By Samantha Searle, Gartner, Inc.

Technology trends emerge and grow at lightning speed. Given this, it can be hard to differentiate between those that present real opportunities and those that could pose risks. Each technology trend can have different kinds of potential impact, and a trend’s impact can be so broad that it’s global, or so narrow that it only affects a niche market.

Trends don’t act in isolation. Instead, they often combine with other trends to generate an even greater impact. Newer digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence, are adding to the Nexus of Forces (the combined effect of cloud, mobile, social, big data and analytics) to create an exponentially bigger impact. This is resulting in new trends. For example, data generated from IoT is feeding advanced analytics and machine learning. This is producing more intelligent applications and agents that can suggest the best response in a given situation. The combined effect of all three has resulted in the digital twin, a digital representation of a real-world entity or system.

It’s easy to be seduced by over-hyped trends, but not all trends are equal and not all will apply to your organization or industry. Self-driving cars, for example, will have a greater impact on organizations involved in logistics, transportation, aerospace, defense and the retail sector and far less than those in financial services and healthcare industries. You need to consider the trend from your organization’s perspective and work out what it can do for you.

Technology leaders must be able to decide whether a trend’s potential impact is high enough to justify the investment required to address it early on. Effective trendspotting techniques examine the various aspects of the trend’s potential impact, such as its level of disruption, and the scope and size of its impact as well as how the trend will affect people, business, the IT department and the technology market.

Focus on three factors to build a complete picture

Three key factors will ultimately enable you to identify the potential impact of a particular technology trend on people, business, IT and the technology market:

1) New value

Identify clear business opportunities that this technology trend could help exploit or challenges that it could help solve to produce better business outcomes.

2) Level of digital disruption

Decide whether adopting this trend would mean changing your organization’s business model or inventing a new one. Could this new trend replace existing technologies or ways of doing business? How could this trend disrupt the technology market? Although there will probably be opportunities for new providers, new trends can disrupt the services and performance of existing providers on which your organization may rely.

3) Type of impact

Investigate whether the trend’s impact will be felt only within your organization, or whether it will have an external impact on your organization. Investigate whether the trend’s impact will be felt only within your organization, or whether it will have an external impact on your organization.

Technology trends can also differ in the global reach of their impact. A trend may affect one or more countries, or may have a big impact on an entire region. The size of a trend’s impact will depend on the social, cultural, geopolitical and economic factors in a particular country or region.

Keep in mind that a trend may directly or indirectly impact the interactions between people, businesses, IT departments or technology markets, and the tasks and operations they perform. Virtual reality, augmented reality and virtual personal assistants, such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa, are trends that have had a direct impact. This is because these trends have changed the way we interact with devices and businesses.

Samantha Searle is a senior research analyst at Gartner. Her research helps organizations succeed in technology and innovation, enterprise architecture, digital business transformation and business process management.

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