Predicting the future of technology is a quixotic endeavour. Looking out to next year, here are four trends to consider. These predictions cover a variety of issues: both “hard” technology and the socio-economic environment. My interest and respect for history is also apparent in this list: continuity and evolution are the underlying themes rather than dramatic, abrupt change.
1) E-Government Remains A Priority
Earlier this year, I read about a U.S. government office that processes large volumes of retirement benefit materials by paper and by hand! According to the Washington Post, this is not a new problem:
- The cost of processing each claim has increased from $82 to $108 in the past five years.
- “The need for automation was clear — in 1981,” said James W. Morrison Jr., who oversaw the retirement-processing system under President Ronald Reagan. In a telephone interview this year, Morrison recalled his horror upon learning that the system was all run on paper: “After a year, I thought, ‘God, my reputation will be ruined if we don’t fix this,’ ” he said.
The continued existence of such practices in 2014 is hard to believe. At the same time, other governments are making major progress in adopting modern and efficient programs – Ontario has an online driver’s license system and the US recently implemented GPS for air traffic control.
Cost reduction and efficiencies through e-government is one way for the public sector will acquire ever greater urgency. Increased demand for healthcare services will also force governments to look for ways to maintain quality while decreasing expenses.
2) Smart Watch and Wearable Technology Expands
The increased popularity of wearable technology remains important. According to consulting firm PWC’s wearable technology report, the category is projected to grow dramatically in 2015 and beyond. The firm’s research found that:
- Apple will launch the Apple Watch in 2015 at a $349 US price point. Given Apple’s success in mobile phones – the company has sold 500 million iPhones as of June 2014 – it is reasonable to assume they will impact this category substantially.
- The wearable technology industry is currently worth $700 million in the US (mainly in the form of activity and sports trackers).
- Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Nike are the top brands for wearable technology.
The report also points out the dangers and risks involved in this technology. For example, these technologies have the potential to facilitate greater surveillance. The report even suggests that a significant number of consumers would be willing to have their activities monitored in order to receive lower insurance premiums.
Wearable technology companies and products are also becoming more important in Canada. According to Canadian Business magazine, the need to remember passwords and keys may disappear if Toronto-based Nymi’s wearable technology becomes popular.
3) Net Neutrality & Policy Remain Important For Cloud Services and Customer Service
IT operates in a wider socio-economic environment. That means that telecommunications policy remains vitally important. For years, civil society organizations and technology firms have advocated the importance of net neutrality – that the Internet should carry everyone’s data without discrimination or favourable preferences. Arguably, net neutrality policy has enabled much of the growth of the technology industry.
As many Canadian consumers and organizations depend on American companies for Internet resources, it is vital that we understand the U.S. approach to net neutrality. That’s why the proposal for “fast lanes” (i.e. that a given company could pay an Internet Service Provider for higher speeds, threatening the notion of fair play) is so disconcerting.
Fortunately, U.S. President Obama continues to support net neutrality. In fact, Obama has commented in favour of net neutrality all the way back to 2008 suggesting this policy is important to him. In a recent statement, the President said: “We cannot allow internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas.”
4) Increased Healthcare Convenience
The frustration of waiting for an appointment in a clinic or other medical facility may start to fade away next year. For years, commentators have looked at ways to reduce health care expenses through technology. According to US lobby group Alliance for Connected Care, telemedicine is a cost effective way to address “fairly routine, non-emergent conditions.”
The Alliance found that telehealth can significantly reduce costs:
- “Replacing in-person acute care services with telehealth visits reimbursed at the same rate as a doctor’s office visit could save the Medicare program an estimated $45/visit” (source: Assessment of the Feasibility and Cost of Replacing In-Person Care with Acute Care Telehealth Services)
- “Lifting the restrictions on payment for telehealth in the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program will not increase overall costs and will instead result in cost savings if telehealth visits are substituted for in-person acute care, when medically appropriate.” (source: Assessment of the Feasibility and Cost of Replacing In-Person Care with Acute Care Telehealth Services)
The second point quoted above shows that government policy decisions play a key role in determining whether or not telehealth services become widely available.