2020 vision: the top ten technology trends for the year ahead.

Three Business Blog Team
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On: 16 Jan 2020
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Top Ten Tech Trends 2020

The new year is always a time for looking forwards, so in that spirit, here are ten technology trends we expect will impact your business in 2020. Whether these are areas your business needs to invest in, or simply ones to keep a watching brief on, we’ve got you covered.

5G comes calling.

During 2020, there will be the start of a phased rollout of 5G, the fifth-generation mobile network in cities and urban areas followed by rural locations. This will usher in much faster speeds than are currently available over 4G – but that’s just the beginning.

5G offers increased speed, but what makes it different is its lower latency, which makes it possible to deliver services like high-quality video streaming, conferencing and video training, even to remote locations using the mobile network. 5G’s higher capacity also makes it ideally suited for large numbers of connected IoT sensors in one place. As even higher-capacity connectivity becomes available through technologies like 5G, we can see the trend of remote working continuing to gain traction.

In 2020, manufacturers like Apple, Google and Samsung will launch 5G-compatible devices. Check out our eguide for more details on what 5G could mean for your business.

Cities get smarter.

For any smart infrastructure, connectivity is an essential building block, and the ability to handle many types of data traffic means that 5G and smart cities are inextricably linked. Sensors placed throughout streets, buildings, personal devices and public systems are gathering and sending data that can be analysed for insights to make changes in how cities operate.

Potential smart city applications include decentralising healthcare, improving traffic flow and managing the electricity grid more effectively. At the CES convention in Las Vegas this month, Toyota unveiled its plans for a smart city, near Mount Fuji that will act as a living laboratory for the company’s researchers.

Closer to home, Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Galway City Councils have already been experimenting with several different IoT-enabled smart city projects aimed at measuring, learning about, and optimising key parts of the urban landscape, such as monitoring rainfall and river levels so that city authorities get early warnings of potential flood risks. Check back on our Business Blog in the coming weeks for an in-depth look at smart cities.

The Internet of Things goes big.

Sensors, sensors everywhere: the Internet of Things (IoT) market is growing by 24.7% per year. That shows the scale of opportunity for businesses of all sizes. The computing horsepower needed to mine the data the IoT sensors produce is now available through the cloud, so the technology is accessible to almost everyone.

Companies the world over are applying IoT to understand their operations better and identify where they can improve performance. Getting started is easy: Three’s Myles Gardiner has some practical advice for starting IoT projects.

Edge computing moves centre stage.

Edge computing will make further ground in 2020, with demand for it being driven by the continuing development of IoT. When there is a large number of sensors clustered closely together – for example in a smart city or smart factory – the data they produce may need to be stored and processed quickly.

As the name suggests, edge computing systems carry out this data processing work as close as possible to the sources of that data, on the edge of the network. Not only does it save on bandwidth resources since high volumes of raw data don’t have to travel across the network, it also saves time by carrying out calculations and producing results in milliseconds. That makes it especially useful for time-sensitive applications like connected cars which need information about their environment in near real time.

Cybersecurity concerns continue.

Rarely out of the headlines, cybersecurity is an area we can expect to see plenty of activity in during 2020. Just before the New Year rang in, the Government launched its updated national cyber security strategy. The plan pays close attention to protecting critical national infrastructure from attack and improving its resilience to threats. It also notes that cybercrime incidents in Ireland are increasing, quoting figures that 61% of Irish organisations reported to have suffered cybercrime such as fraud in the last two years with an estimated average loss of €3.1m

Most organisations say they will increase their security budgets this year. The trick is to spend this money wisely. In a recent Three Business Blog, Jacky Fox of Accenture shared five security tips for SMEs to protect themselves effectively. In the weeks ahead, we will be looking at how to manage the security risks in IoT projects.

Artificial intelligence, real progress.

Advances in mathematics, algorithms and computing power have made it possible for computers to analyse large amounts of unstructured data, mimicking the human ability to think about and solve complex problems. It’s the culmination of more than five decades of work in this field.

“Now, virtually every field of human endeavour is being revolutionised by machine learning. We still have a long way to go to achieve human-level intelligence and beyond, but the pace of worldwide improvement is blistering,” says Neil Jacobstein, the chair of artificial intelligence and robotics at Singularity University. Several Irish companies are already working with AI to improve insights, products and services.

A subset of AI, predictive analytics, applies machine learning and algorithms to calculate future outcomes. If data is the new oil, analytics is the refining process that produces value. Sensors in cars can tell how fast it’s travelling, or how often the accelerator is used; predictive analytics can tell when a part might be at risk of breaking down, so the owner can bring the car for preventative maintenance. In a business context, analytics can help companies of all sizes to make more accurate estimates for how the business will perform and identify new product or service opportunities or new markets to serve.

Automation and robots.

Robotic process automation, or RPA for short, is one of the hottest trends in technology today. The concept involves using software-powered robots (bots) to perform automated and manual processes tasks that were done by employees in the past.

RPA involves a combination of technologies like rules engines and data scraping to carry out repetitive, laborious work like data entry much more quickly and without human intervention. One bank implemented RPA to handle 1.5 million claims requests per year, reportedly doing work that would have taken an extra 200 full-time staff at just 30% of the cost it would have needed to hire them.

With its potential to free up employees from time-consuming tasks to carrying out more valuable work, it’s little wonder that it’s one of the fastest-growing fields in enterprise software, and Forrester Research forecasts that the RPA services market will be worth €10.7 billion by 2023.

Distributed cloud.

The cloud was just the beginning. Under a distributed cloud model, public cloud services will be spread between different locations, with one provider taking responsibility for operations, governance, updates of the service, and overseeing its evolution.

Gartner describes distributed cloud as a significant shift from the centralised model of most public cloud services and calls it “a new era in cloud computing”.

SD-WAN gains ground.

A related trend that’s helping businesses to cope with managing the complexity of cloud deployments is SD-WAN (software-defined wide area networking). This technology makes it easier for network administrators to allocate bandwidth to the business applications that need it most, giving priority to the most important network traffic. It’s also much more cost-effective since it doesn’t need investment in dedicated connectivity or additional hardware. Best of all, this capability is available to businesses of all sizes, giving them much greater flexibility and enabling them to respond to business changes faster.

Expect to see more about this in 2020 and beyond; IDC tracks this market and says it’s growing at over 30% per year.

The age of transparency.

The General Data Protection Regulation has helped to put consumer privacy firmly on the agenda for many businesses. The rules give regulators the power to impose heavy financial penalties against organisations that don’t take proper steps to keep their customer data secure.

Rather than seeing regulations as an imposition, some data privacy advocates believe there is an opportunity for businesses to win the trust of consumers. The prioritisation of customer data in some leading firms, for example, has led to the creation of a new role at CxO level, the Chief Trust Officer, who is responsible for delivering trust and transparency across all business functions. By being transparent and showing that they take care to protect information, organisations can enhance their reputations.

A combination of these trends looks likely to make their way into many Irish businesses over the year ahead. Three’s Irish Business Mindset Report 2019/2020 found that one in five companies plan to invest in digital transformation initiatives, and almost one third will improve collaboration with customers. In many cases, technology will be the lever to help them achieve these changes and do business more efficiently.

If you would like to learn more about the trends impacting Irish businesses that were uncovered as part of our annual Irish Business Mindset Survey visit Three’s Business Learning Centre to discover more.