10 IT Trends to Watch in 2020

The pace of technological change is so rapid that 2020 could look very different than 2019 in the IT world. This is a year in which tech is anticipated to put forward new solutions and make real transformations, as Gartner has highlighted in its report on anticipated tech trends for the year. Take a look at the top technology trends to watch in 2020.

1. The Expanding Reach of AI

AI moved into everyone’s homes in recent years via devices like Alexa and Google Assistant. It’s also driving technological advancements across all sectors of manufacturing, with major companies like GAP using it to automate distribution. In 2020, look for AI to move into the retail marketplace, with 40% of organizations now incorporating AI into their customer experience chain and non-tech firms like McDonald’s purchasing AI companies to own their technology.

The demand for AI talent is far greater than the supply in 2020, so perhaps it’s not surprising that AI user interfaces are coming to market. These interfaces essentially use AI to train non-expert users to make use of AI. The rapid spread of AI tech into the marketplace, however, brings with it some cautions about the potential for misuse, including the rise of deepfakes, jarring mistakes involving facial recognition, and valid concerns about privacy.

That budding misuse of AI is giving rise to the ethical AI movement, with regulators, investors, and users pushing tech companies to develop ethical codes to govern the use of AI. Expect to see attempts at policy and voluntary ethics codes rising through 2020.

2. The Rise of 5G

5G has been poised for a breakthrough, but it isn’t going to happen until the technology gets into consumers’ hands at a level that creates a tipping point. The groundwork is being laid for that, though, with SpaceX’s Starlink platform launching as many as 42,000 satellites beginning in 2020. The real race is between China and the United States, both of which want to be first to see 5G become widespread.

With 5G, mobile operators can increase the amount of bandwidth they offer — but all of that remains theoretical until 5G phones are in wide use. Many have fingers crossed for a 5G iPhone in late 2020, as that is expected be the piece of hardware that takes 5G into the mainstream. Barriers to that include the slow rollout of 5G networks as well as politics and security threats.

In the meantime, the killer app that makes 5G a must-have is yet to be introduced. Until that app and the 5G iPhone make their appearance, industrial and IoT uses of 5G, as well as edge computing, should be enough to push the technology slowly forward.

3. The Internet of Things — and of Bodies

The growth of the IoT has been promised for many years, and it continues into 2020. The rise of 5G is likely to be what pushes mainstream ioT apps over the top, and consumer outreaches like Amazon Go, which brings consumers into direct contact with IoT ease-of-use, will make the technology more familiar and more appealing.

In addition, 2020 is likely to bring new breakthroughs in what some are calling the Internet of Bodies, or IoB. This extension of the IoT into the human body itself connects smart devices to bodily functions, going far beyond the basic monitoring of blood pressure and the like handled by smartwatches and similar devices. One of the first IoB devices on the horizon is the smart insulin pump, which combines blood sugar readings with automatic release of insulin. The arena of human augmentation will start to provide improvements to physical abilities through wearable devices and implantables.

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4. Security, Privacy, and Transparency Become Even Greater Priorities

The demands for security and transparency often seem to be a virtual tug-of-war, with businesses increasingly making their data available to third parties through Open APIs even as consumers demand great protection of their own private data. Expect consumer-friendly security options like data anonymizers and virtual private networks, or VPNs, to see increased usage in as one of 2020 technology trends.

Consumers are also increasingly vocal about their desire for greater restrictions on the use of their data. In some cases, these restrictions take the form of government regulations. In others, consumers demand transparency on the part of large organizations regarding how their data is used, traded, stored, and protected. Look to see greater calls for consumer ownership of private data as 2020 wears on.

Cybersecurity and privacy are, of course, still a major concern of large organizations as well. Far too many companies, though, seem to operate under the assumption that massive data breaches will never happen to them. It only takes one data breach, with the subsequent loss of reputation, for an organization to realize that the time to upgrade security is now. And all the other tech advances burgeoning in 2020, from 5G to greater use of IoT, also demand an increased focus on cybersecurity. Organizations not only need to ramp up their technological protection positions, but also to be aware that employees can pose security threats. Cybersecurity training also needs to be a priority for many companies in 2020, since all the firewalls in the world won’t help when staff members use weak passwords and open phishing emails.

5. Growing Demand for Edge Computing

With edge computing, content collection and delivery are located near the users and sources of the content. This reduces latency and decreases dependence on cloud and data center services. Edge computing is increasingly of interest to companies seeking to increase IoT capabilities in specific manufacturing industries, as well as those who require the flexibility and speed necessary to handle the complex processing involved with AI functions.

Several startups are developing chip architectures to handle the demand for edge computing, which is expected to grow rapidly in 2020. Mobile device companies, in particular, are interested in expansion in edge computing, with 57% of those companies taking advantage of the new technology. Companies focusing on autonomous vehicles, drones, and robots are also expected to make increasing use of the edge, since they demand real-time processing of enormous amounts of data and need to avoid the costs of sending these massive data streams to the cloud.

Other industries expected to help the edge market grow in 2020 are telecommunications, content delivery networks, and platform system providers. Many of these organizations are using edge computing infrastructure to develop platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service offerings that don’t need to rely on the public cloud. Look to see edge computer grow explosively, as much as 50% year-over-year, in 2020.

6. Hyper Automation

Don’t think about the fears that automation will put humans out of work when you hear the phrase “hyper automation.” Hyper automation actually leverages emerging technologies to help humans perform their jobs better. By combining robotic process automation (RPA) with AI, analytics, and other automation tools, hyper automation comes alongside human workers to increase their capabilities by providing the data and tools they need.

Companies can move toward hyper automation a little at a time, incorporating machine learning and automation tools to analyze and design new systems, then to measure and monitor them. With hyper automation, organizations can automate complex manufacturing and customer service processes to reduce costs, improve delivery of products and services, and enable human workers to better respond to customer demands.

Companies can best move toward hyper automation by identifying those areas in their workflow that are dangerous for humans to perform, as well as those that are exhausting or that see high rates of human error. As employees move away from performing repetitive tasks, machine learning allows them to work side by side with automated tools that provide more data for solving problems. With tools ranging from robotics to chatbots, hyper automation is expected to replace 1 million jobs in 2020, opening doors for more productive and creative use of human workers.

7. Increased Numbers of Autonomous Things — Including Cars

When most people hear the word “autonomous,” they think of autonomous driving. While fully autonomous driving isn’t yet supported on public roads, partial autonomy is already functional, with Tesla vehicles providing driving support or even allowing autopilot that transfers control to drivers in an emergency. The technology to handle fully autonomous driving continues to evolve, with AI developers in the United States, Great Britain, and France working toward achieving Level 5 autonomy, or fully autonomous driving, in 2020.

The next steps in autonomous driving are likely to involve autonomous taxis, with Tesla declaring its intention to have 1 million auto-taxis on the road by the end of 2020 (though lack of regulatory approval may hinder reaching this goal). Another major advance in the field is platooning, with companies like Peloton using swarm intelligence to govern the group behavior of “platoons” of trucks that move together safely because they share intelligence and control between all members of the platoon.

Automobiles aren’t the only autonomous things moving technology into the future as one of 2020’s technology trends, however. Autopilots have provided support to human operators of airplanes for many years, and autonomous ships are also in widespread use. Autonomous robots and drones already handle functions that humans used to perform, and autonomous appliances are bringing AI-powered physical devices into ordinary homes.

Drones not only handle delivery but are also helpful in all sorts of data collection. Military drones deliver real-time intelligence, and ambulance drones are on the horizon to help provide the data need to improve search and rescue operations. On the scientific side, meteorologists and climate scientists have recently started relying on drones to collect data about oceanic and atmospheric conditions. Drones are also being used for surveying and home security. In 2020, look to see further uses of drones for data collection, including as non-invasive ways to track endangered species so that researchers can obtain up-to-the-minute information.

Robotic processes also represent a key area of growth for the autonomous things field in 2020. Smart robots make use of machine learning in manufacturing and assembling, and delivery robots have radically changed the way warehousing is handled in many industries. Expect more growth in this field in the coming year, especially in areas where replacing humans with robots provides an added layer of human safety.

Autonomous things aren’t limited to large machinery, however. Watch for the rise of autonomous shops in 2020, as tech startups bring use machine learning to bring automated self-checkout to a new level. In the forefront of this trend is Amazon, whose new Amazon Go stores tabulate purchases as the customer removes items from the shelf, removing the need for cashiers or indeed for any type of checkout system at all.

Much of the growth of autonomous things depends on factors outside technological development. Changes in government regulations are key to permitting autonomous delivery to be developed, with Amazon and other companies seeking to use autonomous vehicles, including drones, for package delivery.

8. Blockchain Gets Practical

The trend toward transparency that’s apparent on the privacy side of cybersecurity issues is reflected in the growth of blockchain anticipated as one of 2020’s technology trends. Blockchain technology provides a powerful tool to stave off data leaks on a large scale as well as to curb internet fraud. Companies with a high stake in payment and security processes are already leading the way in incorporating blockchain tech. And the major player in 2020 blockchain adoption? China, which has approved the use of blockchain by many of its major companies, including Alibaba, China Southern Airlines, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Blockchain is a key technology when it comes to creating transparency across the entire supply chain. Using blockchain, assets can be traced to their origins, allowing a significant advance in the fight against counterfeit goods. Tracking of individual parts can help manufacturers pinpoint data when product recalls are necessary. This same principle also holds true in the food supply chain, where stopping contamination quickly can save lives.

The verification provided by blockchain tech also allows companies to conduct business within a greater atmosphere of trust and transparency. Because payment can be triggered instantly when products are received, companies can enjoy smoother cash flow and reduced transaction times, which can lower their costs.

9. Changes in User Experience Involving Technology

The ways in which ordinary users of the digital world perceive and interact with technology are in constant flux, and significant changes are anticipated in 2020 and beyond. While virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are still novelty experiences for most people, interaction with technology has moved out from behind the computer screen and now infuses most people’s lives in ways they may hardly be aware of.

The “multiexperience,” as it’s been termed, spreads user experience across multiple touchpoints that move far beyond digital devices. Users increasingly interact with the world via wearables and IoT devices. They expect the digital world to bend to their wishes, rather than having to change their own behaviors to engage digitally.

This shift means that those creating tech are under a greater burden to design apps and devices to be “people-literate,” as Brian Burke, VP of Research at Gartner, puts it, rather than demanding that users become computer-literate, as was the case in the past. This trend, which can trace its origins to the 2007 introduction of the iPhone with no user manual, should see consistent reinvention through 2020.

Brands, as well as technology designers, will increasingly have to pay attention to creation of a seamless user experience across not just mobile devices but also wearables, “smart spaces” that provide multisensory digital experiences, and user interfaces populating everything from autonomous vehicles to ordinary retail shops. The focus on users rather than technology will bring marketing into the consideration of tech design at every level.

10. Changes to the Cloud

2019 was the year of the multi-cloud, with 58% of businesses using cloud services from multiple providers (primarily the three major cloud providers: Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure). Since economic factors are a primary driver of the decision as to which cloud service(s) to use, expect to see a little more tension between the major providers as they try to grab market share from each other. Other players in the multi-cloud field may also make a statement in 2020, with IBM (which just purchased Red Hat) and Dell both ready to make a move.

The distributed cloud will also become a major factor in cloud services in 2020. With the distributed cloud — which is significant in edge computing — a public cloud provider operates and updates public cloud services while distributing them to different locations. The distributed cloud allows data centers to be located anywhere, decentralizing the public cloud. As the distributed cloud evolves through 2020 and beyond, cloud providers can team up with local organizations to create and use public cloud substations in a model that’s economically advantageous to all involved.

Another technology trend that provides plenty of benefits for users in 2020 is the combination of private cloud services with managed services. IT platforms such as Avatara’s CompleteCloud provide the cyber security protection that companies are looking for while bundling together the services they need, including mobility management, disaster recovery, and VoIP. While managed IT services aren’t new in 2020, they help organizations deal with the rapid rate of change in technology by helping companies to scale and refresh their equipment as needed. That way, companies are able to keep their IT up to date while minimizing their tech investments.

Staying current with IT trends in 2020 is vital for any company that wants to plan for the future. With real transformations on the verge of changing the face of tech, 2020 could be a watershed year for any organization that relies on tech to grow.

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