Making some IT predictions

Oct. 11, 2013

Like it or not, trucking is tied at the hip to information technology (IT) of all sorts – from onboard telematics systems on down to ubiquitous “smart phones” almost every driver carriers for both work and personal use.

So when experts in the IT field of endeavor start making predictions as to the kinds of change we’ll experience as such systems evolve, it’s a good opportunity for truckers at least to get a glimpse as to how their operations might be affected.

That’s not to say the good folks at IT consulting and research firm Gartner are infallible; but it does mean that some of the trends they're seeing could significantly impact trucking directly or indirectly over the long term.

OK, then; without any further ado, let’s see what Gartner’s top predictions for IT organizations and IT users are for 2014 and beyond:

The Digital Industrial Revolution — IT is no longer just about the IT function, Gartner said. Instead, IT has become the catalyst for the next phase of innovation in personal and competitive business ecosystems. One place where this is evident is in the beginnings of a "Digital Industrial Revolution" as they call it that threatens to reshape how physical goods are created using 3D printing.

By 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally -- and Gartner thinks at least one major western manufacturer will claim to have had intellectual property (IP) stolen for a mainstream product by thieves using 3D printers who will likely reside in those same western markets rather than in Asia by 2015.

[Think this doesn’t affect trucking? Then imagine a host of truck parts being crafted by 3D scanners. Maybe they work fine … or maybe they don’t.]

The plummeting costs of 3D printers, scanners and 3D modeling technology, combined with improving capabilities, makes the technology for IP theft more accessible to would-be criminals, Gartner warned. Importantly, 3D printers do not have to produce a finished good in order to enable IP theft as the ability to make a wax mold from a scanned object, for instance, can enable the thief to produce large quantities of items that exactly replicate the original, the firm said.

Digital Business — Digital business refers to business created using digital assets and/or capabilities, involving digital products, services and/or customer experiences, and/or conducted through digital channels and communities. Gartner's digital business predictions focus on the effect digital business will have on labor reductions, on consumer goods revenue, and on use of personal data.

While these do not cover the sum total of digital business, they do highlight critical areas of medium to long-term impact, Gartner noted. For example, by 2017, the firm expects more than half of consumer goods manufacturers will receive 75% of their consumer innovation and R&D capabilities from what are known as “crowd-sourced” solutions.

Engineers, scientists, IT professionals and marketers at consumer goods companies are engaging crowds much more aggressively and with increasing frequency using digital channels to reach a larger and more anonymous pool of intellect and opinion. As a result, Gartner sees a massive shift toward applications of crowd-sourcing, enabled by technology, such as: advertising, online communities, scientific problem solving, internal new product ideas, and consumer-created products.

By 2020, the labor reduction effect of digitization will cause social unrest and a quest for new economic models in several mature economies – and Gartner believes a larger scale version of an "Occupy Wall Street"-type movement will begin by the end of 2014, indicating that social unrest will start to foster political debate.

That’s because “digitization” is reducing labor content of services and products in an unprecedented way, thus fundamentally changing the way remuneration is allocated across labor and capital.

Long term, this makes it impossible for increasingly large groups to participate in the traditional economic system — even at lower prices — leading them to look for alternatives such as a bartering-based "sub-society," urging a return to protectionism or resurrecting initiatives like Occupy Wall Street, but on a much larger scale, Gartner warned.

Mature economies will suffer most as they don't have the population growth to increase autonomous demand nor powerful enough labor unions or political parties to (re-)allocate gains in what continues to be a global economy, the firm predicted.

By 2017, Gartner also thinks 80% of consumers will collect, track and barter their personal data for cost savings, convenience and customization – and that escalation of consumer awareness of data collection practices has set the stage for offering consumers more control over the disposition of personal data, collected both online and offline.

The firm believes, though, that as increasing demand and scarcity drives up the value of such data, incentives grow to entice consumers to share it voluntarily. Meanwhile, consumer interest in self-tracking also suggests that consumers are investing more time and energy in collecting data about themselves as people increasingly view such data as a key asset for life improvement, Gartner pointed out, which is potentially consistent with the idea of trading it for value under the right circumstances.

There’s a dark side to all this information sharing, however, as Gartner predicts that by 2020, enterprises and governments will fail to protect 75% of sensitive data, and declassify and grant broad/public access to it. As a result, by 2015, at least one more “Edward Snowden” or WikiLeaks-styled moment will occur, the firm warned, indicating an upward trend in corporations and governments' acceptance that they cannot protect all sensitive information.

This concern is well founded as Gartner noted that the amount of data stored and used by enterprises and governments is growing exponentially, such that any attempt to protect it all is unrealistic. Instead of facing an unfathomable task of protecting all data, enterprises and governments will focus on protecting only a small part of it, but protecting it well. Wider society will also gain from this approach, enabling it to establish better control over government and business, preventing abuses of power and engendering greater trust.

Smart Machines — The emergence of smart machines adds opportunity and fear as "cognizant and cognitive systems" and can enhance processes and decision making, Gartner thinks, yet they could also remove the need for humans in the process and decision effort. As a result, the firm thinks CIOs will see this as a means of delivering greater efficiency, but will have to balance between the active human workforce and the cold efficiency of machines that can learn.

By 2024, at least 10% of activities potentially injurious to human life will require mandatory use of a "smart system" that you can’t override. [Think about that for a minute: a machine you can’t override. I for one don’t like that thought one bit].

Gartner added that the increasing deployment of "smart systems" capable of automatically responding to external events is increasing all the time, but there remains a deep-seated resistance to eliminating the option for human intervention. The capability, reliability and availability of appropriate technology are not the issue; it’s the willingness of the general population to accept initial widespread deployment and increasing removal of manual override options that is the issue. [Dang right about that!]

By 2020, a majority of knowledge worker career paths will be disrupted by smart machines in both positive and negative ways and Gartner further thinks that smart machines will upend a majority of knowledge workers' career paths by 2020.

Smart machines exploit machine learning and deep-learning algorithms, the firm explained, as they behave autonomously, adapting to their environment. They learn from results, create their own rules and seek or request additional data to test hypotheses; they are also able to detect novel situations, often far more quickly and accurately than people. IT professionals need to recognize that smart machines can create substantial competitive advantages, as well as entirely new businesses, Gartner stressed.

As a result, by 2017, Gartner predicts that 10% of computers will be learning rather than processing. Near Term Flag: In 2014, the number of speech recognition applications running on deep neural network algorithms will double.

Deep learning methods, based on deep neural networks, are currently being applied in speech recognition systems as well as some object recognition applications, the firm added, noting that quality of life improves when society is able to derive useful information from the copious amounts of unstructured data collecting in the Internet. The most important implication of a learning computer is that it expands much less energy to recognize more complex patterns.

Internet of Things — This strange term, the “Internet of Things,” is what will cement the connection between machines, people and business interactions in the modern era, Gartner said. With the advent of massively connected devices, businesses, governments and people now have access to more information about themselves and their surroundings than they can actually act on.

Gartner's prediction focuses on the opportunity to build applications and services that can use that information to create new engagement models for customers, employees and partners, and to foster a new set of business and marketing models that make the word "engagement" a truly valuable asset.

Here’s an interesting potential side effect from this “Internet of Things” phenomenon; by 2020, Gartner thinks consumer data collected from wearable devices will drive 5% of sales from the Global 1000 list of companies. The firm also believes the number of smartphone apps requesting to share consumer data will increase twofold by 2015, indicating a rise in the number of marketers or proprietors who seek access to customer profile data.

Wearable computing, or just “wearables,” is quickly moving into mainstream society, led by the growing, multibillion dollar health and fitness markets. Within five years, consumer wearables are [projected to become more sophisticated, capturing what the user sees, hears or even feels through biorhythmic responses.

[Think about trucking for a minute, in terms of monitoring drivers with health issues such as sleep apnea. You might very well find this kind of technology playing a role very soon in dealing with such issues – whether the industry likes it or not.]

Gartner added that the technical hurdles that have stalled the adoption of wearables (battery life, augmented reality, chip evolution and bandwidth) are quickly eroding; opening doors to creative minds determined to exploit this technology for commercial gain as evidenced by sizable investments in wearable technology from Samsung, Google, Apple and Microsoft.

In a word: Whoa. That’s a lot to digest in one sitting. How much of this IT future will really come to pass though? We won’t have long to find out I think. 

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