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The top 3 technologies to prioritize in 2018

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

In today’s fast-paced, digital world, businesses must constantly innovate to satisfy customer demand and stay ahead of competitors. Luckily, there’s no shortage of new technologies for enterprise executives and managers to leverage. Almost every day it seems a new digital trend is touted as the next must-have, and businesses feel perpetual pressure to capitalize on the latest “tech du jour” so they don’t risk getting left behind. However, it’s best to proceed with a critical eye, and make sure policies and procedures are in place to implement new tech investments strategically.    

Making Sense of an Abundance of Tech    

Here’s the problem with seemingly infinite technology options constantly clamoring for everyone’s attention: Far too often, businesses embrace new technologies simply because they’re new and exciting. Others experience analysis paralysis, and shy away from implementing any digital advancements because they’re too overwhelming. To complicate matters further, rarely is just one new technology the answer. In reality, incorporating a creative combination of various technologies and processes that complement one another is what spurs innovation. 

To help businesses make sense of all the emerging technology noise and determine which areas are worthy of investment, O’Reilly analyzed data from its comprehensive online learning platform to pinpoint the most popular technology search terms from business and technology professionals who make up its 2.25 million users. Below are the three dominant trends that surfaced from the research that businesses should prioritize in the year ahead: 

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) 

AI is no longer just a collection of statistical techniques. In 2018, it will continue to move into production use by offering tools for quick and straightforward deployment. Data indicates that open source AI technologies are increasingly dominating proprietary tools, and enthusiasm for disciplines such as deep learning and machine learning are continuing to grow.   

Additionally, AI programming library TensorFlow experienced 146 percent growth in activity year-over-year, and stands to remain a focus in the year ahead, based on search data from O’Reilly’s online learning platform. Kafka, an analytics tool for streaming data, also experienced growth (at 32 percent year-over-year), however the top search item in our learning platform was Python. Given the rapid adoption of AI, it’s not surprising that Python is top of mind for businesses, as engineers rely on the language’s powerful and robust libraries for statistics and data manipulation. 

2. The Cloud and Microservices 

Unsurprisingly, the data also shows further movement to the cloud. Amazon Web Services (AWS) was the fourth most searched term by our users, and Docker was the third. Furthermore, Kubernetes, which facilitates running programs in the cloud in software packages called containers, experienced 98 percent growth in activity, and microservices was the 24th most searched term. This data clearly indicates that businesses are recognizing that cloud environments need to be developed, deployed and even more importantly, proactively managed. 

3. Blockchain 

Interest in blockchain grew 107 percent, which isn’t too surprising given all the hype surrounding bitcoin, and the fact that blockchain technology promises to record transactions securely. In fact, since blockchain accumulates transactions in a way that allows them to be verified, the technology can be applied to more than just financial and currency operations, providing legal and/or security benefits to any business that implements it.   

Trends Not Trending in Searches 

Interestingly, there were several buzzworthy technologies that weren’t the subject of popular searches among O’Reilly users. Security, virtual and augmented reality, IoT and embedded systems, and 3D printing were all noticeably absent. It’s possible that users include security activity within other development work and, as a result, aren’t searching specifically for security-related topics. It’s also possible that they’re taking advantage of the security capabilities provided by their cloud service providers. With virtual and augmented reality, IoT and embedded systems, and 3D printing, perhaps the hardware dependency of these technologies (i.e. higher production costs and greater implementation complexity) is impacting adoption.   

Essential engineering technologies such as Oracle, SQL and NoSQL also failed to rank as popular search terms, according to our research. These tools are undoubtedly still in use, but apparently maintaining them is less of a topic of interest for today’s businesses. It’s also likely that many IT departments assign these tasks to smaller administrative teams, so other engineers can focus their time on applying the latest technologies in the most productive ways. 

Prioritize AI, Cloud and Blockchain 

While our data can’t distinguish between whether businesses have certain technologies deployed right now, whether they’re actively developing them, or whether they’re in the early research stages, the results of our research clearly indicate that AI, cloud deployment and the blockchain are high priority areas. To stay relevant in the year ahead, it behooves enterprise executives and managers to evaluate these three technologies and incorporate them into existing strategies so they contribute toward long-term business goals. 

Next Steps 

Now that these key technology priorities are top of mind, the next step is evaluating which are the most valuable for your business. Just because AI is the next big thing, doesn’t necessarily mean that all organizations should jump in head-first. Before making a new tech investment - be it AI, cloud or blockchain – be sure to do an audit of the technology and procedures currently in place. Sometimes rebuilding business processes and services on new platforms consumes too many valuable resources, takes too long and introduces risk that outweighs the reward. Is it possible to integrate new technologies in smaller steps on existing platforms, rather than reinventing the wheel? Or is it a matter of life and death – is a tech overhaul critical to digital success? In this case, make sure you find the right partners and support to make implementation as simple and streamlined as possible. Be sure to keep employees in the loop with communication and training, and be sure to measure results. After all, the technology you have is only useful if people are using it and it’s delivering business results to get you ahead.   

Knowing the technology trends shaping the new year and understanding how they can be leveraged most strategically for your own business is a key factor in staying ahead in today’s tech-flooded digital world.     

Andy Oram, Editor at O'Reilly 

Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly, specializing in open source technologies and software engineering.