One of my favorite things as a research analyst for CompTIA is having the chance to test theories out in the wild, to see how practitioners are really using emerging technology. Being the emcee for the Future Trends track at ChannelCon 2019 was a perfect opportunity, since the sessions in this track were built for a dual audience: IT professionals and business of technology professionals. By including both of these perspectives, the discussions highlighted the full range of issues involved with staying on the cutting edge of technology.
In 2019, the tone of the conversation was somewhat different than previous years. After several years of defining trends and describing early use cases, the attention has shifted to real adoption. For the track’s opening session, I moderated the State of Emerging Tech Trends panel with three industry leaders who each brought a different take to the challenges involved with emerging technology. Rob Rae, vice president of business development at Datto, had the viewpoint of a vendor working with a growing ecosystem of partners. Dave Sobel, senior director of MSP evangelism at Solarwinds, saw things through the eyes of partners or IT pros who are currently building technical solutions. And Maddy Martin, head of growth and innovation at Smith.ai, shared how businesses need to change their mindset in order to deal with the onslaught of new technology.
The Focus on Emerging Technology
More than ever before, companies are scanning the horizon to find the next big thing that will differentiate them from the competition, which is driving interest in a wide range of technologies. Using the example of drones, Rae pointed out that a trend originally appearing in the consumer space now holds serious potential for profit. Sobel added that this abundance of technological choice has led to a demand for a systematic approach. It’s not reasonable for a company to try everything out there, and it’s not tenable to wait on the sidelines for the best options to emerge.
Ultimately, Martin described the transformation taking place as one that affects the whole company, not just the IT team. “We think about how things are evolving and so much that is happening, because there could be completely new business models that are emerging,” said Martin. Early discovery of new technology and rapid integration into business processes will lead to completely new ways of serving customers.
This lines up with CompTIA’s research on cloud computing and digital organizations. We’ve found that the reason for such high interest in emerging technologies is that businesses are becoming more strategic with IT. They don’t just want to migrate old operations into new models. They want to expand operations by using the new toys.
Why Emerging Technologies Aren’t ‘Taking Off’
Additional data from our research shows that the needle hasn’t moved much for any of the technologies in the top 10 list built by CompTIA’s Emerging Technology Community. None of the panelists were surprised by this, and the second half of the discussion zeroed in on some of the reasons for slow adoption.
According to Martin, one complication is that many new technologies are actually adding to the standard technology stack rather than replacing old components. “We’re facing our normal experience with technology and stacking new technology on top of it, and that handoff is where that risk [of failed adoption] actually exists,” she said. It may be simple for a business unit to procure a new application, but making that application valuable requires integration with all the existing systems, and this is where technical expertise is still needed.
Sobel agreed that emerging technologies added complexity. “Not everyone is going to use everything, and that is very much where we’re going to see matching the right technology to the right solution,” he said. The complexity goes beyond matching individual pieces to unique problems. In today’s IT, solutions are made of many pieces working together, and understanding all the pieces allows the right tradeoffs to be made for the best solution stack.
Especially with so much new technology popping up in the consumer arena, IT professionals are often asked to bring new features into the enterprise. Describing the massive differences between consumer and enterprise, along with explaining societal implications that are just starting to be understood, are two areas where IT workers and solution providers can take the lead on education and long-term benefit.
Profit is the Key to Emerging Technology Adoption
Eventually, Rae brought the discussion full circle. After initially pointing out that emerging technology may hold potential for profit, he said that finding that profit remains the key objective. “People get excited and want to be on the cutting edge, but the big piece is how are we going to make money doing this,” Rae said.
This ties into one last finding from CompTIA’s research: Calculating ROI for emerging technology is very different from calculating ROI for established technology, where improvements can be directly mapped to operations. For emerging technology, there must be more of a business case, which may involve projections and analysis that have not traditionally been part of technology purchases.
The panel met my goal of validating CompTIA’s research against real-world experience, and it also provided attendees with general approaches that can help accelerate adoption. But for everything that we covered, we barely scratched the surface. Emerging technology comes with its own set of challenges. In order to become more digitally enabled, companies will need to build appropriate skills, create effective workflows, and consider unintended consequences for the new technologies they want to implement.
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