The top technologies that enabled digital transformation this decade

These technologies enable enterprises to digitally transform the way people interact with each other and their surroundings.

Digital transformation: A high-level overview for professionals TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox summarizes why digital transformation is key for companies to stay relevant.

As the decade comes to a close, and we think back to the distant times of 2010, it becomes apparent that the 2010s were a decade of unimaginable digital transformation

Google, Amazon, Uber, Facebook, and Twitter are some of the major tech companies that have fundamentally changed society. Groundbreaking innovations have revamped actions like communicating with loved ones, ordering food, or hailing a cab. Backing these transformative platforms are thousands of coders, scientists, and researchers, who spend years building new technologies designed to address any and all human concerns or needs. 

These are some of the technologies that enabled digital transformation since 2010.

SEE: How blockchain will disrupt business (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Cloud computing

The introduction of widespread cloud computing has democratized data collection and increased the capacity of enterprises, allowing companies of any size to forgo the need for costly IT infrastructures and cumbersome maintenance regimens. According to a TechRepublic survey, nearly 70% of companies are either using or considering cloud services

By moving most services to the cloud, businesses can stay nimble and better manage scale than ever before. The lowering prices of cloud computing have led to the rapid growth of "as-a-service" systems that have given smaller companies access to tools that were previously far too costly. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, Microsoft, and Alibaba are the biggest cloud titans battling it out for supremacy over the market. 

With Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) systems all gaining popularity, cloud computing will be one of the defining elements of the next decade. A recent report from Forrester said the public cloud market will reach $411 billion by 2022. The report added that the four leading cloud vendors will generate 75% of the entire $75.4 billion global public cloud infrastructure market.

SEE: More from our Decade in Review series (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Automation and artificial intelligence

Forrester recently said that enterprises across the world are increasingly turning to automation for a variety of tasks that used to be handled by humans. This is changing the workforce on a fundamental level, prompting fears in the next decade of mass job losses

But the field is also making enterprises better in a variety of concrete ways. Dangerous, time-consuming jobs at factories are increasingly being done by an army of robots, keeping people away from positions that have historically been damaging to their health.

This has even bled into other fields like customer service, where many companies now use automated systems to respond to basic questions and complaints from consumers.

Part of what's spurring the increase in automation is the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), which is equipping robots and machines with a wider set of capabilities. Enterprises are using AI for everything from security to human resources, allowing computers to handle tasks that have become costly or redundant. 

While fears of automation and AI are very real, recent studies have shown that people actually like the introduction of automation and are generally happy computers or robots can handle menial tasks.

SEE: Digital Transformation ebook: Guide to becoming a digital transformation champion (TechRepublic Premium)

Smartphones and mobile apps

The last decade has seen an explosion of access to smartphones, bringing whole continents of people onto the web for the first time. The popularity of smartphones has prompted the creation of an entire ecosystem of mobile apps and tools that people now consider integral parts of their lives.

Uber and Lyft have become verbs, while food delivery apps like Seamless and GrubHub are wildly popular. People use apps to regulate and manage every aspect of their lives, using  calendar platforms, workout assistants, and voice memo programs.

Even the way we communicate with each other has changed through our increased smartphone usage. Apps like Signal, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger are the primary mode of communication for billions of people, who send secure text messages, photos, and voice messages across the world in seconds.

Google Maps and other transit apps have made it almost impossible to get lost, with some apps even going so far as to let New Yorkers know what end of the subway to sit for the easiest exit. People can send money to each other, buy movie tickets, and watch their favorite show--all from a device the size of their hand.

There are so many apps emerging that their development has become a running joke for millenials, who regardless of industry, can cite it as a potential source of employment. Expect more of our daily problems to find app-based solutions.

4G and 5G 

4G has become so widespread that people take for granted the fact that wireless internet access is relatively new. 

Mobile operators began rolling out 4G widely around 2012, offering more people download and upload speeds several times faster than 3G. 4G was a game changer because it was faster and more reliable that anything 3G could offer, providing somewhat of a replacement for slow fixed-line broadband; it was also significantly cheaper than 3G.

Coverage steadily increased as the decade rolled along and with the introduction of 5G this year, mobile operators are preparing for even more evolution when a wider rollout begins next year. To give people some idea of the scale of the shift between the two, one analyst compared 4G and 5G to the telegraph industry implementing a staged transition to fax at the end of the 19th century. 

The onset of 4G coincided with the widespread adoption of smartphones and other devices, increasingly making more people mobile in more settings. 

SEE: Mini-glossary: 5G terms you should know (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Internet of Things

The miniaturization of sensors has changed supply chains across the world, allowing for greater information collection and more organized systems. 

Industries like manufacturing and retail have outfitted trucks, storage facilities, and factories with Internet of Things (IoT) devices and other smart tools that can collect information about how they're used and provide insights into how things can be optimized or streamlined.

The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has even become its own field of expertise, allowing companies to collect data on their machines and tools before using machine learning or artificial intelligence to analyze it and provide recommendations.

These systems can even make the workplace safer for employees in some instances, while highlighting places where costs could potentially be reduced. Businesses can study weak spots and see how to limit interruptions in service or catch problems before they crop up. 

As more of the workplace is outfitted with this kind of technology and the tools to analyze data improve, expect companies to find even more avenues to optimize their services. 

SEE: Digital transformation in manufacturing: A guide for business pros (TechRepublic Premium)

Data analytics

The value of our data is becoming more apparent as more countries begin to pass laws regulating how companies collect and share it. But the ability to analyze the troves of data websites and services collect on us has been able to help businesses transform and adapt to the changes of their industry. 

Morgan Stanley recently called the 2010s "the data decade." The improvements in artificial intelligence and machine learning have given enterprises a way to search and sort through data, pulling the most useful insights that can help businesses change with their customers.

Gartner distinguished analyst in Data Analytics & Strategy Douglas Laney said earlier this year that by 2022, 90% of companies will have detailed business plans that "explicitly mention information as a critical enterprise asset and analytics as an essential competency." 

It's easier for enterprises to make sound long-term decisions when leaders are using accurate data that has been analyzed and sorted. Some companies are now looking to data for short-term insights as well, opting for platforms that can give real-time information based on an ever-increasing set of data. 

SEE: America's coolest company: How Big Ass Fans went from cooling cows to a multinational tech powerhouse (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Social media

While Facebook already existed by 2010, the social media industry looks completely different than it did back then, and some of the biggest sites have since emerged. 

Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest all came to fruition after 2010, and both Facebook and Twitter have changed drastically since they first debuted. The numbers are now staggering, with billions of avid users on multiple social media sites across the world sharing their thoughts, photos, and more.

SEE: Facebook data privacy scandal: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

It would be unthinkable to go back in time and explain to people that it is now required for almost all companies and world leaders to have official Twitter and Facebook accounts. Social media has become one of the most important ways for corporations and leaders to communicate with and hear from people, but it has lead to an unprecedented amount of visibility into the whims and moods of the world's most powerful.

While there has been some backlash against social media sites since 2016, user numbers show no signs of decreasing, and the increasing popularization of smartphones will bring billions more online in the next decade.

Blockchain

Blockchain has invaded almost every industry because of its wide applicability to almost any business that needs a more organized supply chain or increase verification. 

After debuting in 2008 as part of cryptocurrency efforts, the distributed ledger technology was quickly spun off into its own field and adopted heavily by the financial industry. For more than five years, banks and financial institutions have used it for everything from smart contracts to the simplification of loan applications. A consortium of banks in Canada have even used the technology to give people more power over the data collected by financial institutions.

In the last two to three years, dozens of industries have begun research into the effectiveness of blockchain, and it has had the greatest impact on supply chains. 

Huge retailers like Walmart and fast food companies like McDonalds now use blockchain to source materials and food.

Brazil recently hired IBM to create a blockchain system that would manage the country's birth and death record system, which had been rife with abuse for decades. 

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