Digital disruption in 2017 and beyond

Disruptions triggered by emerging and maturing technologies are impacting business and society with increasing pace and magnitude. This trend will persist over the next few years at least. Atos refers to these disruptions as “Digital Shockwaves”. 

Digital Shockwaves emanate from a variety of seemingly disparate sources, but often interact with each other in complex and unexpected ways to create changing business and societal environments which will be ripe for opportunity if appropriately anticipated, understood and acted upon.

Perhaps one of the most significant business disruptions will result from the explosive growth of connected sensors, devices and objects (the Internet of Things). Combine this world of “connected everything” with new ways to analyse, action and monetise the resulting data streams, and we can anticipate a revolution of new Smart Services built around consumer context and predictive/ prescriptive interactions. As a result, the battle for ownership of the consumer relationship, which has already been transformed by the digital giants (Facebook, Google, Alibaba, Baidu, Amazon, etc.), is destined to move to another level. 

Commoditised sensors and actuators will provide both rich context and precise control to an almost limitless range of use cases. In such a highly connected world we will see massive growth in the potential to understand status, anticipate outcomes, recommend actions and automate processes. Such insights will enable optimisation and personalisation of data-driven services both in a Business to Business and Business to Consumer context. Some of the related opportunities will emerge as transient business moments that necessitate an immediate and orchestrated supply chain response; others will arise from the application of deep learning to observed trends and behavioural outcomes.

Managing the flow

With an anticipated 50 billion connected objects by 2020, exploitation of the Internet of Things and Future Networks will drive significant Business Technology disruption. 

Connected objects will act as sensors and/or actuators, with gateways controlling data flows within what may well evolve to be a fully distributed architecture. Depending on the specific business use cases, data will either be processed in a distributed manner by algorithms hosted in hybrid clouds, or processed locally using algorithms hosted within or close to the connected object. 

A Cloud Continuum will emerge, extending from vast centralised data centres to an ever evolving army of edge devices. The increasing levels of compute capacity deployed in mobile and Internet of Things devices, will ultimately lead to the ability of connected objects to self-organise and configure according to changing circumstances - we call this Swarm Computing.

Such dynamic and responsive interactions demand real-time prescriptive analytics that will largely be delivered by local gateways, sensors and actuators. New Computing Memory architectures will facilitate such capabilities by combining the processing and storage of data in a single processor, significantly increasing computational performance whilst reducing energy requirements.

Managing and protecting such a disparate and distributed compute environment will present significant challenges. Containerisation and micro-segmentation of applications, data and platforms will be a means of transforming the way that compute workloads are deployed, managed and secured. They will facilitate orchestration within hybrid cloud environments, supporting the “atomisation” of workflow elements such that processes can be easily adapted to changing demands whilst at the same time ring-fencing security risks at a very granular level.

Production and security

We can expect significant disruption throughout entire manufacturing production chains as Additive Manufacturing (industrial 3D printing) comes of age. This exciting technology will enable increasingly digitised product lifecycles, offering lower development costs, shorter lead times, reduced energy consumption during production and less material waste. In some cases, we will see a shift from mass production to full customisation, and from centralised to distributed production. 

The more general sphere of robotics will be similarly disruptive, whether this is as a result of physical robots delivering configurable manual task automation or whether we consider virtual robots providing artificial intelligence insights in all manner of use cases ranging from IT service desks to financial advice and medical diagnostics.

Whilst the challenges of IT security and data privacy continue to evolve, and cyber-attacks pose very real threats at every level – individual, business, national and global, there are even more significant disruptions on the horizon. Quantum Computing, which promises a completely different paradigm in algorithmic processing, could blow Moore’s Law out of the water. Its first impact is likely to be in the security arena, as today’s highly secure data encryption could become easily crackable using certain quantum algorithms, rendering obsolete much of our current approach to security.  

Businesses should start preparing for this disruption now, by implementing strategies for Quantum-Safe Cryptography. While generally available Quantum Computing is still some way from becoming a reality, when it arrives it will change the way we have to think about IT security almost overnight.

Fundamental shifts

Digital shockwaves are not solely as a result of revolutionary and disruptive changes. They also arise through the evolution of existing challenges where it seems that the goalposts are continually moving, impelling us to deal with them in radically different ways.

As an example, incremental advancements in medical technology and food production technology are creating all kinds of exciting new possibilities, but with these come a whole set of moral and ethical challenges that must now be factored into our considerations of IT for life.

It is an obvious statement that data has always been at the heart of Information Technology, and we might like to think that we understand the value of data. However, the rate at which data is now being produced from increasingly diverse sources, is bringing new challenges to the area of analytics. Particularly as we move from predictive and prescriptive capabilities, we are faced with the challenge of Fast Data and the ability to analyse and respond to data streams in real time. The value of data is no longer “one-dimensional” – the ability to combine apparently disparate data sources and use Deep Learning techniques to derive insights that otherwise may have remained hidden, continues to drive the evolution of data drive multi-sided markets and industrial platforms that facilitate appropriate levels of data exchange within dynamic business eco-systems.

With a move to increasingly collaborative working between potentially trustless parties, technologies like Blockchain could become a key enabler of secure and authenticated digital interactions for businesses consumers, governments and citizens. 

A few of the areas referred to may not have a mainstream impact until beyond 2020, but we believe they should be factored into an organisation’s strategy today. 

John Hall, Head of Strategy and Portfolio, Atos UK
Image Credit: Ditty_about_summer