15 Emerging Technologies To Watch Through 2020

What's In Your IT Portfolio?

IT organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to anticipate their business needs for emerging technologies. A Forrester Research survey found that the number of businesses dissatisfied with their ability to make use of emerging technologies almost doubled between 2012 and 2013. And the research firm thinks that level of dissatisfaction is continuing to grow.

So what new technologies should businesses -- and the solution providers that serve them -- be aware of? Forrester put together this list of 15 emerging technologies to watch through 2020. Four are "business solutions" that enable new ways of doing business, while the rest are in three platform categories: interaction, aggregation and delivery, and infrastructure platforms.

Customer Analytics

Customer analytics solutions help businesses "deeply understand what their customers need and when they need it," according to Forrester. Emerging customer analytics applications "help firms develop a complete contextual view [of their customers] without lots of customer plumbing.

For solution providers, demand for customer analytics technology creates software deployment and configuration opportunities, as well as opportunities in consulting and developing analytical benchmarks -- especially for specific vertical markets.

Digital Experience Solutions

Digital experience systems "offer a cockpit for managing the customer life cycle," Forrester said in its emerging technologies report. They provide "an integrated environment for businesses to manage customers, content, segments and offerings."

Forrester has previously identified more than a dozen critical vendors developing digital experience delivery technologies including Acquia, Adobe, Demandware, Digital River, Hewlett-Packard Autonomy, IBM, OpenText, Oracle and Sitecore.

Customer-Driven Design Solutions

In times past a company might conduct some market research before developing a new product or launching a new service. Today companies must bring customer insight into everything they do in order to be successful. And there are a number of emerging technologies out there to make that happen.

Customer-driven design systems "enable collaborative experience design with customers," according to Forrester. "Experience designers will get a rich environment to learn, test and iterate with more customer input."

Internet Of Things

The Internet of Things will link some 15 billion "smart" devices in 2015, according to an estimate from IDC and Intel, exploding to 200 billion by 2020. Earlier this year Cisco CEO John Chambers said the IoT is a $19 trillion market opportunity.

Internet of Things solutions provide "packaged business processes and integration," Forrester said. "Combining sensors, networks, platforms and integration will accelerate IoT value and speed implementation for specific business scenarios."

Next-Generation Connectivity

The first of three "interaction" platform technologies, next-generation connectivity expands the Internet's reach to "a wide range of new digital endpoints," according to Forrester. "Very low-power wireless technology will expand the types of devices that can connect," Forrester said, while dramatically cutting costs.

Wearable Technology

Wearable technology "creates many new information sources and displays," Forrester said in its report. New gadgets, such as the Apple Watch, "are adding rich info. collection or display on, in and around the body, expanding digital reach," Forrester said.

Wearable technology devices will be an important set of those "new digital endpoints" cited in the previous slide about next-generation connectivity.

Natural User Interfaces

It used to be the only way to communicate with a computer was to type instructions. Tablet devices have made touch a ubiquitous interface, while speech-recognition systems are maturing and devices like Microsoft's Kinect are bringing motion-sensing capabilities to more applications. What's next?

Natural user interfaces "offer new methods for interacting with computing experiences," according to Forrester. "Beyond point, type and touch, people will be able to talk, wink, wave and be tapped" when interacting with information technology.

Real-Time Data Sourcing And Delivery

The first of three emerging "aggregation and delivery technologies" cited by Forrester, real-time data sourcing and delivery systems "bring insights to the point of decision," according to the research firm.

These new technologies will make it possible to collect and integrate data from many disparate sources in real time, vastly improving business decision-making processes. Marketing and operational business units, for example, "will have deeper contextual insight from fresh data for engagement," Forrester said.

Advanced Analytics

What to do with all this data that's being collected and delivered in real time? Advanced analytics technology allows businesses "to cull deeper insight from more data," according to the Forrester report. Analysts and data science teams "will get better and faster at teasing understanding from piles of diverse data."

Business analytics has been one of the fastest growing areas of the IT industry in recent years and has created significant opportunities for many solution providers. Sales of business analytics software from established players such as SAS Institute to upstarts like Tableau reached $37.7 billion last year and are expected to grow almost 10 percent annually to $59.2 billion in 2018, according to IDC. Beyond software, business analytics services such as IBM's Watson are also attracting attention.

Digital Identity Management

Digital identity management technology helps businesses and individuals control IT access across many channels, Forrester said. "Employees and customers will more easily gain access to services they need or want, in line with the dynamic privacy and security concerns of our digital world," according to the Forrester report.

With the bring-your-own-device phenomenon, more workers are demanding access to corporate IT systems and applications through their mobile devices. But that can be a security nightmare for IT management. Enhanced security, including through digital identity management, will be critical.

Software Acceleration Platforms And Tools

Software acceleration platforms and tools help businesses "continuously deliver," according to Forrester. "Firms will experiment with application development and delivery to maximize engagement and value."

While businesses traditionally took a "high-control" approach to application development, that resulted in lengthy cycles to develop new applications or update old ones. Businesses today are adopting new development platforms, tools and methodologies for quickly developing software -- especially customer-facing applications -- to adjust to changing market conditions.

Advanced Silicon Devices

Advanced silicon devices are the first emerging technology in what Forrester identified as emerging infrastructure and context platforms.

Advanced silicon devices offer new levels of computing and energy efficiency, according to Forrester, as well as new types of sensors. "Reductions in silicon device size will enable improvements through 2020, when limits [will] appear," Forrester said.

Software-Defined Infrastructure

Data centers today are general characterized by complex, static physical configurations, incomplete virtualization efforts, and multiple silos of management, according to the analyst firm. The software-defined data center will make use of better virtualization management tools, software-defined networks and converged infrastructure stacks.

Software-defined infrastructure will leverage "abstracted hardware controlled by powerful software" to help businesses create flexible, agile data centers that can rapidly adapt to changing needs, Forrester said.

Cloud Integration Tools

Cloud integration tools will integrate applications and IT management technologies across cloud and on-premise systems, according to Forrester. "Hybrid architectures will become easier to design and operate as these tools take shape."

Critical middleware vendors that provide these integration tools include Dell, IBM, Informatica, Microsoft, MuleSoft, Red Hat, Seeburger, Talend and Tibco Software.

Big Data Management

The total amount of stored digital information worldwide is expected to reach 20,000 exabytes in 2015 and exceed 50,000 exabytes in 2020, according to IDC.

Big data management technology provides a flexible, affordable foundation for deriving insights from huge volumes of information. "Technology managers will embrace this software as the only affordable way to meet business demands for more insight from more data," according to Forrester.

At the core of many big data management efforts is the Apache Hadoop platform and related software from vendors such as Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR Technologies. Big data has also given rise to a new generation of database systems including MongoDB, Couchbase and Cassandra.