Our R&D focus areas and predictions for 2021

  • Posted on December 1, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes

Back in April, Chris McClean and I made some predictions regarding contract tracing. We started imagining what air travel would look like in September 2020 and reflecting on our predictions, the signals are there that we are onto something, but our timing was off. That’s one of the hardest things about trying to peek into the future, you can observe the signals, but getting the market timing is so difficult. There’s no better example than the story I like to tell about Apple and Sony.

In 1979, Sony’s chairman, Masaru Ibuka traveled frequently, loved music, and carried around Sony’s tape recorder on flights. Those early recorders were heavy and not convenient, so Ibuka had a team focused on making a truly portable player. In 1979, the Walkman was introduced and retained 50% market share 10 years after launch and sold over 400 million Walkman portable music players. Sony kept advancing the Walkman but didn’t create a true digital version until 2004.

In the same Atlantic article cited above, the author highlights how Steve Jobs had an intuition that the mp3 on its own was useless and so Apple waited for several years until the market forces were ready. In October 2001, when Apple announced the iPod, both the mp3s and broadband were in abundance. They timed the market well.

At Avanade, our Emerging Technology team keeps watch over tons of signals we see, distill lots of reports from talking with our clients, evaluating hype cycles and technology predictions to figure out what where we plan to focus our R&D efforts. Next week we’ll be sharing publicly the latest findings of our Emerging Technology Index, a survey of 800+ senior business and technology leaders across eight countries and 40+ technologies. 

What’s important to us is to not get lost in the technology itself but understand the current adoption of the technology at our clients, some of which move quickly and others that are more methodical in their adoption. While we are all looking forward to 2021, it’s our belief that these core technology areas will continue to accelerate adoption across the enterprise.

Digital ethics: Building digital ethics into the enterprise

  •  We continue our multi-year investment in digital ethics, where many companies are finally taking action—some under the rising trend of responsible business. Chris McClean, our global digital ethics lead, will be sharing the latest findings shortly from our digital ethics survey and you’ll be hearing much more from him throughout 2021.

Experiences without boundaries: When devices don’t matter

  • As COVID-19 hit, the pandemic has brought significant challenges that have accelerated technology adoption and changed how we interact with each other day to day. How can we fulfill our desire to still connect with others using technology that delivers experiences across locations and devices? Cristy Stone touched on this briefly last year.
  • We foresee the need for a new type of operating system, one that's not built for any single technology ecosystem but built for and with people as the central nodes of their own ecosystem of experiences. An operating system that allows any experience to flow to any device—experiences without boundaries. It's the next wave of future systems, a form of ambient computing where anything and everything can be a connected device.

Expansion of thinking machines: Systems that can act with limited to no human action or guidance

  • Enterprises are beginning to figure out how to scale machine learning and realize ROI. While this is happening, the capabilities for reinforcement learning are creating new opportunities for autonomous systems. These systems have humans in the loop that safely simulate environments before responding to physical scenarios.
  • As autonomous systems proliferate, there is a stronger need to manage robotic operations. We recently posted our latest thinking on the rise of autonomous service robots in conjunction with the startup Rocos.

Next gen infrastructure: “The network is the computer

  • We want our experiences to be delivered as quickly and locally as possible. We believe that Cloudflare's ambition that the "network is the computer" is correct. There is a space emerging between telecommunications companies and cloud providers that is a new frontier for developers. John Deere has been investing 5G spectrum, expanding their IT systems into new territory. 
  • Computing will be everywhere, and organizations will be able to utilize confidential computing to exchange user data securely for processing and these distributed multi-party systems (smart contracts) will allow experiences to be boundaryless.

The citizen corporation: Unleashing superpowers of workers

  • The democratization of technology is not slowing down. While the low-code/no-code movement initially targeted developers, it's quickly moving to other functional areas like design. It is becoming easier to create and interact with abstract ideas and processes--technology is becoming more of an enabler than an obstacle. 
  • The on-going effect on the enterprise will be profound as business users can create "apps" that connect data across core systems to fuel a new generation of internal enterprise innovation. How to manage the governance of such apps is the new IT headache—much worse than shadow IT.

Bioconvergence: Biological applications across the enterprise

  • The announcements in the last few weeks regarding Pfizer, BioNTech's, and Moderna's COVID vaccines, highlights the advancements of synthetic biology—digitizing genetic manipulation. That means we can program living organisms like we do with computers. 
  • As companies begin to focus on safe ways to return to work, we foresee the combination of biology, machine learning and automation will begin to enter the enterprise. The University of Glasgow recently announced an “affordable desktop-sized robot chemist which is capable of doing the repetitive and time-consuming work of creating chemicals.”

Throughout 2021, we’ll be more open during our R&D processes as we already openly share our R&D work (Chris Lloyd-Jones leads our engineering team). Please do reach out for anyone that wants to collaborate. Over the next year we’ll continue to publish our Trendlines reports and will make these easier to consume in the form of practical guides. Join the conversation and share your thoughts in the comments below, or in a social post tagging us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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