The thing about digital transformation trends is that sometimes they move like molasses, and other times they skyrocket in new and unexpected directions. This is what we have to look forward to in 2020. Regardless of technological advancement, however, the most important thing I want you to take away is that culture and customer experience (CX) will be pivotal to any company’s success in 2020. Yes, I’ve been saying it for a while. No, most companies still aren’t heeding the advice, and as a customer, I’m sure you’ve noticed. (We’re talking to you, Sprint… Spectrum… Charter… you get the picture.)
That said, the underpinnings of digital transformation remain the innovation and technology that allow companies to compete, differentiate, and outperform. When it comes to the tech side of digital transformation trends for 2020, some things on the list you’ll recognize from a few years past. Others may take you by surprise—or perhaps, you’ll finally start to take them seriously. Regardless, these are my picks for the digital transformation trends for 2020.
- 5G for You and Me
First things first, yes, we will actually start to use 5G in 2020. For real. Like—seriously. All the big guns like Qualcomm, ATT, Verizon, Nokia, Ericsson are doing their part to make sure this is true. You don’t have to take my word for it. This is going to work exponentially in favor of things like smart car development and other situations where real-time data sensors and connections to the IoT are essential. Thus, the big news here isn’t just for 5G. It’s for the development of other industries that have been waiting on it with bated breath.
On this note, I want to make a short mention of WiFi6. Not to be confused with 5G, WiFi 6 is the next gen of WiFi connectivity, but 5G is the next gen of wireless. They’re not the same, but both will explode next year. On the WiFi 6 side, this means faster connectivity and processing in the workplace, home, and via your entertainment center, rather than remotely connected IoT devices. Merely a point of clarification.
- Analytics are the Competitive Advantage
I’ll say it once: companies that still aren’t investing in analytics by 2020 probably won’t be in business in 2021. There is simply far too much customer insight to be had (and far too much customer experience to improve) from data collection and processing in digital transformation for a company to remain competitive without it. And, the tech industry knows it. That’s why we’re seeing things like Salesforce acquiring Tableau and Microsoft creating its Power Platform. The heavy hitter tech companies are figuring out that the future is in data—most specifically, the real-time processing of it. So regardless of what industry you’re in, make use of data and analytics in 2020.
- AI and Machine Learning Powering #2
Just like 5G is of no value in and of itself, neither is data. If you’re going to invest in analytics, you need to invest in AI and machine learning to be able to process the complex and sophisticated amounts of information and data sets you are collecting. Put it this way: you wouldn’t fill your house with food if you didn’t have the people there to cook it and eat it. The same is true with data and AI. Do not bother investing in data if you won’t also simultaneously invest in AI and machine learning to make it meaningful. As noted above, some of the biggest minds in tech are working to make it easy to do.
- Privacy Renaissance
Thanks in part to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, we’ll be seeing more companies actually paying attention to privacy and security issues in 2020. In fact, many will smartly use privacy and transparency as a brand differentiator, allowing users to opt in or out with greater ease and awareness of the types of information being collected about them. That said, just because it’s smart to jump onboard the privacy train, that doesn’t mean all companies will. Amazon will likely remain mum about the info it’s gaining from Alexa, for instance. Facebook will likely keep stealing everything it can from users—and selling it to the highest bidder. But in all of that, there is tremendous opportunity for companies like Dell, Cisco, HPE to create some real and meaningful structure around privacy to usher us through the ‘20s.
- Blockchain beyond Crypto
I called it last year. Blockchain was a bust for 2019. But coming into 2020, I do believe we’ll finally start to see some meaningful use cases for blockchain beyond cryptocurrency. We know Amazon Web Services is already working hard, as are tons of other global leaders including China’s Alibaba. What’s more, they’re actually putting together real use cases to go along with the technology, especially in terms of intellectual property, royalties, etc. I believe those things will actually take off this coming year.
Everything as a service will gain even more momentum in even the most hardware-driven industries/sectors of technology. As we continue to see the evolution of onsite, off-side, cloud, hybrid, etc., we’ll see “big IT” moving on-premises as-a-Service, as well as big data, analytics, blockchain and more. Yes, basically EVERYTHING will really be available as a service in 2020, and easier than ever before, in whatever form your company requires.
- RPA Craze
I hesitate to list this as an advancement because it’s the simplest form of AI a company can muster. But Robotic Process Automation, as the lowest hanging fruit of AI, will continue to grow. Attended RPA leads the way but as the craze continues and RPA proves itself trustworthy we’ll see unattended pick up steam. Companies like Cisco are also using RPA to help create wiggle room to upskill and augment the skills of their existing workforce. (Smart companies: take note.)
- Conversational AI
I know, Siri still sucks, and it’s still impossible to use voice-to-text to write a chat message. However, I do believe we’ll see at least some form of conversational AI become useful in 2020.
Microsoft Conversational AI is working incredibly hard to build a platform that can not just hear correctly, but follow complex conversations and understand the nuances of emotion all while continuing to improve over time. Will we see it in everyday tech in 2020? Likely no—but I think the foundations of it will be solidified in the coming year.
- ACPC Heats Up
We’re always connected, so we need PCs that are always connected as well. We’ll see an expansion of ACPCs this year with embedded 5G and LTE, and of course we’ll see some smart business partnerships follow suit (Lenovo and Qualcomm comes to mind, but I anticipate more will come out of the woodwork.)
- Driverless Cars, Drones and Smart Cities
Hear me out. I know we’ve been talking about them for years, literally. But I think with edge computing rowing and 5G finally about to burst, we’ll see some developing (finally) in driverless cars, drones, and smart(-ish/-er) cities in digital transformation trends for 2020. Companies like Intel/Nvidia and BMW/Volvo are partnering up (do you sense another theme here?) to bring these new technologies to reality FOR REAL.
Could these digital transformation trends for 2020 change? Absolutely, in the blink of an eye. But I think we’re finally starting to see value shake out from a number of technologies that have been stalling in the past few years. And I’m excited to see where it takes us.
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.