming your staff with devices that support the way they work and provide them with Internet access and secure data storage no matter where they are.
Building a Future-Proof Team
Most of today’s IT solutions are built for traditional client/server and internal LAN/WAN environments. Implementing cloud, social, and mobile-driven solutions requires a new set of technology and expertise that may not exist in today’s IT business units.
In order to keep up with advances in technology, IT teams need to revisit their business models. They will need to break away from departmental silos and old ways of thinking in order to focus on the next-generation services that are right for their organization.
Evans suggests that “organizations invest in people who are thinking about the future and people who perform futuristic forecasting, what-if analysis, and scenario planning. If you invest in tools, technology. and people who will help you prepare for the future, you’ll know where the hockey puck is going to end up. And most importantly, you’ll have a leg up over the competition.”
In order to keep up with advances in technology, IT teams need to revisit their business models and break free from departmental silos and old ways of thinking.
Of course, all of this new technology comes with the same security concerns that have handcuffed organizations for decades. But consider this: Employees will take the path of least resistance. These technologically advanced consumers will go out of their way to avoid the red tape and organizational bureaucracy that keeps them from enjoying the tools and apps that make their lives easier.
In many organizations, there’s already an “underground” technology movement. Employees are bringing their personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones to the office. They’re using these to tap into the corporate network with or without IT's knowledge. After all, it’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
Try as hard as you’d like, you can’t stop this. What you can do is develop training programs and guidelines that teach employees how to increase their productivity using new, innovative technology without compromising security.
The future is fascinating. We will leverage technology in everything we do. It will be a lot of work (and a lot of fun) sifting through the flood of new tools and services to find the technologies that work best for your organization. But with a little planning and future forecasting, and by empowering your tech-savvy end users, you can bet that your business’s competitive positioning won’t be compromised.
Elisabeth Thomas is a results-driven professional with extensive experience in IT product marketing and product management. She's the founder of Launch Product Marketing, and she has worked for leading ITSM vendors, such as Numara Software, BMC Software, and EasyVista.