The ‘hard’ tech trends that business mustn’t go soft on

Bombarded by trends-filled keynotes? Here are some you should pay attention to.
10 February 2020

Apple corporation co-founder Stephen Wozniak performs at (another) business conference. Source: Shutterstock

Technology companies love to host guest celebrity speakers at their annual user and customer conferences. It’s a nice diversion from the product roadmap presentations, the deep dive technical sessions and the CEO’s ‘we just love our awesome customers’ keynote.

Some speakers are genuine celebrities. William Shatner is incredibly amusing and is probably the cream of the crop. Obama is truly inspirational, no surprise there. Steve Wozniak turns up almost everywhere and repeatedly talks about how great he was when he was doing stuff with Steve Jobs.

Shaquille O’Neil is great, Ellen DeGeneres is both lovely and funny, Andre Agassi is surprisingly raw and honest and compelling… you get the picture.

Some speakers are less than fully blown celebrities. The lady that swam to Cuba from Florida is clearly brilliant but sitting through her tale of jellyfish and goggle problems for an hour is hard work. Others are equally troublesome, especially when you’ve never actually heard of the celebrity in question. Again… you get the picture.

Analysts & futurists

Knowing that the celeb speaker phenomena can be a hit or miss affair. Many tech firms turn to industry analysts, TED speakers or so-called futurists.

Daniel Burrus is one such futurist, although he calls himself a disruptive innovation expert. If you can get past the cheesiness of his personal tagline, some of what he says is interesting because it points to key tech trends that will shape us throughout the decade to come.

For Burrus, the defining factor that business organizations should look for when attempting to architect their own future comes down to whether they are looking at what he calls either hard trends or soft trends.

Hard & soft tech trends

Taking soft trends first, Burrus explains these as technology innovations that we think might happen. Drone deliveries might fall into this category as of 2020 i.e. they’re just in the prototyping phase. Nano-technology health monitors are on the way, but not quite here yet. Quantum computing is here but isn’t fully consumable for the average company, so again this is (for now, not for long) probably a soft trend.

Hard trends, on the other hand, are based upon future facts that we know are going to happen. Burrus has detailed a handful of hard tech trends that are almost certainly going to shape the way we use technology platforms in the immediate future, so let’s look at a selection of the things we should (in his opinion at least) get most excited about.

Usual suspects

Among the hard trends that are shaping software (and indeed hardware) platforms right now are 3D printing, an increasing amount of data from equipment (the Internet of Things, obviously) and networking virtualization.

As abstract as it is, it is networking virtualization that is perhaps having the most profound effect upon people working in technology, mainly because it puts the old network engineers out of a job.

Many organizations are now adopting networking virtualization because it ‘defines’ the behavior and function of what would have been the network stack based on real hardware, but that hardware is now accessed virtually as a cloud service in a data center. Old school network journalists are finding it tough to get work and it’s the same story for the professional engineers in this space. This is a hard trend that you can bet on.

Advanced cloud

Other hard tech factors that Burrus points to include so-called ‘advanced cloud services’. This is a thorny subject because any search for the term itself throws up a plethora of companies who call themselves something like Advanced Cloud Solutions and so on.

In the real world, well… in the virtual cloud real world, we can suggest that advanced cloud services include highly-fragmented clouds that span multiple global locations yet still stay capable of retaining full integration, resiliency, and uptime… all within the bounds of whatever governance and compliance restrictions they need to adhere to.

In deeper detail, we can also define advanced cloud services as clouds that share infrastructure over a much wider real estate of datacenters. They are also cloud services that are eminently scalable (both upwards and downwards) and are available to the customer on-demand in a variety of different service units that can be paid for on fine-tuned granular by consumption basis i.e. it’s real a la carte pick-and-mix cloud.

Future perfect

So that’s a dip into what one futurist thinks might be the most pertinent hardcore hard trends to look for on the tech road ahead. Is Burrus a guru we should listen to? Well maybe. But there are many like him that specialize in delivering this kind of broad-brush ‘prophesizing’ patter without detailing the guts of what’s inside the platforms about to impact us.

Listen to the futurists for sure but look hard (not soft) into the future with your own eyes too.