In its 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, research firm Gartner highlighted the technologies that enterprises need to leverage to become a digital business — the fifth stage in Gartner's progression of business era models.
According to Gartner, digital business "focuses on the convergence of people, business and things. The Internet of Things and the concept of blurring the physical and virtual worlds are strong concepts in this stage. Physical assets become digitalized and become equal actors in the business value chain alongside already-digital entities, such as systems and apps."
Here are some of the emerging, disruptive technologies Gartner recommends for enterprises striving to become digital:
- Digital security
- Smart workplace
- Wearable interfaces
- M2M communication services
- 3D scanners
As Gartner defines it, "Skinput provides a new input technique based on bioacoustic sensing technology that allows the skin to be used as a finger input surface." Tapping your skin in various places creates distinct acoustic signals, which sensing devices can pick up. The software can process differences based on bone density, size, and effects produced by soft tissues and joints. "Interactive capabilities can be linked to different locations on the body."
Skinput is a 21st century approach to the classic computing notion of input. From the beginning, input/output has been essential to computer operation. The developing technology is related to wearable tech and similar interfaces that use the human body as a component of the whole system. The developers of skinput at Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft produced a pico projector armband that displays the interface on a user's hand or forearm. Chris Harrison of Carnegie Mellon envisions a device the size of a small stack of coins with the functionality of an iPhone.
By the end of 2017, Gartner predicts that more than 20% of businesses will have digital security services based on, and influenced by, the Internet of Things technology. The firm expects there will be 26 billion networked devices by 2020 — an increase from 0.9 billion in 2009. (Cisco's estimate is 50 billion.) Further, Gartner projects the total economic value-add from IoT will reach $1.9 trillion by 2020, with 80% of revenue coming from IoT-related services. The industries initially seeing the largest value-add will be manufacturing, healthcare, insurance, and banking and securities, which will then spread to other sectors.
"The power of an Internet of Things device to change the state of environments in and of itself will cause chief information security officers (CISOs) to redefine the scope of their security efforts beyond present responsibilities," said Earl Perkins, research vice president at Gartner. "The requirements for securing the IoT will be complex, forcing CISOs to use a blend of approaches from mobile and cloud architectures, combined with industrial control, automation and physical security."
Gartner defines a high performance workplace, or smart workplace, as a "physical or virtual environment designed to make workers as effective as possible in supporting business goals and providing value," which results from "continually balancing investment in people, process, physical environment and technology, to measurably enhance the ability of workers to learn, discover, innovate, team and lead, and to achieve efficiency and financial benefit."
One example is the alliance that visual analytics company Pentaho announced in 2013 with Splunk, a provider of a machine data platform. Christened "Pentaho Business Analytics for Splunk Enterprise," the joint solution allows business users to quickly visualize and generate insights from machine data using in-house skills.
"The bi-directional integration lets business users access, explore, analyze and visualize machine data to extract real, actionable information," said Eddie White, EVP, business development at Pentaho.
Splunk connects to RDBMS, Hadoop, NoSQL, and enterprise application data, and Pentaho helps it access more traditional, structured data. Users can export machine data from Splunk or import data through Pentaho into Splunk's software to enhance context. The Splunk Enterprise reporting and visualization capabilities are extended with Pentaho's self-serve/ad-hoc business analytics capabilities.
Wearable computers and their interfaces, according to Gartner, are "designed to be worn on the body, such as a wrist-mounted screen or head-mounted display, to enable mobility and hands-free/eyes-free activities. Traditional uses are for mobile industrial inspection, maintenance and the military. Consumer uses include display peripherals, computer-ready clothing and smart fabrics."
Gartner cites the SixthSense technology developed at MIT, a gestural interface device that projects digital information onto real-world objects and locations. SixthSense refers to the extra information supplied by a wearable computer, such as the device called WuW (Wear yoUr World). Invented by Pranav Mistry, it's built on the Telepointer — a neck-worn projector and camera setup developed by Steve Mann when he was a student in the MIT Media Lab.
Cryptocurrency is a "type of digital currency that uses cryptography for security and anti-counterfeiting measures." Public and private keys can be used to transfer cryptocurrency between individuals. It is a "fiat" currency, meaning that users must reach a consensus about a given cryptocurrency's value for use as an exchange medium. Cryptocurrencies are not tied to a particular country nor controlled by a central bank. The prime example is Bitcoin, launched in 2009, the value of which is determined by market supply and demand, similar to precious metals like silver and gold.
Gavin Andresen, Bitcoin's technical lead, told Forbes.com that cryptocurrency is meant to create a "decentralized currency of the people," taking central banks out of the equation. As a result, law enforcement and payment processors have no jurisdiction over Bitcoin transactions and accounts. Supporters argue that this anonymity is a primary benefit of the technology, notwithstanding the potential for illegal uses.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that ex-SEC chairman (1993-2001) Arthur Levitt is joining the advisory boards of two Bitcoin companies: BitPay, a payment processor, and Vaurum, a Palo Alto-based exchange for institutional investors. "The intellectual firepower behind (Bitcoin) enterprises is astonishing," Levitt said. But based on his SEC background, he said that "in terms of compliance and regulations, they are relatively immature."
M2M communication services
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications are used for automated data transmission between mechanical or electronic devices. Gartner says the elements of an M2M system are "field-deployed wireless devices with embedded sensors" or "RFID-Wireless communication networks with complementary wireline access." These can include "cellular communication, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, WiMAX, wireless LAN (WLAN), generic DSL (xDSL), and fiber to the x (FTTx)."
M2M communication is an application of the Internet of Things. One example is remote monitoring in product restocking: a connected vending machine that can inform a distributor when a given item is running low. Other relevant functions include warehouse management, robotics, traffic control, logistics, and supply chain management.
Gartner describes a three-dimensional scanner as "a device that captures data about the shape and appearance of real-world objects to create 3D models of them. 3D scanners for consumer use are low-cost, easy-to-operate devices that provide basic scan, capture and export of 3D images."
Different technologies have been used to build 3D scanning devices. Applications of 3D data include the production of movies and video games, industrial design, orthotics and prosthetics, reverse engineering, prototyping, and quality control and inspection. The global 3D scanning market is projected to grow 14% per year from 2013 through 2018. The dominant manufacturers at present are Creaform, Faro Technologies, Konica Minolta, and Surphaser.
Note: This article is featured in our Executive's guide to strategic tech planning: 2015 and beyond (free ebook).
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Brian Taylor is a contributing writer for TechRepublic. He covers the tech trends, solutions, risks, and research that IT leaders need to know about, from startups to the enterprise. Technology is creating a new world, and he loves to report on it.