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Emerging tech trends point to new era of digital business

Talking SMAC, an acronym for social, mobile, analytics and cloud, is so yesterday. Instead, if CIOs want to be fashion forward — technologically speaking — they should start talking artificial intelligence, machine learning and software-defined security, an approach that relies on software rather than hardware to enforce security policies regardless of the user’s — or the application’s — location.

Technologies like these are broadly featured in Gartner’s new “Hype Cycle” report on emerging tech trends. They keep company with the likes of quantum computing, which leverages quantum mechanics to produce a big computational boost, and with the science-fiction sounding Smart dust, micro-electromechanical systems that can detect environmental factors like temperature. Far out? Not as far out as one might think, said Gartner analyst Betsy Burton, one of the report’s authors, in a recent webinar. She described the technologies as the foundation of digital business 2.0, building on the big data/cloud/mobile framework and striving to make the line between the digital and physical worlds practically indistinguishable.

“Digital business technologies are moving beyond the initial hype,” Burton said, referring to technologies like wearables, blockchain, 3D printing and the Internet of Things. “And we’re starting to see new disciplines and innovations when it comes to how to support digital business in a more effective way.” She pointed to artificial intelligence a la smart applications, conversational interfaces and virtual personal assistants as an example of a class of technologies that will push the digital business envelope.

Burton and fellow analyst Mike Walker, a co-author of the report, framed the emerging tech hype cycle in IT terms, pointing to three “macro” trends.

  • First, CIOs and IT leaders will need to help create more dynamic, seamless experiences for customers (by way of augmented or virtual reality, for example). “It’s about how technologies are blending into our environment,” Walker said.
  • Second, experience is only half of the equation; the other half is intelligence, he said. Embedded algorithms and more advanced analytics can deliver the right kind of experience at the right time. “Context is king,” he said.
  • Third, the platform is the bridge between human and technology. Platforms will not only enable new business models, but will help companies scale digital business up and out, what Burton described as “the next big challenge for organizations.”

For the uninitiated, Gartner hype cycles track the maturation of a wide swath of technologies from market noise to mainstream adoption. For this year’s emerging tech hype cycle, the consultancy looked at more than 2,000 technologies and pinpointed the 30-plus it believes CIOs and IT leaders should familiarize themselves with to help build out their IT roadmap.

“It’s important to understand that the timeline we’re looking at here is between a five- and 10-year horizon,” Walker said. In other words, the technologies featured in this report aren’t necessarily ripe for implementation (brain-computer interface, anyone?) but instead house the potential for a company’s next competitive advantage — at least in Gartner’s eyes.