Software will change in 2020. But let’s be clear about this i.e. software changes every year, every month, every week and in some cases every day. Cloud-centric software platform companies have the ability to change, tweak, tune, update and augment the functionality of different parts of their software suite 10 times a day (or more) if they want to.
What we really mean is, there will be a number of defining shifts shaping the software industry throughout 2020... and this is traditionally the time of year when people try to comment on the shape of things to come. This then, if not a completely exhaustive list, is an attempt to pinpoint some of the major trends for the year ahead.
Like it or not, the tech industry won’t get tired of using the term digital transformation in 2020. Meant to convey the shift to cloud services, mobile, big data analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and all manner of non-analog work processes that can be digitized (the clue is in the name), calls for digital transformation will be sung from the conference hall rafters by over-caffeinated keynote speakers in nicely pressed trousers who will continue to tell us that they’re ‘super-excited about being better-empowered’ by new digital platforms.
What we might get, if Santa thinks we’ve really been nice and not naughty, is a degree of clarification into some of the more interesting mechanics behind the way software will be ‘transformed’ built and used as we go into 2020.
As we have alluded to already on Forbes, among the key trends driving software usage at the moment are initiatives focused on automation, abstraction and autonomy. New levels of automation will come from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) that will alleviate some of the chores associated with human work functions that we have always been used to performing; abstraction layers will simplify technology through easy-to-use interfaces that allow more non-technical users to enact deeper computing functions that were previously the sole preserve of programmers and developers; and autonomy will provide self-healing, self-provisioning, self-repairing and self-starting functions to our computer systems.
We still have to be there at our keyboards (and turn up to work, even if we work at home), but we won’t have to shoulder as much of the ‘grunt’ work that we did in the past — and the work that we do perform can now feature higher-grade precision-engineered technology tools, even if we didn’t study computer science at college.
Chief evangelist at Robotic Process Automation (RPA) company UiPath is Guy Kirkwood. Pointing to the world economic climate outlook for 2020, Kirkwood suggests that the global economic downturn will encourage automation adoption... and that education institutions will increasing feature AI and automation practices into their curricula.
“As organizations face the realities of working in an economic downturn, they are more likely to adapt their business models with automation rather than lay off employees. With automation available, they can scale up [software] ‘robots’ rather than scale down human employee numbers in practical operations terms. For organizations that have already introduced an automation-first mindset, the economic downturn will be an opportunity to transform and benefit their businesses, shareholders and employees,” said UiPath’s Kirkwood.
But automation and AI won’t just tell us when our smart toaster needs cleaning or help to file expense reports automatically, it could turn the corner and start to create code itself and write at least a proportion of our software programs for us — or at least fix their internal health so that they run properly.
“Automation is now seeing a peak and we expect to see this continue to grow in 2020. While the use of automation is set to grow next year, we are also likely to see those who are already implementing automation tools in the software development process to go beyond this and find new ways to create code itself. With the recent introduction of applying AI to development, by creating thousands of unit tests in a number of hours, for example, it’s clear that AI has huge potential to increase productivity. Next year, we are likely to see coding becoming increasingly AI-assisted, and as a result, developers will continue to have the freedom to spend more time on the innovative tasks that only humans can do,” said Mathew Lodge, CEO of Diffblue, a company that specializes in building an exact mathematical model of a software code base to enable to deep semantic understanding of what a programme is trying to do.
So what other software trends can we pinpoint for 2020 and beyond?
CEO of open source database company InfluxData is Evan Kaplan. Insisting that there will be a significant increase in the software industry’s focus on time-stamped data, Kaplan points out that the massive expansion in the Internet of Things (IoT) and the growing trend for software instrumentation will put an increased focus on time series data in 2020. This use of time-stamped data (metadata that tells us when data itself was created) will be increasingly used to help drive business decisions.
“Smart cars and Internet-connected machines are starting to produce huge volumes of time-stamped data that companies need to collect and analyze, while new software monitoring and measuring strategies have created enormous logs of events that need similar treatment. These trends account for the largest portion of data growth today – and the data from these sources always has a core element of time that is crucial to any meaningful analysis. Many enterprises will realize they need a specific strategy for time series data to glean the full value of their business potential,” said InfluxData’s Kaplan.
Looking again at more granular trends, 2020 could be the year when voice (as a user interface) comes to the fore. Senior VP of global marketing at mobile workforce management and service optimization ClickSoftware is Paul Whitelam. We’ve had speech recognition software in its more rudimentary forms since the 1970s, but Whitelam thinks it could be one of the next user-level paradigm shifts.
“Voice capabilities can empower multitasking, collaboration and other efficiencies such as note-taking, calling headquarters, activating a case, accessing job repair histories, or searching a database — all without stepping away from the task at hand. Field service organisations willing to get ahead by investing in these voice-activated tools now, will win big in the long run,” said Whitelam.
If the tech industry starts talking about Voice Interface Management Empowerment (VIME, not a real acronym, that’s just made up for amusement), or some other tagline, then you’ll know that voice interfaces are enjoying a resurgence.
Certainly, a defining trend for 2019 has been the popularization of the term user and employee experience. This notion has been so widely used that the capitalization convention has even shifted to the second letter to give us eXperience - so that we can talk about User eXperience (UX) with a neater sounding acronym.
Alongside eXperience management, we find the technology skills shortage, which many commentators suggest will only become more prevalent in 2020. Despite the rise of low-code no-code software platforms designed to allow anyone (i.e. business users) to create software, the general agreement is that we don’t have enough techies in the right roles.
“As companies discuss the importance of data in their organizations, they’ll need to hire the data, AI and cloud engineers to architect it. But there aren’t enough engineers who have expertise in these technologies to do that. This ‘super-power’ skill is the ability to understand data, structured and unstructured... and pick the right approach to analyze it. Until the knowledge gap closes, we’ll continue to see a shortage of these types of engineers - many companies will come up short on their promises of ‘data-everywhere’ today,” said Haoyuan Li, founder and CTO of Alluxio, a company that specializes in data orchestration for analytics and machine learning in the cloud.
Additionally here — and with just a little tongue-in-cheek cheekiness - 2020 will be the year of 20:20 software. At the time of writing, no software vendor appears to have used the number of the year ahead to attempt to position its software as holistically 20:20 vision enabled.
As something of a summary trend in this discussion, we can perhaps suggest that 2020 will be the year that enterprise organizations stop referring to their IT department, their IT division, their company database or even their data stack.
Those terms are (arguably) now becoming increasingly obsolete because firms are now realizing that their business operates on what is often now referred to as a ‘data fabric’ i.e. an interwoven cloth made up of many software and data threads that come in many colors, strengths, thicknesses, textures and types.
Some of the threads in the data fabric will be carefully defined accurately graded pieces of material cut to length (core operational data); some will be fuzzy and straggly pieces of cord with split ends and weaknesses (unstructured data coming in from unmanaged information sources); some will be synthetic threads (created by Artificial Intelligence - sorry, the analogy was too good to miss); and some will be hybrid elastane polymer combinations of all of the above (if you will, the Lycra of the software and data universe) that come together to produce our final patchwork quilt.
Whether we fully turn the corner on any of these 2020 software suggestions remains to be seen — we’ll certainly be having a similar (or at least closely related) conversation next December, but at least now we have a fabric layer to stay warm in for the holidays.
This article originally appeared on Forbes Magazine