Today, people and businesses are more reliant than ever on digital innovation to stay connected and assist them in solving both the simple and complex problems. And as many may likely agree, while 2020 has been the year in which digital concepts, processes, and solutions have helped keep the world turning, it has also been the year that their efficiency has been tested more than ever before. As such, we must peer into the future as far as we can in an attempt to better prepare for the next phase in digital evolution and we must do so together.
With most if not all in-person events having been affected by the pandemic, a majority were understandably postponed while others were cancelled outright. However, many virtual iterations of these functions were quickly organised as a means to keep the conversation going, including the Virtual CIO Summit 2020.
Following the event, I started thinking about my own predictions on the future of digital, based on my role as a Chief Information Officer. I was curious about what other C-level execs would be focused on, so I reached out to Endava’s Chief Technology Officer and Chief Digital Officer for their points of view. Interestingly enough, each of us maintain slightly varied outlooks – that’s the nature of making predictions, I suppose – but we all agree on one thing, and that is changes like these in the digital space are inevitable. Here is what we each had to say:
ENDAVA CDO, JUSTIN MARCUCCI
The world has changed drastically over the last six months, and evolution that would have previously taken years — or even decades to occur — is now beginning to happen much more quickly. If the business world has learned one thing in 2020, it’s been that to survive in a state of perpetual uncertainty, your underlying business model has to be built, delivered, and have the ability to operate predominately in a digital environment. Naturally, the businesses that have been fortunate enough to ‘grow up’ in the digital era have the flexibility of customer interaction to exist in a mainly digital mode. Those that scaled in the 20th century (or earlier), however, are in for an interesting road ahead.
I believe that many traditional industries, and the established businesses that exist therein, will dramatically change and expand their business models over the course of the next two years. Understanding the critical necessity of digital interactions, organisations that have relied solely on in-person, high-touch customer interactions, or face-to-face business processes, will develop new digital business lines to insulate their business from market and operational risk.
Moreover, I don’t think these changes will be subtle.
As an example, I expect the airline industry will establish and/or fortify new revenue streams that allow them to extend their transactional relationship with their customers beyond air travel, doubling down on the business lines from bank partnerships and digital loyalty programmes. I think this, along with massive changes in their operational overhead and cost structure, may eventually drive ‘air travel’ into a secondary position on their P&L. Further, even within ‘air travel’ business lines, I think we can expect new digital transactional models, perhaps even something as extreme as annual subscription programmes for established frequent fliers, which will decouple the digital transaction event from the delivery of the service, and will smooth out revenue swings caused by regional travel uncertainty.
Overall, businesses are going to have to look hard at the strengths and weaknesses of their customer relationships and the products and platforms that support those bonds. By identifying which interactions are already digital, which can handle complete digitisation, and which need to be retired, they can evolve beyond the analogue business models that won’t have the flexibility to roll with the punches of an uncertain, and undoubtedly digital future.
ENDAVA CTO, EOIN WOODS
One of the most important trends that is influencing the direction of application software engineering is the move from our software running in our own data centres to being hosted in the cloud. Many years ago, Sun Microsystems coined the memorable phrase ‘the network is the computer’ and now we see the next phase of that journey, as embracing cloud computing means that today we can say that ‘the internet is the system’.
Cloud today is rapidly becoming the standard environment for many software engineers to work in and this means that we must consider building ‘cloud native’ applications rather than relying on the patterns and approaches that have served us well when building on-premises applications. This is trickier than it looks, often affecting many aspects of building software, from scalability to deployment, from security to usability, and even the cost of running our applications.
There is an old maxim, often attributed to the American civil engineer Arthur M. Wellington, that "an engineer can do for a dollar what any fool can do for two". This has never been truer than in the world of cloud computing. The cost of running our applications is something that software engineers have largely been able to ignore over the years. In the cloud this all changes, where quite minor modifications in our application design can result in significant cost implications, meaning that this is another concern for software engineers to be aware of.
Cloud can also change how we build applications, continuing the trend of reusing as much as we can. Open source software has allowed us to reuse huge amounts of proven, sophisticated software in our applications and the cloud extends this trend further, by allowing us to consume entire sophisticated services from within the cloud provider (or beyond) via network APIs. This allows us to rethink what to build and what to reuse and buy and can allow features to be added to applications that would have been impossible a few years ago, such as so-called ‘cognitive’ processing of text data – though again, usually with some cost implications.
So, it is an exciting time to be an application software engineer, as cloud computing reshapes our options and constraints yet again. It offers us flexibility, power, and convenience but means that our future is going to involve building cloud-native applications with Internet-scale quality attributes. Therefore, we will need to learn how to treat runtime cost as a first-class concern and often rethink how we build applications to take advantage of the powerful services available to us through simple network APIs.
ENDAVA CIO, HELENA NIMMO
With the estimated world population growth slowing to a near stand-still in 2100, and with the decline of working age adults, I believe it is the responsibility of every IT leader today to further the conversation on automation. I know looking so far ahead is well outside of our usual planning horizons, but COVID-19 has given us a glimpse of the shallowness of our digital world. Examples can be found across all industries on how reliant we are on humans to bridge breakages in delivering goods and services.
For sixty or so years the ideas of robots doing our work for us and replacing human productivity has been part of the ‘future of work’ predictions. A lot has happened in that time, and for many, work has become more interesting and certainly safer, and with combined population growth the global productivity has increased rapidly.
So how do we as technology leaders contribute to the wider 2100 challenge without trying to boil the ocean? IT underpins many, if not most business processes and daily lives. We hear about the things that work, and equally, what does not work. We need to ensure a balance is maintained in the effort between developing new technologies and updating the heritage, to allow the entire estate to be part of the new digital world. It’s important to emphasise the need for standards in how we integrate and manage our systems and data, and allowing it to flow from system to system, across partners to facilitate the global value chain.
Digital technologies have made this transformation easier. Many organisations are wholly platformed onto cloud-based SaaS solutions, taking advantage of a suite of standards to integrate and grow without the cost and effort of maintaining a large proprietary technology estate.
To truly take on the challenge of automation and tackle the changing global demographic, we need to learn from the digital and technology organisations leading the way. There are those who see standards as something that stifles innovation. To others – me included – they offer the opportunity for entrepreneurs to focus on their uniqueness, scaling up and down when needed. For these organisations, automation is in their DNA, connecting with others and creating a network of digital opportunities globally.
The footprint of technology will continue to increase and there is a need to nurture the growth with automation in a way that allows each organisation and their value chain to deliver their potential.
Obviously, no one can know for sure what’s coming around the bend, particularly in the ever-changing and constantly progressing world of digital. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to not at least consider where we could be headed and plan a course toward our desired destination. Fortunately, industry torchbearers and leading organisations can take part in events to share knowledge and experience, discuss how far we’ve come and talk about the road ahead.
With a vast history of progress supporting us and a wealth of information at our fingertips, we have the tools and technology to help positively influence the present and shape the future relationship between people and technology to serve our best interests on a collective level.