Artificial intelligence will continue to dominate technology investments in 2018, along with cloud computing, the Internet of Things and customer-focused applications.

In their new report, “The Top 10 Technology Trends to Watch: 2018 To 2020 - Ten Trends Will Help You Maximize the Value of Business Technology,” Forrester Research analysts Brian Hopkins, Bobby Cameron, Ted Schadler and Rusty Warner offer their picks on the technology and business trends that will most shape the IT landscape.

Trend No. 1: IoT Shifts Computing Toward the Edge

“The growth of IoT aspirations and technologies has led to a host of technology innovations in edge devices, such as gateway servers, microdata centers, cloudlets, fog fabric nodes, intelligent routers and device firmware,” the authors write. “Firms in the vanguard of this trend will engage customers more quickly and squeeze new efficiencies out of processes. Exploiting computing power on the edge will give them an actual edge. CIOs must understand the extension of compute to the edge to find opportunities for competitive advantage.”

Trend No. 2: Distributed Trust Systems Challenge Centralized Authorities

“Blockchain, cryptocurrencies and distributed ledgers have captivated and frightened businesses in finance, logistics, and transaction settlement,” according to the authors. “These are ‘distributed trust systems’ — a system of methods, technologies, and tools that support a distributed, tamper-evident and reliable way to ensure transaction integrity, irrefutability and nonrepudiation. The rampant enthusiasm of the press has created a lot of hype; so has venture capital investment in startups like Blockstream, Circle, Digital Asset Holdings, and Ripple. Finally, emerging technologies like Ethereum and Hyperledger, the rise of consortia like R3 CEV and B3i, and the launch of blockchain practices by consultancies like Accenture and IBM have muddied the waters. Despite all this hype and confusion, Forrester believes that distributed trust systems are still in the dawning phase with a slow, 10-year development cycle.”

Trend No. 3: Automated Security Intelligence and Breach Response Unshackle S&R

“The era of manual risk and security management is ending,” the authors say. “Having long shied away from automation, security and risk (S&R) pros are just starting to embrace it to speed detection and response. Automated remediation is likely to follow. Security teams struggle with investigating incidents and responding to threats quickly. Security automation and orchestration (SAO) promises to transform the S&R role, unshackling the chief information security officer’s team from repetitive, manual tasks and giving analysts more time for higher-value work.”

Trend No. 4: Employee Experience Redefines Apps

“Firms that focus on improving employee experience (EX) yield better customer experience (CX) outcomes and outperform their competition over time,” the authors explain. “Effective EX delivers a personalized set of interactions, processes, and content that enables employees to succeed while enjoying their work experience. In the digital age, the workforce expects a technology-driven employee experience that reflects the level of innovation found in their consumer experiences. Currently, however, few firms focus on EX, and global employee engagement levels haven’t improved in Gallup’s 17 years of keeping track. This trend is changing things, however, as firms discover that employees and firms benefit from enriched, seamless, contextual CX.”

Trend No. 5: Software Learns To Learn

“AI technologies like speech analytics, deep-learning platforms and natural language generation have exploded onto the scene in the past 12 months after being nascent for many years,” the author say. “With improvements in AI, software systems that we used to have to program with rules are learning how to learn on their own. Firms will be able to automate and scale in a more efficient way because software will ultimately be able to learn and adapt rather than require programming. This is a profound change that CIOs must understand.”

Trend No. 6: Digital Employees Enter the White-Collar Workforce

“Automation will transform the workforce as technology advances result in humans increasingly working side by side with software robots in this awareness phase trend,” the authors say. “These robots don’t herald a gloomy future for jobs. As we showed in our report “The Future Of Jobs, 2027: Working Side By Side With Robots,” automation will replace some jobs and create others, with a net loss of 9.8 million US jobs by 2027 — while transforming at least 25 percent of the remaining jobs. Many enterprises, however, lack an integrated approach to mining the value of white-collar automation. Repeatable tasks that search, collate, update, access multiple systems, and make simple decisions provide today’s best targets for automation.”

Trend No. 7: Insights-Driven Firms Outpace Competitors

“The quest to use big data as a competitive asset has sparked a $27 billion industry; Hadoop and Spark initiated this, but it’s rapidly expanding into services and the cloud,” the authors confirm. “Amid the data gold rush, a new kind of firm — the insights-driven business — is slowly emerging that approaches data analytics differently. Instead of focusing on data, these firms emphasize implementing insights in software and continuously learning. CIOs must understand how this difference lets insights-driven businesses win customers and grow eight times faster than global GDP.”

Trend No. 8: Customer Experience Becomes Immersive

“The boundaries between the human, digital, physical and virtual realms are blurring as CX becomes more immersive,” according to the authors. “Customer-obsessed firms are integrating systems of insight and systems of engagement that interconnect people, places, and objects with data to improve CX and forge two-way, value-driven relationships. Customers are moving seamlessly across channels and embracing new interactive interfaces via mobile and other smart devices. This CX fusion promises competitive advantage for firms that get it right.”

Trend No. 9: Contextual Privacy Boosts Brand Value

“The seemingly never-ending news of data breaches and unauthorized uses of personally identifiable information leads to growing customer concerns about their privacy, making them hesitate to use digital tools from risky companies,” the authors say. “To drive competitive differentiation and business growth, firms must proactively address customer data management and security technologies that enable contextual privacy. But contextual privacy goes well beyond technology capabilities; it is a business practice in which the collection and use of personal data is consensual, within a mutually agreed-upon context, for a mutually agreed-upon purpose. Understanding that no firm owns consumer data and that we merely have the right to use it fuels data-centric security approaches.”

Trend No. 10: The Public Cloud Accelerates Business Innovation

“The public cloud is a juggernaut that is reinventing computing and the high-tech industry itself,” the authors conclude. “The relentless pace of technology and service innovation from mega-cloud providers like AWS, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce means that business innovation is just an API call away. We’ve reached the tipping point for public cloud: Most companies won’t be able to build out a data center to match cloud’s public capabilities or efficiency. Even 30-year IT veterans are increasingly willing to shutter their data centers. CIOs will be forced to move to the public cloud for most applications.”

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