The calendar year end is always a good time to look back at accomplishments and forward to the future in ICT. Industry experts often make predictions for the next year as early as November. Let’s face it, to get new insights we do occasionally have to stop and re-check the crystal ball.

However, the word “prediction” is too strong for me – I’m just not close enough to Silicon Valley to predict anything. I’ll just provide a few opinions and identify some things to watch for, with no promise of fulfillment in as short as one year.

First observation – 2016 has been a very interesting year. Almost no one predicted the political events that are now top of mind. Many economic uncertainties are continuing into 2017 and we will see major new political realities. Increasing nationalism, decreasing levels of disposable cash and competition all make the context for ICT development more challenging. The global ICT industry has never been more complex technically and organizationally.

No one really knows what the hot topics next year will be, but here’s a few ideas worth considering:

The macro view and master plans

The IT industry in 2017 will remain very competitive. Service providers will both solidify their positions and keep their eyes on new use cases. Sorting out which open source products, consortia guidance and international standards will be the basis for future services could become important. For example, OpenStack appears to be facing some difficulties as both HPE and Cisco have downsized their efforts.

As I see it, a “master plan” to knit all the technologies together, at least within communities (such as the financial or health sectors) is highly desirable. Today, no single provider “owns the architecture” and, in fact, there is no single overarching architecture (unless it is SDx – software-defined everything).

I believe that, in Canada at least, 2016 was the year that cloud computing became “business as usual” with both IoT/IIoT and Blockchain moving towards their tipping points. The success of Blockchain Revolution by Don and Alex Tapscott illustrates clearly how a technology can capture people’s imagination.

ICT could even be re-defined as “Information and Cloud Technology.”

Ecosystems, systems and services

Today, we have various component ecosystems that must work together and be assembled into systems of record, systems of engagement, systems of objects and systems of insight. No single vendor or provider can or will provide everything that is necessary for a complete system.

Several “ecosystem” complexes have emerged:

  • Social systems include consumer services such as Facebook and also include various forms of “communication as a service” (voice, video, text, mail, collaboration, etc.);
  • Mobility systems for smartphones, app stores, BYOD, location services, etc. (the Internet of People) but also wireless hubs, sensors and actuators for the Internet of Things and Industrial IoT;
  • Insight systems would include artificial intelligence, analytics, cognitive systems, big data management, etc. (this may even be multiple ecosystems);
  • Cloud computing systems in all its various forms, functions and configurations, especially hybrid clouds;
  • IoT endpoint systems support large number of “things” including fog and mist components, distributed hubs and controllers as well as sensors, actuators and controllers (and can overlap with other ecosystems such as cloud and mobility); and
  • Blockchain systems which include the various components associated with trust and ledger services.

In 2017, progress on all fronts can be expected, and many providers will continue building their “whole products” by adding support, consulting and integration capabilities to the basic services in each of these areas. For example, app stores for IoT might be one possibility. Security and management capabilities covering multiple ecosystems will also be areas of significant innovation.

The basic Internet ecosystem will increasingly come under scrutiny as new network requirements emerge and new protocols need to be integrated.

It’s not obvious to me that any major new ecosystems will emerge in 2017, but significant effort will go into filling in the gaps, assuring compatibility and harmony, enabling common components and creating a total user experience.

Cloud computing’s killer app (IoT)

There are no compliance rules that require IoT services to be deployed as cloud-based applications, but there are compelling arguments to do so. If the explosion of IoT “things” occurs as projected, then IoT and Industrial IoT will be killer apps for cloud providers.

IoT as a systems category includes almost all endpoint devices that are not human-facing (i.e., are not interacting with humans). Many devices are essentially multifunctional – even SNMP interactions between a router and a management system could be viewed as being IoT-based.

The range of applications for IoT is bound to expand. Everything from personal medical sensors to intelligent earphones all the way to building automation and electrical grid management is included.

Innovative combinations of data from “things” with analytics, artificial intelligence and cloud computing will develop, especially when different providers begin to collaborate on integration across domains (e.g., connected cars combined with smart roads and parking spot locators).

Interfaces and integration (APIs, UI)

Very few modern systems are self-sufficient; most need to import/export data, share common services or link with related capabilities (e.g., security, back-up, business collaboration, and others). Think of how often you pass a news article from LinkedIn to an email subsystem, or wish to merge video into text messages and tweets.

Interfaces of various types have become increasingly important to the next generation of systems. This includes both the human interface (bots, Siri et al, intelligent earphones, VR glasses, etc.), the machine interfaces (networking) and API software interfaces.

APIs and API management will be the tool needed to pull discreet applications together to create business innovation.

All the rest

A few other areas to watch are:

  • Efficient and effective software development, testing and deployment will be critical to success in a highly software-defined world. Development and deployment based on software containers and microservices will improve and become the basis for “cloud native apps”.
  • Security and privacy will be the primary concern for virtually everything that is software-defined. Security and privacy features will be integrated “by design” into all devices and all operational processes – new techniques for coordinated detection and response to attacks will emerge. IoT devices are already becoming the targets for cybercriminals.
  • Identification and role management will expand beyond people to include IoT things (e.g., knowing what, where and who owns a car, for example). Intelligent systems will be used to recognize voices, facial recognition for video and photographs, and more rigorous use of authentication methods will be needed.
  • Blockchain will extend recognition and verification services to include information objects (which can be viewed as another set of things). Protection of value in a virtual world – both for currency and for information – will develop over the next few years. Blockchain may be applied to validating and ensuring role commitments, for a driver of a connected car, for example.
  • The broker, auditor and governor roles in cloud computing are likely to increase in importance in 2017 and beyond to help develop ways to improve trust in service-oriented systems. Blockchain will also be considered for IoT and other “killer apps” where multivendor and multi-tenant solutions with SLAs and partnerships are the basic pattern.

Emerging technologies are being deployed faster with their tipping points arriving earlier on the maturity curve. A point will come when buyers pause to absorb and optimize what they have available; however, when that point will be reached is a big question. In the meantime, stakeholders in the digital transformation will need to understand how and what is still at the early adopter stage and what has become sufficiently mature for strategic use.

This is some of what I think, but its only touching the surface to what is to come in 2017 and for the rest of the decade. What are your ICT new year’s resolutions?



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