Digital transformation is a phrase of the moment in technology. It’s all Microsoft’s fault. If they had half a chance to shoehorn it into an article or a keynote they took it. I actually really like the term, in the complete comprehension that this time next year everyone will probably have had enough of it. It speaks directly to the way that things are beginning to get done. Technology has gone from a supporting role in business to having its name up in lights – fully taking centre stage as organisations look to remain competitive in an uncertain post-Brexit and post-Obama world.

 

So the question remains – which names exactly will be up in lights during 2017? Which areas of technology are the ones to lean into? Here are our thoughts for digital transformation trends the year ahead.

 

A nod to the four ‘megatrends’

Although it sounds like the kind of word I would make up, I can’t take the (dis)credit for ‘megatrends’ (sorry). Any praise or abuse should be directed squarely at the Harvard Business Review. This hyperbole is lifted from their ‘digital transformation in business’ report that was launched in partnership with Microsoft this year. They decided to base their 537 interviews with senior managers in public and private sector on four areas of technology transformation: Cloud, Social, Big Data and Mobile. We’re not going to talk about these too much in this article, as they were done to death in ‘top trends’ blog posts 2 or 3 years ago. It’s interesting to note however that the Harvard Business Review data shows that the impact digital transformation is having on the way both businesses and people operate seems to be growing in significance year-on-year. We can probably learn a little bit about this in our consideration of some of the more emergent trends covered in this article. Early pioneers pave the way and as confidence builds through knowledge sharing more and more organisations start to apply these transformation tactics to their own business.

 

Anyway, on we go to ‘trendier’ trends.

 

Blockchain

The least ‘sexy’ of all of the trends, but probably the most important – blockchain is a big deal. Not least because cyber security costs UK businesses £34bn a year. It’s felt to offer great potential in reducing fraud and improving the efficiency of many different services for organisations in both the public and private sector. Most widely known as being the technology that powers the internet cryptocurrency Bitcoin, there’s a real buzz around blockchain currently.

 

As one of the more emerging areas of tech, it might be worth (trying) to explain in simple terms what blockchain is. Here goes…

 

A blockchain is a collection of records arranged in blocks that use cryptographic security to connect together as a sequence. Each block can identify the block before it using a hashing function, creating a chain (blockchain – it does exactly what it says on the tin).

 

It can be simpler to think about it as a database designed with validation. The key thing to note is that the blocks are not stored in a master location or administered by any particular organisation: it’s distributed. It exists on lots of servers at the same time, so anyone can keep a copy of the overall ledger.

 

The system created for validation is super-secure. Over 25 years on since Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta introduced the technology to the world and it has proven to be an extremely secure technology. Historic details are preserved forever and new details are added without option.

 

As a new kid on the block, some organisations are blazing a trail right from the front. There are more than 40 top financial services businesses and a seemingly ever-expanding queue of other blue-chip organisations experimenting with the technology.

 

There are some Government projects in Europe already too. Sweden’s land registry system is currently trialling the technology as way to streamline the process of acquiring new property or land (anyone who has sold a house in the UK can probably testify as to how much of a good idea this sounds in principle).

 

Suffice to say there are few other technologies that could be a driver of such significant transformation. I’m really excited about blockchain in 2017.

 

Chatbots

When it comes to digitally transforming customer service delivery, there are few technologies that can be deployed as cheaply and effectively as chatbots.

 

Chatbots have been around for years, living in chatrooms and IRC channels. They’ve gone mainstream now: IBM, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have all started bolstering the ability of chatbots to grow and develop over time with greater levels of language processing capabilities.

 

They’re still in their infancy, but there are companies out there using this channel effectively to transform the way that customer service is delivered. In Higher Education, AdmitHub operate out of the East Coast of the United States and are already working with a number of universities to offer chatbots that help the process of student recruitment. They front-end thousands of chats with potential students each year answering questions about the location, facilities, student support and campus life.

 

You could definitely see UK-based organisations starting to go big on this technology next year. Labour-intensive processes like appointment management in healthcare could all be front ended by chatbots, with humans able to join chats if the query can’t be fully answered by a computer. For the limited number of organisations that have rolled out this type of technology: achieving a 65% rate for bot answer queries is pretty standard a couple of weeks after launch.

 

In healthcare, it’s not only back office operations that are set to be digitally transformed in 2017. Babylon Health, a UK based startup recently showed off showed their digital physician in London. It showed how a patient can report symptoms and interact with a chatbot to help get a diagnosis. Billions of variations and combinations of symptoms are crunched to help get to the bottom of the issue. Realistically, I can’t see 2017 being the year for the clinical breakthrough in healthcare, but we’ll certainly see more organisations – not only those in healthcare – experimenting with how chatbots can be used to improve services in 2017 and beyond.

 

Artificial intelligence

2017 kicks off with a backdrop of major AI news.

 

We want to bring intelligence to everything, to everywhere, and for everyone,” says Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO. And it’s not just the Redmond giant that’s going big on AI.

 

Uber has bought itself a “mysterious AI startup” in a move Wired sees as the beginning as a repositioning to an AI business.

 

Amazon recently launched their AI offering – and Google, well it’s always been a trailblazer in this area.

 

There’s so much going on in AI in so many different areas, it’s going to be hard even for the keenest technology reporter to stay abreast of the latest developments.

 

Transforming service delivery is going to get far more personal than ever. Machine learning will give greater insight into what users, customers, students and patients a at an individual level. We’re already starting to see tonnes of startups in all industries offering AI-powered analytics engines and 2017 will see the actual personalisation element of that really starting to embed.

 

Here are some of the top tools taking off:

 

  • Synap, which offers AI powered individual learning plans for university students.
  • Darktrace uses machine learning to spot patterns and prevent cyberattacks before they happen and looks set to digitally transform the way that terrorism is prevented in 2017.
  • Apixio is on a mission to digitally transform patient care and outcomes using AI.  It takes doctors’ handwritten notes and EPR (Electronic Patient Records) and inputs them into a common format. A machine learning algorithm then compiles insights from the data to allow healthcare organisations to improve care and undoubtedly cut costs.

 

Summary

There’s no doubt that 2017 heralds an exciting time for digital transformation. With a plethora of innovative startups out there building exciting new technologies, and the big tech companies clearly setting their stall out in the direction of future focused technology, it’s an exciting time for all of us. Watch this space!