Predicting the business of technology
Image Credit: Gulf News

Technology can have a profound influence on the way we live, work and play. But in many ways it is also a conduit to allow us the user to express our creativity, and do the things we need to do more effectively.

Equally important in moulding new technologies and services is how people use these tools. As technology continues to become an extension of ourselves, we have developed a symbiotic relationship with our devices. This in turn is shaping how technology evolves.

Almost everyone now has a smartphone and as governments build and upgrade network infrastructure, access to reliable internet is becoming a reality for even the most disadvantaged communities. The power of cloud-based computing is everywhere and we use it with our apps for shopping, consuming media, social media and connecting with loved ones.

Although not an exact science, by looking at trends we can make some educated predictions on what to expect from technology during 2020 and beyond.

* New internet infrastructure

Digital transformation is taxing today’s internet infrastructure to its breaking point, and we’re about to hit an innovation barrier. We need to develop an internet for the future.

By 2030 there will be 49 billion devices connected to the internet. Over the next decade we will see the emergence and development of a range of technologies, from virtual and augmented reality, to 16K streaming, AI, 5G, 10G, quantum computing, adaptive and predictive cybersecurity, autonomous vehicles and intelligent IOT.

Perhaps just as important are the applications and technologies that haven’t yet been thought of.

These future generations of applications will drive requirements and complexity beyond the capabilities current internet infrastructure can viably support. We need to rethink and reinvent the infrastructure of the internet. We need to make it faster, more scalable, more economical, and simpler to manage and secure.

Cisco has recently announced its plan for building the internet for the next decade of digital innovation. The core of this strategy is based on development investments in silicon, optics, and software that will allow us to meet this future head-on.

* Application loyalty is new brand loyalty

Business is more reliant than ever on the use of digital technology to interact with customers. It is essential that whether it is via an app or a website, it is vital that businesses offer an easy and pleasant experience from the first instant.

According to the latest findings of the AppDynamics App Attention Index, the use of digital services has evolved to become an unconscious human behaviour — a “digital reflex”. In the past, consumers used to make a conscious decision to use a digital service to carry out a task or activity. Today, the majority admit that digital services are intrinsic to their daily lives.

Our research shows that people will quickly turn their back on brands whose apps do not offer a premium experience. In the event of performance issues, consumers will turn to the competition or actively discourage others from using a service or brand, without even giving the business a chance to make improvements.

Therefore, businesses need to pay attention to consumers’ zero-tolerance for anything other than an easy, fast and exceptional digital experience. This will make the ability to analyse data on application performance in real-time of critical importance, to find bottlenecks and enable immediate action.

* Threat hunting, zero trust and co-innovation in cybersecurity

At a time when cybercrime has grown to such an extent that it costs economies three times more than natural disasters globally, the demands on security are constantly growing. Reactive security, largely addressing problems only as they begin impacting systems, is not enough. Organisations need to live with the new reality around “zero trust” and get ahead of the threats.

The original Zero Trust model, conceived by Forrester, is based on the principle that organisations do not trust anything inside or outside their network perimeter. Access is only granted to authorised users, devices and workloads after establishing trust and preventing threats — all without a decline in the user experience. This approach may become almost ubiquitous in the coming years.

In addition, “threat hunting” will play an increasingly large role in organisations’ holistic security postures. While traditional approaches typically respond to alerts after detecting potentially harmful activity, threat hunting goes beyond known dangers and analyses the unknown.

The goal is to discover new, as-yet unknown malware and vulnerabilities. Even if no malware is detected, it will often identify vulnerabilities that require new policies.

* The journey towards intent-based networks

Today, the network plays a critical role in re-imagining applications, securing data, transforming infrastructure and empowering teams.

In recent years, discussions in the industry have revolved around the role of software-defined networks (SDN) as an important next phase of network’s evolution. SDN brings many advantages, including centralised management and security, flexibility and reduced operating costs.

We don’t see SDN as an end-stage, rather an important step in the necessary journey of networking infrastructures towards true intent-based networking (IBN) systems that use AI and Machine Learning to anticipate actions, detect and resolve anomalies automatically, stop security threats in their tracks, and which continue to evolve and learn.

Shortage of skilled IT talent

IT as a sector is facing an acute shortage of talented professionals who also have business skills. This shortfall is the main challenge IT leaders are facing today. In a Cisco survey of 600 IT and business decision makers, 93 per cent claim to have a talent gap so serious that it slows their business’ transformation.

The nature of the type of role that is in demand is also evolving. It comes as little surprise that roles related to obvious growth areas, such as data science and AI, are in increasingly high demand.

However, to meet the needs of today’s businesses, IT needs to change the mindset of “order takers” and become strategic business partners. That means changing the day-to-day roles of IT workers from configuring devices to using technology to solve business problems.

Companies that were successful in their business transformation efforts showed a general preference for retraining IT for business skills, over hiring or outsourcing, thus preserving knowledge of the organisation its culture, and its values.

It will be fascinating to see how technology develops in the coming months and years and I look forward to seeing what we got right or wrong.

Osama Al-Zoubi is Cisco’s CTO for Middle East and Africa.