Very Enterprising Tech Trends for 2018 - Mobile & More!

Fast Mobile Society PrognosticatorMy last blog post, “The Successful Enterprise Mobility Deployment – Setting Goals & Measuring Results,” focused on real world issues that any enterprise needs to get a strong handle on in order to know that mobile strategies are well-implemented and – more importantly – delivering productive and valuable results. As the business world of 2017 draws to a close it is the right time to shift gears a bit and take a look ahead to what your business needs to prepare for in 2018. If a company has done its mobile planning and implementations well there isn’t much that will catch that business by surprise – and I certainly believe that following the recommendations provided in my most recent blog post series puts your company squarely in that position.

In this post I will highlight trends that are moving towards real and larger scale enterprise implementation in 2018. What I find interesting is that many of these technology trends not only lend themselves to being managed by a Managed Mobile Services (MMS) partner but in fact will require it for successful implementation and ongoing operations.

Mobile technology continues to move forward at a rapid pace, but it’s “guise” as an actual device users carry will begin to change. Sure, we’ll always have our mobile devices, and the earlier blog posts in this series speak to them directly – nothing here changes in 2018, aside from moving to Apple’s FaceID and whatever Samsung has up its sleeve for the Galaxy S9 that will likely be announced in late February 2018. But there are plenty of new and different devices to think about.

Before getting into details here is my trends list for 2018 that I believe will see large scale implementation:

  • Wearable Technology
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
  • Machine Learning
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Cybersecurity and Cyber-attacks
  • Mobile Security – Unified Endpoint Management (UEM)
  • Unlocked Phones and eSims
  • Automated Mobile Workforce Support and Self Service
  • Bitcoin and Blockchain (a bonus trend/prediction!)

Some of these trends are co-dependent. For example, cyber-attacks will become far more prevalent as mobile access points into enterprise networks increase exponentially through IoT and wearable technology. Automated service support will grow based on the combined growing market penetration of machine learning, virtual reality and the first real stages of artificial intelligence (AI). The one sure constant in all of this is a fast proliferation of enterprise options for deployment, implementation, ongoing maintenance and upgrade cycles and workforce support.

Wearable Technology in the Enterprise

Wearable technology has, for the most part, been driven by consumer and personal use, typically in the form of Fitbits and Apple Watch kinds of tech. More prevalent in the enterprise has been the use of such devices as eye wear from Epson and Vuzix, which make use of augmented reality to visually enhance the physical, existing workplace, and devices with dedicated functionality for specific work environments, such as retail shop floors and healthcare provider ecosystems. I’ve been covering wearable tech since 2012 and aside from a lot of consumer hype, enterprise use outside of healthcare has been slow to take off. But I am predicting that 2018 is the enterprise inflection point year for the technology. Look for a major explosion of use everywhere in the enterprise, from the retail shop to the manufacturing floor and all points in between.

Internet of Things (for real)

IoT has long risen past the point of buzzword status. From the early days of serving as simple field-based machine to machine (M2M) alerting devices (e.g. sense a predefined temperature range and issue an alert to a human via a low bandwidth network such as 2G) we now have complex tools that are able to communicate directly not only with other IoT devices but with entire systems of devices that in many cases generate their own actions and workflows based on real time and real world conditions.

As with wearable tech hardware – all of which can be considered IoT devices in their own right, IoT device penetration will explode in 2018. Enterprises will create many dynamic operations that will become business-critical on a 24 hour, seven day a week basis. These devices, networks of devices and systems of interactive devices will also generate big data on a massive scale that in turn will feed machine learning systems (more on this shortly).

Augmented and Virtual Reality

It’s important to understand the difference between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – the former literally “augments” existing environments, while the latter creates environments that do not actually exist (even though they may be based on real environments). AR’s first real use in the enterprise dates back to 2013 as a wearable device – that is, the eye wear was more important than the rudimentary underlying apps supporting the devices.

Today we have IoT-enhanced access to the work place that adds substantial information to the apps used with the eye wear and related tech such as sensor-enabled gloves. An example of a particularly useful AR application is its use in guiding medical technicians – utilizing AR eye wear with built-in infrared capabilities – to locate real veins in real arms for intravenous applications. Hospitals have seen tremendous IV productivity improvements here that also deliver enhanced patient satisfaction. This example scratches the surface of what will be created in 2018.

Virtual reality creates virtual spaces and images that do not actually exist, and allow users to interact with those systems. This of course plays enormously well for consumer gaming but the real money in VR will be found in enterprise use – especially in IoT-driven environments, where the combination of IoT sensor information and VR-driven environments will simplify field-based repairs, demonstrate for technicians different exploded parts of a complex system or machine, and allow them to make repairs or other modifications as needed. There have been rudimentary wearable tech-driven systems available for doing such things since 2012 or so (Motorola was a first driver) but VR now benefits from visuals provided through sophisticated head-mounted displays and sensors that provide near-real experiences virtually. 2018 will only see the first of these systems emerge but think of it as the year the VR trend begins.

Machine Learning

A misnomer of sorts, “machine” learning is really about extracting valuable and actionable business information from big data stores that in turn helps enterprises to automate a variety of service- and sales-related business processes. In 2018 we will see businesses aggressively develop and ramp up automated advisors and assistants that can both receive calls and proactively initiate calls, delivered with near-human interactive capabilities. For the most part these efforts will center on reducing the enormous amounts of “routine” and common things the human workforce currently handles. The chief productivity goal is to free up the workforce to focus on more important and personalized things that go beyond routine and common towards achieving high levels of customer satisfaction.

From an IoT perspective, machine learning-based automated advisers will take advantage of the data being reported ongoing from the field and be able to determine when service calls are necessary and when parts need to be replaced in complicated machinery (e.g. high speed elevators in skyscrapers) – ahead of actual failure. 2018 will bring major new efforts in creating standards for infrastructure and machinery maintenance and support – with the goal of driving productivity up and significantly reducing the costs of doing business.

Artificial Intelligence

In 2017 we spent an entire year following the AI hiring practices and M&A activity of the major tech vendors. To be sure, it was all about hiring engineers and scientists with expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) or buying companies focused on AI. Meanwhile, IBM spent 2017 pushing the term “cognitive” across all of its technology platforms – by which it means delivering capabilities that begin to “think” for themselves. Whereas machine learning is about extracting valuable intelligence based on real world info and facts and reacting to them, AI begins to address understanding the potential interconnections between our ever expanding base of knowledge.

Machine learning uses data extraction and correlations to tell us that a part is due to be replaced. AI will tell us why that part is likely to need replacing, what the likely causes of the wear on a part might be, and offer some “thoughts” on reducing that wear. Machine learning will tell you what your next chess move should be based on data and brute force. AI will tell you the rules of the game based on actually self-divining the rules and behaviors of the game and elegantly determining moves without brute force.

I’ll leave it at that – there isn’t much more I can say here. But in 2018 we will see the first real world AI implementations that from a business perspective will begin to provide recommendations for solving business problems rather than merely eliminating routine and repeated processes from requiring human interactions.

Cyber-attacks and Cybersecurity

Unfortunately and sadly 2018 is going to see a significant uptick in cyber-attacks. We heard a great deal in 2017 about large scale attacks against major companies (think Equifax) – some of them on a global scale. My own concern however lies in the ability of hackers and cyber evil-doers to attack any business, and especially SMBs with limited tech resources – something that can easily destroy those companies. The proliferation of mobile and IoT devices ups the hacking ante and creates myriad opportunities to get inside networks, and in 2018 the counter-trend must be to become super-vigilant about such attacks.

Mobile Security – Unified Endpoint Management (UEM)

A year never goes by where mobile security does not deliver a new acronym, and 2017 was no different. Unified endpoint management – UEM – is the new mobile security buzzword de jour. In 2018 however, UEM will evolve from buzzword to stand operating procedure. The proliferation of user mobile hardware, wearable technology and IoT devices will require any business to extend their MDM or EMM platforms to provide a comprehensive and cohesive strategy for managing this collective set of endpoints. Still hanging on to that old 2010 era MDM solution? 2018 will require any business to finally upgrade to UEM.

eSims and Unlocked Phones

I need to underscore that in 2018 we will see a proliferation of unlocked mobile phones specifically in the US market. This will be driven in good part by subsidies that are now beginning to dry up and that will likely completely disappear. This isn’t a problem but an opportunity and avenue to cost-effective hardware acquisition and related short and long term financial planning around device procurement.

In 2018 we will also see eSIM technology go mainstream. This means that it will become much easier to electronically switch mobile devices from one telco to another, with no physical access necessary. Telco operator automation will become available simply by utilizing their platform APIs. This is another opportunity but one that will only become viable through having a detailed understanding of the efforts that will be required to take advantage of it.

Automated Mobile Workforce Support and Self Service

It will be virtually impossible to operate a business in 2018 – regardless of size – without implementing some form of automated workforce support, whether directly or through a reliable mobile partner. The proliferation of machine learning services as well as automated advisors and assistants will demand that businesses deliver automated support and services. As unlocked mobile phones and eSims become prevalent in 2018 the sheer diversity of hardware will overwhelm any human-driven system in the form of greatly wasted workforce time.

The clear warning message in 2017 as the US economy revs up is that businesses are already finding it difficult to land new workers with the skills and training necessary to operate in today’s business world. In particular businesses need to be very aware of maintaining high levels of workforce satisfaction in 2018 as a competitive advantage. Failure to do so will drive competitive disadvantages and workforce defections to those businesses that provide those high levels of satisfaction.

Bitcoin and Blockchain – A Prediction

In my very humble opinion the cryptocurrency Bitcoin is in the midst of a “massively massive” bubble that can only be compared to the Dutch Tulip Bulb mania of the mid-1600s. A Bitcoin is literally nothing more than an entry in a ledger. To be sure there has to be some “mathematical mining” to uncover a legitimate Bitcoin entry, and future Bitcoins (the total number of which are finite in number) become harder and harder to uncover (that is, to mine) and require tremendous amounts of expensive super computing power. I am very interested to see quantum computing applied to Bitcoin mining – it may reduce the value of Bitcoins to pennies). Yes, something is worth anything a market will bear at any given point, but sooner than later those ascribing a value of $17,000 (or more!) to a Bitcoin (that is, an entry ion a ledger) today will be in for a very rude awakening.

The real importance of Bitcoin, and the reason I mention it is that the underlying blockchain technology that secures the entire Bitcoin ecosystem is the real gold in the Bitcoin mania. Blockchain offers a deep level of both security and transparency that can be used to protect transactions as well as the ownership and provenance of actual things (such as diamonds, or say mobile devices) – essentially anything. I mention it as a bonus trend here because I am anticipating – no, I am predicting – that we will see the introduction in 2018 of blockchain-based mobile security. Major companies with global reach – such as IBM – are already heavily invested in blockchain and are working to drive the technology into every aspect of business. The first mobile security vendor on the blockchain block will show up in 2018 – that is my prediction and I’m sticking with it.

These Trends Require…An MMS Partner

I ran over my allotted space for this blog post five 2018 trends ago, but before I sign off I need to point out that every trend coming our way in 2018 will either encompass huge numbers of devices, huge amounts of data, or numerous ways to deploy the value derived from those devices and data. Keep in mind that developing implementation and deployment plans for wearable tech, the myriad new mobile devices coming our way (especially from an eSim perspective) and the roughly 2 gazillion IoT devices that will be deployed in 2018 will all require the same levels of planning and operational requirements that I have focused on in detail over the course of this blog series.

I highly recommend going back and reading those posts over again, this time with the context of our 2018 trends in hand as you read through them. From an enterprise management perspective, staying ahead of the trends, ahead of the devices – whatever category of device they might be, and ahead of the deployment, provisioning, replacement and decommissioning of hardware and applications, and ahead of whatever wireless networks and telco contracts that will be needed is a bottom line requirement for business success in 2018.

The right MMS partner will help get your business successfully to the end of 2018 and prepare you for our 2019 mobile trends post!

About Tony Rizzo

Tony Rizzo joined Blue Hill Research following a 20 month stint heading up TMC's enterprise mobility and wearable technology coverage. Prior to TMC Tony spent several years within the mobile vendor community. Before his journey into the vendor community Tony spent five years as the Director of Mobile Research for research analyst firm The 451 Group, covering all aspects of enterprise mobility. There he lived through both the early and later stages of both consumer and enterprise mobility and the first stages of the BYOD enterprise mobility consumerization phenomenon following the release of the original iPhone. Tony has served as the Editor in Chief of Mobile Enterprise, Internet World, as the Editorial Director of an Ernst & Young Financial Services Web Advisory project, as the Editor in Chief of NetGuide (the first Internet magazine), as a founding editor and Editor of Network Computing Magazine, and as the founding Technical Editor of Microsoft Systems Journal. Prior to moving into tech journalism, research and analysis, Tony served as the Assistant Director for Information Technology at New York University's School of Continuing and Business Education, delivering extensive computer technology training programs.
Posted on December 21, 2017 by Tony Rizzo

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