Staying up-to-date with emerging technologies is a challenge – there seems no end to claims of “the next best thing.”  IT-based innovations and disruptions seem to be in the news every day – wearables, ransomware, Blockchain, Internet, and smart blenders to name a few. The June 13th Microsoft announcement that it is buying LinkedIn has ignited a debate, while other experts continue to discuss net neutrality and what it may mean.

My question is: how can anyone find and keep track of everything that’s driving the future of IT?

In January I wrote a blog on my cloud computing expectations for 2016. I think it’s time to make a track list, to check it twice, and to see if you think I’m being naughty or nice!

Let’s see if I can pick key emerging technologies in each of the six areas I highlighted. To cut the scope a bit, however, my focus will be on systems not basic physics, chips or batteries, and not 3D printers, drones or driver-less cars.

Searching for emerging technologies

I usually check Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies which was most recently updated in August 2015. Also, their top 10 strategic technology trends for 2016 is informative. A quick search yields some interesting references (actually a very long list) including, in no particular order:

  • A recent article from ZDNet (check it out here);
  • An Accenture technology vision for 2016;
  • An emerging technology trends document from EY; and
  • The Cisco Technology Radar which tracks 15+ trends and 100+ emerging technologies.

There’s no formal dividing line between what is emerging and what is mainstream, but perhaps having crossed Geoffrey Moore’s chasm is a good litmus test. Some technologies are actually a re-incarnation of or incremental improvement to older ideas instead of being truly breakthrough. Often there’s also a situational context – what is emerging in one market could easily be old news in another (think of the differences in healthtech, fintech, cartech, military, government, etc.).

Here are some keywords that can be useful for a search: smart, software-defined, API, open source, mobile/mobility, consumerization, trusted, unified/integrated, anything-as-a-service, agile.  These are just a few possibilities, of course.

We need an official list of emerging technologies, with periodic progress reports!

The starting point – ecosystems

One way to focus the search for emerging technologies is to identify the technologies used by the “IT ecosystems”. An IT ecosystem could be viewed as a “whole product” in a specific area. For example, a smartphone that includes hardware and an operating platform is a core product for a mobility ecosystem. The ecosystem is not complete, however, without the petals on the “flower” – app stores, business and social applications, activation/update services, network services, identification services, technical support, and so on.

Four internet ecosystems for the watch list are:

  1. Internet of Finance/Value is the trusted exchange of virtual funds and other valuable items; the current vision is contained in a new book by Don and Alex Tapscott called Blockchain Revolution; the early adopter is fintech services with cyber currency (e.g., Bitcoin);
  2. Internet of Things/Everything (IoT/IoE) extends the basic Internet to include non-traditional devices (that is, devices that are not basically human interfaces) and non-traditional locations; examples include smart cars, smart homes, factory robots, and smart cities; Fog computing is an IoT-related emerging technology, and Industrial IoT (IIoT) extends the scope of IoT to manufacturing, power grids, water supply and more;
  3. Internet of People/Communities/Society expands upon the existing Internet services for “people connectivity” including social networks, telephony, video, messaging, conferencing, content production and distribution, and other forms of “value added” interaction; even though basic Internet services are mainstream, new functions and features are still emerging – Periscope for personal broadcasting, for example, and eventually IPv6 for network addressing).
  4. Internet of Organizations/Businesses (my term) includes various TCP/IP-based networks both on-premises and cloud-based; this includes wired and wireless networks, point-to-point links, Intercloud networks, etc.; services include business-to-business interaction, system-to-system, etc.

Some candidates for an emerging technologies list

There are many candidates for an emerging technologies list, ranging all the way from Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality to Nest thermostats and smart shoes.

Here are some general technology categories and the corresponding technologies:

Service-oriented technologies: Services appear at multiple levels and forms in modern systems; emerging technologies include microservices, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), and a growing number of XX-as-a-Service offerings; basic cloud computing includes Infrastructure-aaS, Network-aaS, Platform-aaS and Software-aaS but now can also include Telephony as a Service (hosted IP telephony), Messaging as a Service, Security as a Service, Big Data as a Service and others.

Software-defined technologies: Next generation systems will be “software-defined” to isolate services from physical resource details, much like server virtualization does; emerging technologies such as SD-Networks, SD-WAN, SD radios, SD data centers, SD storage, and SD infrastructure extend the concept; containerization technologies such as Docker can be thought of as a software-defined application platform.

Smart system technologies: Systems are called “smart” when they can communicate and interact, especially for non-traditional devices; this began with the telephone (i.e., the smartphone) and now extends to everything from homes and cars to cities and factories; for example, a fire hydrant can be smart, as can street lights; emerging smart technologies are included in many IoT and mobile devices.

Trusted service technologies: Blockchain-based technologies and solutions are being significantly promoted at present; Blockchain distributed ledger systems facilitate a wide range of “trusted intermediary” functions; emerging technologies in this area include IBM’s Blockchain-as-a-Service, Microsoft’s Blockchain, the Ethereum Project and The DAO, to name a few examples; hyper-progress can be expected in this area over the next five years.

Unified communications technologies: Communications is a fertile ground for emerging technologies at all levels of the stack; the goal is ubiquitous value-added connectivity and interoperability among people, devices and services including a wide range of functions such as language translation, timelines and smart assistants; emerging technologies include LTE and 5G wireless systems, network function virtualization, messaging/chatbots as a platform, and agile software-defined networks; further exploitation of network functions such as presence, location, protection, identity, self-service and management, and even IPv6 adoption for IoT devices could still be classified as emerging.

Sum total

As I dig into it, there are too many emerging technologies to list in one blog, and no easy way to rank them all meaningfully.

What I would like is your views – what did I miss and what did I get right?

Which technologies do you think will outshine the others and have the greatest impact on how we live, learn, work and play over the next decade?

These are my thoughts; I’d love to hear if you think I’m on track with my list.