Introduction: The kinetic enterprise Tech Trends 2017

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Failure itself is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” Any company competing in today’s rapidly mutating business climate should take Coach Wooden’s wisdom to heart. Seemingly without warning, powerful technology forces give rise to ripe opportunities while simultaneously rendering existing business models obsolete. Just as quickly, customers tailor their expectations to include new channels, products, and modes of engagement. Companies that don’t anticipate and embrace this change may find themselves sinking slowly in its wake.

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The theme of this year’s Tech Trends report is “the kinetic enterprise,” an idea that describes companies that are developing the dexterity and vision required not only to overcome operational inertia but to thrive in a business environment that is, and will remain, in flux.

This is no small task. Though the technology advances we see today embody potential, only a select few may ultimately deliver real value. Indeed, some are more hype than substance. We need to do a better job of sifting through the noise to identify truly groundbreaking innovations that can deliver value. Then we need to act. Passively wondering and waiting are not options. As in Newtonian physics, the task before us is turning energy’s potential into reality.

This is our eighth Tech Trends report. The beauty of following a broad swath of technology advances over time is that amid the incredible pace of change, we can recognize familiar themes. For example, the five macro forces—digital, analytics, cloud, the reimagining of core systems, and the changing role of IT within the enterprise—have remained constant, year after year driving disruption and transformation. Despite the omnipresence of these five forces, enterprise adoption of them continues to vary widely. Some companies are only beginning to explore trends we wrote about in 2010, while others have advanced rapidly along the maturity curve. To the former, arriving late to the party doesn’t necessarily diminish the opportunities you are pursuing. You have the advantage of being able to leverage compounded years of evolution within, say, mobile or analytics without having to work sequentially through the incremental advances represented in our annual Trends reports.

Longtime readers occasionally ask about our hit rate: Of the trends we have examined over the years, how many have actually delivered on the potential we described? Looking back, with much humility, we’re proud that most of our analysis was right on target. For example, in 2014 we recognized cognitive analytics as a potentially powerful trend, which, with all the advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, it turned out to be. We’ve emphasized security and privacy every year, evolving our coverage from examinations of individual trends to embedding cyber and now risk implications into every chapter. In 2010, we highlighted the need to embrace user engagement, and to make human-centered design both a mandate for technology solutions and a critical discipline for next-generation IT shops to nurture.

Yet there were instances in which we were overly ambitious. For example, in 2010 we predicted that asset intelligence—sensors and connected devices—was on the cusp of driving significant disruption. No question we were a few years premature, though we still believe that asset intelligence, aided by new Internet of Things applications, will soon have a major impact. Similarly, in 2012 we recognized the important role digital identities could play in a new economy. The concept was generally there, but we had to wait for a protocol to emerge to set the trend in motion. With the emergence of blockchain, we believe the protocol has arrived and that digital identities may soon become foundational in an emerging trust economy.

Over the past eight years, the only constant has been change. We hope this latest edition of Tech Trends helps your organization understand the changes under way more clearly. And, with a nod to Coach Wooden, we also hope it helps you respond to these changes by creating deliberate plans for turning business potential into kinetic energy.

When the rules of the game are changing, you can’t afford to sit idly on the bench.