Accenture’s Technology Labs and Research Organization release an annual report pinpointing emerging IT developments that will have the greatest impact on organizations. This year, Accenture held a contest across the company to spot trends. Over 3,000 ideas were collected. Accenture then screened the crowdsourced input against several other streams of information such as IT analysts, commercial R&D labs, and the flow of venture capital funding. The report identified six emerging technologies that will impact how we work in the future.
The first development Accenture identified is the digital-physical blur. This “blur” refers to how physical objects are increasingly being connected to networks and transmitting data. Connecting everything from refrigerators to assembly line machinery has an impact on both consumers and the enterprise. Accenture predicts that the digital-physical blur will empower customers to interact and influence their experiences with brands. Organizations will have a real time connection to machines and employees, spurring them to react faster and more intelligently to challenges and opportunities.
This access to consumer and enterprise data raises important questions about privacy. Michael J. Biltz, director, Accenture Technology Vision, Accenture Technology Labs and Piyush Bhatnagar, managing director, Technology, Accenture Canada, addressed this concern. Biltz explained that businesses must build protective measures into machines and processes that are responsible for collecting information. “It starts by looking at both security and privacy as a part of the design and strategy of building your application vs. as an afterthought,” he said. “By embedding security into the design, you enable better security of the data.”
Bhatnagar believes that policy will play an important role in the digital-physical blur. “You must create clear and transparent guidelines about what data is collected, how it is going to be used, how it is not going to be used, and what the users get out of it,” he commented. “At that point, you can build the trust necessary with users upfront, to ensure success for these digital-physical applications.”
The second development Accenture identified is the rise of the borderless enterprise. Accenture predicts companies will incorporate crowdsourcing into their business processes to solve problems while saving financial and physical resources. However, crowdsourcing will not be appropriate for every situation. What litmus test should firms use to determine whether to crowdsource a problem? “There are no hard and fast rules, but it starts by looking at each problem an enterprise is looking to solve, and asking whether or not the crowd has something to augment what you enterprise already bring to the table to address the problem,” Biltz noted. “Typically, this can be things like, scale, unique skill sets, insight (think consumers here, who know consumers better than themselves), diverse ideas.”
Bhatnagar added that several online platforms make it easier to crowdsource very specific problem sets. “But once you move beyond what the platforms can do, it becomes a more detailed evaluation of cost associated with creating the technology and the processes to manage and collaborate with the crowd in such a way to come out with something productive at the end,” he pointed out.
The third development Accenture identified is the data supply chain. This term refers to the enhancement of the information flow throughout the entire enterprise so everyone can make better decisions. Currently, data ecosystems are in siloes, making it difficult to access vital information. Accenture advocates improving how data moves through businesses as well as allowing partners the ability to use this information.
While granting partners access to data will allow more effective collaboration, companies need to be mindful of security. “Protecting with partners is about due diligence,” Biltz remarked. “Just as using your own data requires creating clear and transparent guidelines about what data is collected, how it is going to be used, how it is not going to be used. The same will need to be asked of your partners.” He emphasized that businesses need assurances that the information will be kept safe. “Just as you need this to create trust with your customers, the more you are looking to collaborate freely with your partners, their trust, and yours, become essential to success,” Biltz added.
Another development Accenture identified is that software will become a core competency in the business world. The consulting firm sees a shift from the use of complex software systems to modular applications, mimicking what is happening in the consumer world. Analysts at Accenture believe that IT professionals should not strive for a single “holy grail” of software platforms, because it does not exist. A single platform will not be able to handle every business requirement. As a result, companies will need to turn to hybrid solutions.
Unfortunately for IT professionals, this development does not mean that their jobs will get simpler any time soon. “Complexity will continue to rise,” acknowledged Bhatnagar. “Architecting for what you need and how you stitch the mosaic of technologies together is going to be ever more important.” He foresees a new breed of IT professionals who will meet this need. “True enterprise architects who understand the business needs behind what is to be delivered are going to be in more demand,” he stated. “They will need to convert the business vision into a technical reality while keeping the user experience clean.”
The final development Accenture identified is a more resilient architecture. Companies must support non-stop demands on their IT systems. Failure and outages can damage a brand’s value. Cybercrime is one threat to which firms must pay attention. Not everyone in the C-suite understands the need to protect against such security risks, though. How can IT professionals overcome resistance to allocating resources towards protecting vulnerable infrastructure?
Biltz offered suggestions about how to frame the conversation. “It starts with turning the discussion into away from a set of technology threats into discussion of how to cost effectively managing security risks,” Biltz noted. He urged CIOs and IT professionals to emphasize that events such as data breaches cost the brand’s reputation and trust. Biltz also sees a mindset shift underway. “This attitude towards security will also begin to change as the CIO is able to get the rest of the C-suite to look at technology as not just the purview of the CIO, but rather a core competency for every part of the business,” he remarked.
Bhatnagar also believes a transformation is about to take place, but it has less to do with mindset and more to do with the changing role of IT. “As IT becomes a key business driver, and inseparable from the business strategy, business leaders will begin to 1) have a better understanding of the technology itself, as well as its it security limitations and 2) as IT becomes more critical to their business, security will become, not a business driver, but rather a business enabler to help manage the inherent increased risk that poor IT security becomes as success and failure of the company relies more and more on the success of its technology,” he said.