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The year ahead: technology experts talk 2020 trends

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

2019 has been another huge year for the technology world. We’ve seen ambitious cyberattacks take hold of some of our most trusted organisations, watched AI continue to revolutionise the healthcare industry, and witnessed increased adoption of sophisticated smart home technology that is transforming everything from the workplace to our own homes. But the digital revolution is far from over, and 2020 is set to be bigger and even more transformative. So here, 12 industry experts provide their thoughts on what the New Year has to offer.

Voice interfaces become sophisticated and humanised

According to Ian Moyse, EMEA Director, Natterbox, consumer demands are increasing year on year thanks to the rise of digitally-focused brands such as Amazon, Uber and various Fintechs. But, as a result, customer loyalty is waning. Moyse explains that “the phone plays a vital role in improving customer service by allowing businesses to personalise communications to the individual. Despite this, while the digital world is witnessing a whole host of exciting innovations, from driverless cars to the mainstream use of drones, many businesses’ telephony systems remain in the dark ages, delivering slow, frustrating and un-personalised experiences.”

This will change in 2020, says Moyse “(as) we will see increased adoption of emerging technologies in the call centre, such as AI for real-time voice translation and dynamic interactive voice response (IVR) personalisation, which will entirely disrupt the market and help brands who are looking to place the customer experience at the heart of their strategy.”

Simon Johnson, General Manager, Freshworks UK also believes customer engagement will be a key differentiator for brands next year. However, according to Johnson “the big difference for 2020 is that consumers will stop thinking in terms of communication channels. They will simply want to engage with a brand the way they want to, have their questions answered, their queries resolved, and their comments acknowledged – irrespective of the channel. They’ll also expect engagement to be relevant and contextual, with brands using behavioural data to know how to best communicate with them in terms of channel and content, both reactively and proactively.  

When it comes to voice, Johnson suggests that “as customer demand for voice interaction grows, attention will turn to voice interfaces – such as Siri and Alexa. Going beyond simple commands, we’ll see companies incorporate more sophisticated voice engagement into their products and services.”

While Steve Haighway, COO Europe, IPsoft, agrees that 2020 will see an increasing push toward voice assistants, he is of the opinion that, to combat decreasing brand loyalty “we’re going to see a big shift towards using human-like avatars for virtual assistants” in the next year.

“Many companies will be driven by the need to develop even stronger bonds with their customers as traditional brand loyalty wains,” explains Haighway. “Humanising virtual assistants works because we, as humans, like to connect with other human beings. That’s why we’re more likely to want to engage fully with an avatar that feels familiar to us and displays similar emotional and empathetic reactions that are a key to human conversation.”

Realising the value of data

With the changing political landscape, Brexit and technology development set to have huge impacts on the UK workforce, Adam Bimson, Director and Co-founder, Vuealta, believes that intelligent automation in the form of intelligent planning, will be a key trend in the coming year. “Intelligent planning refers to the application of machine learning and AI to business forecasting and planning processes.”

According to Bimson, “intelligent planning will have a major role to play in workforce planning. While people are usually an organisation’s greatest asset, they can also be one of its biggest costs. So, ensuring people with the right skills are in the right place at the right time is key to success. Intelligent planning will aid businesses in doing so by identifying creative ways that the workforce can be effectively deployed using internal data (marketing and advertising plans; product launches; historic demand) and external data (social media sentiment, etc.), to anticipate demand and the required staff, accordingly.

“Ultimately, implementing AI-supported planning technology in the workplace will allow businesses to address the demands of a modern workforce in 2020. In doing so, they will still maintain efficiency to facilitate a positive work environment.”

“The effects of data analysis on vast amounts of data have now reached a tipping point, bringing us landmark achievements,” explains James Fisher, SVP of data firm Qlik. “We all know Shazam, the famous musical service where you can record sound and get info about the identified song. More recently, this has been expanded to more use cases, such as clothes where you shop simply by analysing a photo, and identifying plants or animals. In 2020, we’ll see more use-cases for “shazaming” data in the enterprise, e.g. pointing to a data-source and getting telemetry such as where it comes from, who is using it, what the data quality is, and how much of the data has changed today. Algorithms will help analytic systems fingerprint the data, find anomalies and insights, and suggest new data that should be analysed with it. This will make data and analytics leaner and enable us to consume the right data at the right time.”

Adam Kinney, Head of Machine Learning and Automated Analysis at Mixpanel says that augmented analytics, which “uses machine learning and AI to understand complex patterns across data sets and user behaviours” will also see a key development in 2020 – casual inference. “The idea is to use advanced statistical methods to isolate the most likely causes for particular user behaviour. For instance, people who frequently write product reviews buy more online than people who do not write reviews. However, this correlation may be caused by different factors such as review writers being more loyal to the brand, so encouraging brand loyalty may be a better approach to increasing sales and revenue than encouraging people to write more reviews.”

Kinney continues, “if businesses are able to isolate the three most likely out of ten possible causes without running an A/B experiment, a lot would be gained. This will simplify decision-making processes and help product teams prioritise. It would also allow companies to better allocate their data analysis resources.”

Cyber-risks will reach new heights

As technology continues to evolve, so too does the threat landscape. In fact, Chris Hodson, CISO at Tanium claims “more than half of all British companies reported cyberattacks in the last year alone.” Hodson continues, “going into 2020, Tanium looked into the biggest concerns for IT decision makers within organisations in the UK. This revealed that not having enough visibility over the increasing number of IT endpoints, such as laptops, servers, virtual machines, containers, or cloud infrastructure, leaving them unaware and unable to protect all systems, was the biggest concern for the coming year (25 per cent). The next biggest area of concern for respondents is the sophistication of attackers rising (23 per cent) followed by employees clicking malicious links (18 per cent), and the complexity of managing physical, virtual, cloud and container infrastructure (15 per cent).

“What this all serves to underline is the fact that successful cyberattacks usually occur when businesses don’t get the foundational security concepts right.”

Marcus Fowler, Director of Strategic Threat at Darktrace also highlights that “ransomware ran riot in 2019, devasting more than 70 local governments across the US alone.” And according to Fowler “it’s not going anywhere soon – in fact, we can expect the ransomware deployed in 2020 to be smarter than ever before.

“While most ransomware to date has infiltrated traditional IT networks, and is financially motivated, attackers are likely to develop more advanced ransomware that is specifically designed to disrupt critical national infrastructure. These fast-moving campaigns will target industrial control networks within the energy, telecommunications, water, and transportation sectors, as well as other systems on which public services rely. For these state-sponsored hackers, the interruption of services is not a by-product of a money-making mission – it’s their key objective.”

Despite this, according to David Higgins, EMEA Technical Director at privileged security experts CyberArk “2020 will see a new (and unfounded) level of complacency around security, driven by passwordless, behavioural and biometric authentication. With passwordless all the rage, industries such as financial services continuing to adopt biometric authentication, and certain companies starting to add behavioural controls to assess whether users are who they say they are, 2020 will remind us that the most secure authentication is never the most user-friendly or the most cost-effective.”

“The average user will see increasingly slick and user-friendly security layers when accessing online banking or retrieving citizen data from government portals. However, the major data compromises in 2020 will continue to show that attackers aren’t after individual users’ data, but every individual’s data. Biometric security and other similar systems will likely be one of their targets.”

The future of work

“The workplace in 2020 will see ‘augmented collaboration’, with humans and robots increasingly working together side-by-side”, says Marcell Vollmer, Chief Innovation Officer at Celonis. “This isn’t necessarily new: people have been working collaboratively with tech such as laptops and mobile phones for many years. However, what’s new is the advent of human-machine convergence. This goes hand-in-hand with advanced robotic technology, powering anything from ‘smart glasses’ to intelligent assistants. Furthermore, autonomous machines will be capable of taking on even more tasks, enabling humans to focus on the real value-add work.

“On the flip side, companies will need to prepare their employees for this shift, as Gen Z start to enter the workforce. With their own unique set of demands and expectations, the new generation’s life experiences affect the types of jobs they seek and define what’s most important to them. They’re naturally tech-savvy, for example, with a recent survey finding that  technology offered by an employer would influence the job choice of 91 per cent of respondents.” According to Vollmer, “the next year will see companies accelerate their preparation for attracting the right talent, aligning their ethos and career development initiatives with their expectations.”

Balancing techlash and innovation

Despite innovation in the technology world giving rise to a whole host of benefits and transformations, Ben Pring, Co-founder and Director of Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work, admits techlash was another emerging theme in 2019. Pring believes “this will only intensify into next year as controversial technologies such as facial recognition and deep-fakes continue to gain further momentum. “As a result, during 2020, we shall see regulators grapple with the need to establish robust legislation to protect society from the negative implications of these technologies without hindering innovation.,” says Pring. “Technology in 2020 will be characterised by a need to close the tech trust deficit whilst protecting and promoting a healthy democracy, without making what would be a historic mistake – overcorrecting and diluting technological progress.”

In addition to increased regulation, Angela Eager, Research Director, TechMarketView believes that transparency in emerging technology will be a key factor to consider over the coming year. “From established suppliers to startups, the explainable AI/ML wave will continue to build. Technically it’s not an easy task but suppliers who commit will reap the rewards because it is one of the enablers of digital strategies and a practical means of operationalising AI/ML and extending projects out to enterprise-wide implementations. At its most basic, it will be a tool in the GDPR compliance kit, which alone will confirm it as an imperative for suppliers and buyers.”

Eager does issue a word of caution though, advising businesses not to “devalue it by overselling capabilities. Explainable AI will be able to highlight what aspects contributed to a decision for relatively simple models such as decision trees or linear regression, but it won’t provide a full and precise analysis; and deep neural networks will remain black boxes for the foreseeable.”

Ultimately, businesses need to be prepared to ramp up their digital transformation journeys over the coming year whilst ensuring that security doesn’t take a back seat in the process. 2020 is set to be a big and exciting year for the digital age, but it won’t come without its concerns.

IT Experts