This is the time of the year when we all look at the future. What’s coming? Early this year, I wrote a blog entry with the same title, or nearly. I highlighted 5 key topics for the year. Now, as we are reaching December, I looked back at what I wrote and frankly things haven’t changed that much. I’m standing by my five topics.

The Digital Enterprise.

2015 saw the rise of Uber, and associated with it a lot of controversy. But Uber is only an epi-phenomenon of a wider trend. IT is percolating the business as increasingly all we do is supported by IT. As I pointed out in a previous blog entry, the Uber model brings with it two things. On the one hand, the whole business is supported by digital technology, on the other it develops a service broker business model focused on service providers and service consumers. This is one example of a fully digital economy. AirBNB, another example of this digital economy, has more rooms to offer than many hotel chains. Amazon is opening a new store called Amazon Go, without need for cashiers. Look for yourself. Think about it, for the consumer it is a second to none experience. You’re probably willing to pay a little extra for no queues and cahiers. But have you thought that during your presence in the store, Amazon is recording all your movements, understanding which products you are looking for, how you behave in front of the shelf, which products make you hesitate etc. This information is the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) nirvana. So, I would be astonished if Amazon is not commercializing this information and making an extra buck on your data. It’s a great experience of digital enterprise.

Does that mean you either develop a fully digital business, looking at all aspects of how to improve the customer experience and monetizing the information gathered along the transactions, or you will be overtaken? Depends on the industry. But what is certain is that an increasing amount of business processes are getting digitally enabled. So, we are going back to business process re-engineering, but this time by digitally supporting specific business process steps. This brings IT right in the middle of the business, forcing IT to be as agile and responsive as the business, making IT the backbone of the enterprise.

One question that remains open at the moment is whether, due to the increased digital savviness of the younger generation, it still makes sense to separate business and IT. In other words, do we still need an IT department? Do we still need a CIO? In my mind, the very existence of a separate IT department and its role compared to business units will be at the center of many discussions in 2016. And we’ll take the time to discuss that in more details on this blog.

DevOps

I hesitated to put DevOps on this list till I realized there has been a lot of discussions regarding DevOps over the last 18 months, but only a small amount of companies are truly doing DevOps these days. Actually an adjacent term is now starting to pop up. It’s Robotic Process Automation or RPA. Agile is getting a more standard practice, but the automation part is only in its early days, particularly deployment automation.

In line with what I stated above, I’d rather go for BusDevOps, as I feel DevOps is still very IT oriented. If IT wants to respond to the business at the pace of the business it needs to be tightly integrated with the business. Agile tries to do this by delivering biweekly sprints, but in the same way as DevOps is all about the working together of development and operations people, the BusDev part should be about coordination between business and IT people to enable the responsiveness to the changing business opportunities. Again, this enables the debate about the separation between business and IT.

More and more tools are becoming available to enable DevOps, but that is not really the issue. How to transform the way of working and the mentality of the teams will be at the center of the discussions. Like with Agile, DevOps brings with it a different way of working, a transformation from craftsmanship to industrialization. How can we get the organization transitioning through this evolution in a simple and cost effective way? That is at the core of the DevOps revolution. Last year I shared with you an integrated Agile/DevOps maturity model. It probably needs to be complemented with a business-IT integration element, but demonstrates how to evolve through the maturity levels.

The Internet of Things

We all have something to say about the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is at the top of Gartner’s emerging technologies hype curve for 2015, which meant it was going to resolve everything… or nearly. In the 2016 one it has disappeared and seems to have been replaced by IoT Platform which is in the innovation section. Was IoT a meteor?  On a more serious note, IoT will stand and fall with the use cases it manages to develop. I strongly believe in IoT based healthcare monitoring allowing patients to stay at home, in control of remote systems (which by the way is nothing new), in self-driving cars but does that mean we will all walk around with 5 or 10 sensors? Frankly I do not believe so.

Over the latest holiday period I tested one of my smartphone’s healthcare application. What did I learn? Well, my heart is beating slow compared to my age average. I’m not doing enough exercise, but then I did not have my phone on me all the time. Oh yes, it drained by battery so I ended up without phone more than once.

Sure, I could have bought a wrist based sensor. But would it have taught me something else? Not sure actually.

IoT covers an extremely large spectrum of sensors and devices. Not all will survive, I can assure you that. Autonomous vehicles, which is in the same location in the hype curve mentioned above, is based on IoT, but it is not tomorrow we all will be driven from A to B in driverless cars. Devices that can make cars safer are definitely an added value, so here again, the use case will make the difference. Let’s hope that 2016 will be the year where we focus on use cases that truly make sense. It would be better to have a small amount of them reaching maturity rather than continue going in all directions.

Complete Data Overload

Big data is not a new subject, but we’re reaching a point where most of us are in complete data overload. And IoT I described above will only add data to the mix. This will bring with it a number of elements that ultimately will have to be addressed:

· How to move and store all this data in a central place?

· How to analyze the data and gain insights, knowing a fear amount of it is unstructured?

· How to visualize the data?

· How to secure the data and ensure privacy is not at risk?

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I believe we have to look differently at big data in the future. The changes in regulations, in particular the end of “Safe Harbour” is forcing global enterprises to rethink their data approaches. 2016 will be a year of re-thinking and coming up with alternative approaches to the all centralized model. This is why big data will be a hot topic.

Artificial Intelligence and robots

Last but far from least, artificial intelligence (AI) and robots will be central to many discussions. Are they a good thing? Are they a threat for the human race? . The debate continued with Mark Zuckerberg’s personal challenge for 2016. But at the contrary of what I said, it seems to have slowed down in 2016. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have interesting prototypes going on. How sustainable are these? That remains to be seen.

Sure, AI and robots may remove a lot of dangerous and repetitive work, but at the same time, could they take over control as HAL nearly did in 2001 Space Odyssey? This is what Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and others warn for. The question is open, but we know the world’s inability to coop with such issues. So, believe it, this topic will continue being discussed in 2016. You may love Terminator and The Matrix, but I’m sure you would not like living in such environment.

Plenty of hot topics

These are my five hot topics, going from exciting new ways of running a business to fundamental questions on the survival of our specie. What are you thinking? Will these topics flourish this year. Or do you see others popping up?