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Tomorrow’s Innovations

12 Feb 2016 by Teresa Meek

Technology innovations, though they may seem like one-offs when they’re invented, shape our world. The lightbulb, the car, the computer — all were derided or deemed insignificant when they first came out, but now life is unthinkable without them.

In commemoration of Innovation Day February 16, we talked with Insight’s Strategic Intelligence Analyst Rosalind Berkley about innovation trends that are quietly starting to transform the 21st century.

Digital mesh

The four basic technology platforms of the past several years — social media, mobile devices, analytics and the cloud — are starting to merge, creating a new era of business innovation, Berkley says. Gartner calls this expanding set of information and services that surround people the “digital mesh.”

We’re moving beyond smartphones to cars, cameras and appliances that are collecting and delivering reams of information. The challenge for businesses will be to sort through the digital data onslaught to find information with strategic value.

The digital mesh will expand to include virtual reality, 3D-printing robots and autonomous vehicles. Machine learning will enable these systems to evolve, becoming smarter and more responsive.

Disruption

Digital systems have already been disruptive, but don’t think things have settled down yet — upheavals will be even greater over the next few years, Berkley says.

As connectivity increases, traditional business models will need to find a way to adapt in order to survive.

The threat of digital businesses is already driving larger Fortune 500 companies to band together for safety. It’s a big reason why Marriott is merging with Starwood — even though occupancy in the hotel industry is at record highs, and rival Airbnb commands only 1% of market share. But over time, the threat will grow. Unlike online systems, hotels have massive amounts of property and infrastructure to maintain, and they’re heavily regulated. It may not look like a case of “change or die” now, but that could change within the decade.

Even tech companies are changing their business models to meet the future.

Amazon, which started as an online bookstore, now sells everything and, after years of haggling with delivery services, is starting its own.

Car sharing company Uber is setting up a bike courier system.

General Motors is investing $500 million in Uber rival Lyft to develop an on-demand network for its self-driving cars once they hit the road.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Speaking of roads, they’re going to change, too. As will almost everything once the IoT moves from FitBits and thermostats to clothing, appliances and even entire cities.

In New York, the Center for Urban Science and Progress is building the country’s first"quantified community" in the city’s Hudson Yards neighborhood. Across 17 million square feet of land encompassing both commercial and residential development, sensors will track pedestrian traffic, air quality, energy production and consumption, and the health and activity levels of workers and residents. Chicago has a similar project in the works.

IoT is growing like mad on the consumer front as well. The worldwide wearable technology market grew 223% in the second quarter of 2015 alone, IDC reports.Gartner forecasts that 25 billion connected things will be in use by 2020.

We’ll be wearing shirts and socks that provide biometric data on our muscle activity, breathing rate and heart activity.

Companies could be even more profoundly affected than individuals. They are already using sensors to track shipments and monitor machine performance. In the future, they will gather and sort through massive amounts of data they currently aren’t using — stuff that will not just report on equipment, but guide executive decisions. 

“Data is the new currency,” says Berkley.

Security

With its tentacles reaching into every part of our lives, IoT raises grave security concerns.

“Every endpoint is a security risk. Every sensor could allow someone with bad intentions to enter a network,” Berkley explains.

Embedded devices are designed for low power consumption and have limited connectivity and processing capacity. They need multi-layered security that starts with an operating system and regulates access, authentication, firewalls, and updates and patches on all devices with high-level precision.

That’s not where the average app developer — or the average company, for that matter — wants to get involved. As a result, Berkley says security will increasingly be outsourced. According to Gartner, by 2019, enterprise spending on security outsourcing services will amount to 80% of spending on security software and hardware products, up from 50% in 2015.

Several large organizations, including the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association are working on the IoT security threat by developing standards and an IoT-friendly architecture, as well as addressing privacy concerns. Vendor groups are also working on the problem.

The PC and laptop

Contrary to what you’ve read, the personal computer has a strong future, if it’s standing among young people is any indication.

According to Deloitte, “trailing millennials” ages 18 to 24, despite being nearly universal smartphone owners, are into PCs and laptops, too. While they spend a third of their media time on phones and tablets, laptops are a close second at 27%. For all adults, including old PC fogies, the figure is just 21%.

Young millennials often sit at a laptop or PC with a smartphone by their side, realizing that there’s no substitute for a large screen and a keyboard to accomplish many tasks.

With all the turmoil technology is bringing to our world, it’s with a sigh of relief that we can still say, “Plus ça change.”