CenturyLink

Gaurav Chand

Give Your Business a Competitive Edge in 2019

As 2019 gets underway, organizations will be looking to realize the benefits of their investments in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and software defined networking (SDN) as part of their digitization strategies.

They’re already collecting dividends from earlier investments in mobile platforms, big data analytics, and private and public/hybrid clouds. Beyond 2019, organizations will be looking at next-step technologies such as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), neural net driven bots and blockchain.

At least 89% of organizations have adopted, or plan to adopt, a digital-first strategy, according to IDG. They are doing so for different reasons but a common priority among half of those companies is to drive worker productivity with mobile tools, access to data and AI-assisted processes.

Organizations are also seeking better data availability and visibility to improve business performance, provide anytime/anywhere access to assets, and use data to understand and meet customer needs.

Transformation takes time, and it’s meant to be an evolution. But while massive sudden changes aren’t on tap, the effects of innovation will be gradual as companies adapt to digital tools already in place, push on cultural change, and prepare to absorb what’s next on the tech front.

AI’s Widening Reach

The primary drivers of digital transformation are to improve processes, accelerate innovation and better address customer needs. AI will play a major role in achieving these goals. AI automation and machine learning algorithms already are helping cybersecurity professionals sift through mindboggling volumes of data to spot threats.

But the technology has innumerable applications, so AI platforms are starting to spread across the enterprise in just about every industry. “It’s becoming an imperative for businesses that want to maintain a competitive edge,” says IDG. Application development is an area of focus, and by 2022 Gartner predicts 40% of new application development will involve AI.

Elsewhere, retailers are using AI and machine learning to capture point of sale (POS) data to refine inventory management and customer promotions, as reported by Forbes. In financial services, AI engines are providing insights about credit cardholders’ payment habits to help card issuers customize interest rates. Manufacturers are using AI for predictive maintenance of production equipment.

IoT Becomes Table Stakes

AI will be working hand in hand with the IoT as companies collect, analyze and act on data insights. As 2019 wears on, the IoT market will see an increase in all-in-one platforms and bundled offerings that make it easier to deploy and manage IoT systems, thereby accelerating adoption.

With IDC predicting that connected devices will exceed 30 billion in 2020, sensors and trackers are being deployed in all kinds of settings. For instance, some construction workers’ hardhats now have trackers that pinpoint worker locations and help keep them out danger. In farming, sensors are being used for pest control and monitoring temperature and humidity, among other things. At the same time, smart city implementations are proliferating.

Much of the real-time processing required by IoT implementations will need to take place at the edge or very close to it, where “mini data centers” will house applications and analytics to make split-second decisions. Racecar teams already use edge computing to monitor various car components, including transmissions, oil levels and tire wear. But it’s a challenge to think every retail store, every street corner or neighborhood will have the resources to house such computation.

Software Defined Networks Provide the Backbone for Innovation

The IoT, AI and the edge will demand efficient, scalable, reliable networks that are easy to manage. Complementing traditional network connections such as MPLS, fiber and Ethernet, SDN will bring new flexibility and manageability to networks. The SDN market is growing at a 29% yearly rate.

Expect to see more organizations adopt SDN and network function virtualization (NFV) in 2019 as they seek to leverage SDN benefits such as on-demand services, task automation and intelligent traffic routing and load balancing.

The U.S. Department of Defense is adopting SDN and NFV for the Defense Research and Engineering Network (DREN), which connects 4,300 scientists at 150 locations, including government laboratories, universities and commercial sites. DREN is part of the DOD’s High Performance Computing Modernization Program. With SDN and NFV in place, the DOD will be able to add new technologies, on-demand services and capacity at a lower cost.

Utilities, meanwhile, are leveraging SDN in their efforts to implement smart grids for better electricity management and distribution.

What to Look for After 2019

The adoption of IoT, cloud and SDN will lay the groundwork for companies to also invest in areas such as VR. It’s already in use for employee onboarding, training and demos, but its reach is sure to grow. The same goes for Augmented Reality (AR). For instance, some retailers are developing high-tech fitting rooms equipped with AR mirrors that allow shoppers to see different colors of the same garment they try on.

Bots are another area of focus. Bots will be used in various settings to help humans make decisions. For instance, chatbots have been getting better and more intuitive to help users find information or complete purchases. Other areas where bots will find employment include healthcare, to help with diagnoses, and sales, to generate and assign leads.

Meanwhile, blockchain is catching the interest of digitization strategists and implementers. A distributed, decentralized ledger allows for cheaper implementation of systems without the need for expensive intermediaries. From supply chain management to currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, blockchain has a lot of potential once computing power catches up to the mining requirements that are currently too power-intensive to be scalable at a worldwide scale.

Several industries, including finance and retail, already use blockchain, and more will follow.  Music streaming service Spotify is investing in the technology to improve connections between artists and rights holders with their tracks on Spotify. In retail, the mobile app Warranteer allows users to manage their product warranties.

Whether blockchain wins over enough supporters to make it viable remains an open question – one which won’t be answered in 2019. But that’s OK because digital transformation implementers will have plenty to keep them busy as they set their sights on AI, IoT and Software-Defined Everything.

Take the next steps to transform your digital business. Join the leaders that are 168% more likely to innovate faster.