As we begin a new decade, it’s useful to spend a moment reflecting on how far we’ve come over the past decade and look ahead to see what’s on the horizon. In technology, this is an especially important exercise, as the advancing rate of change in capabilities is dizzying — which in turn lends itself to marketers creating a very distorted view of the upcoming world.
Ten years ago, for example, the first iPad was introduced, Nokia controlled 40% of the global mobile phone market, and consumers were beginning to download social media apps on their smartphones. A lot of those smartphones didn’t have touchscreens, either — remember the beloved mini QWERTY keyboards?
2010 seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?
With that in mind, I’d like to look at what we can expect from technology in the year to come.
1. 5G will be a life-changer but won’t be fully available.
The arrival of 5G technologies will transform how consumers live and how businesses interact with customers. However, 2020 (or even 2021) will not be that year. Mass availability of 5G is still two to three years away, even for the early adopting community, but that won’t stop 5G companies from convincing businesses to pay for “5G connectivity” when, in practice, they’ll be getting something that’s not much different than they have now, but for a much steeper price.
2. Digital transformation progress will continue on a slow but steady trend.
Businesses will continue to march toward their digital future at a steady pace in 2020, but it may be another decade before most industries realize their full digital potential. One thing to keep in mind if you’re pondering your company’s digital transformation strategy is that not every part of the enterprise must be transformed simultaneously, so focus on the key functions that can be digitized for you to compete in your marketplace.
3. AI is getting smarter, and it will make your life easier.
Right now, lifelike chatbots are all the rage. We’ll soon see AI take major steps toward supplementing human expertise in monitoring and addressing IT communications network traffic. This is fantastic news for businesses because it will not only accelerate problem resolution (as it is used today), but also predict and prevent issues from occurring in the first place.
4. AI and 5G will bring the ‘intelligent edge’ to life.
The practice of moving computing power and applications to the edge of the network, where most business transactions are done, is not a new concept and is an increasingly important trend in IT. However, we’ll see AI proxies begin to parse data and make warp-speed decisions in 2020. This, combined with the acceleration of 5G, will enable massive data transfers fueled by the internet of things, animating the intelligent edge and bringing things like sentient infrastructure in cities closer to fruition.
5. The IT skills gap will turbocharge everything as a service (XaaS).
In 2020, the rapid pace of innovation in IT will widen the IT skills gap and push companies to increasingly look to business applications and services in the cloud and on demand rather than building in-house. Internal departmental developers within an organization will become mainstream and permeate the entire organization.
6. Businesses will need to prepare for security at the speed of 5G.
With high speed and low latency, 5G will accelerate communications — but it will also accelerate crime by allowing hackers to grab sensitive data at astounding speeds once they penetrate networks and devices. Only AI and intelligent automation can keep up with the rate of breaches. In 2020, look for AI to be inserted into cybersecurity plans as companies prepare for 5G.
7. Businesses will invest in ‘disaster-proofing’ themselves against climate change and the economy.
As climate change continues to wreak havoc with weather patterns, business continuity and disaster recovery as a service will rise dramatically. Businesses will see it as an imperative of survival to invest more in standby systems and third-party service providers to keep them running through crises. Applications will become “mobile” and have the ability to move between clouds and private data centers on demand.
8. Private 5G networks will be built.
With the average cost of a data breach in the U.S. rising to $8.19 million, private wireless networks (PWNs) will increasingly take root in enterprises involving public safety, home care, hospital settings, field service management, utilities and similar industries. PWNs will help ensure that increasingly mobile workforces can keep application sessions always open as they connect via various wireless networks and encounter gaps in coverage as the perform potentially lifesaving tasks.
9. Network cloudification will accelerate as software-defined networks claim primacy over physical equipment.
Through cloud, virtualization and containerization, software-defined networks are rapidly replacing purpose-built appliances, lowering costs and delivering greater quality of service and bandwidth to distributed enterprises everywhere. 2020 will be the tipping point for software-defined networks as more companies move their networks to the cloud.
10. 2020 will mark the beginning of the SD-LAN transformation.
With IDC forecasting that the SD-WAN infrastructure market will reach $5.25 billion in 2023, the shift to the next networking phase, SD-LAN, will begin in earnest in 2020. SD-LAN has all the benefits of SD-WAN but also provides business continuity to the network access layer. It’s application-driven and creates centrally managed networks that are easier to operate, integrate and scale all the way to the end user, providing full visibility and programmability from end user to application.
2020 promises to be a year of exciting change. While none of us has a crystal ball to gaze into the future, there are some certainties we can count on: Change will come at an increasing pace, and new technologies will emerge. Having insight into what’s on the digital horizon will help your organization plan, stay ahead of the competition and delight your customers.
This article was originally featured in Forbes.