What will the technology year 2018 look like?

We summarised some of the technology trends affecting companies and their networks in 2018. For the review, we read various reports and articles and discussed the theme with Finnish technology experts.

1. The EU Data Protection Regulation takes companies by surprise

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will take effect in May. Despite all the fanfare, it will probably sneak up on many companies. We forecast slight panic for the beginning of the year, because the GDPR will bring about profound changes in data use in the entire EU area.

The research company Forrester estimates, that up to 80 per cent of companies will not implement the GDPR. The GDPR requires, among other things, that a customer can easily and quickly get a hold of their personal data stored in any register. A customer also has the right to be forgotten, and the data must be easy to transfer between different data systems. Businesses are naturally worried about the fine issued for a breach of GDPR, which, at its maximum, can reach up to EUR20 million or 4 % of turnover, whichever is greater. 

2. Cloud edge is a hot new topic 

The research company Gartner estimates that the number of devices connected to the Internet of Things will rise to 11.2 billion this year. According to Gartner, in 2020  the number will reach 20.4 billion. The explosive growth in the number of devices will also change the handling of data. For example, a car connected to the network cannot transfer traffic-related data to the cloud for decision-making; instead, the calculations and decisions must be made within the device. That’s when the cloud edge expands to devices.

The expansion of the cloud edge poses new challenges to companies’ data security. For companies, a centralised view of the network is more important than ever. 

3. Mobility as a Service

In Helsinki, such a thing already exists: a monthly-paid travel service, which includes unlimited use of public transport, cheap taxi rides and affordable car rentals. Different types of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) solutions will gain popularity this year, as IoT-solutions in transport are becoming more common. 

The development has been boosted by the modernisation of transport regulations to better fit the new IoT era. The MaaS services entering the market will affect, for example, the recruitment of experts, as they can now be offered employer-subsidised MaaS for commuting. 

One of the most visible changes in transport in Finland is  the deregulation of transport by taxis. As a result, Uber, among others, will return to Finnish streets. 

4. Blockchain affects all IT solutions

Blockchain technology will have an effect on all IT solutions. Currently, for example, the Rotterdam harbour hosts a knowledge centre that investigates blockchain technology applications in the logistics field. Similar projects are underway in many fields. In Finland, the government is also exploring the opportunities afforded by blockchain. 

The research firm IDC predicts that by the year 2020, 25 per cent of banks operating globally, 30 per cent of manufacturing and retail companies and 20 per cent of health care organisations will use blockchain networks in their production. The research company Gartner, on the other hand, estimates that the added value generated by blockchain technology to companies will rise to USD176 billion by 2025.

5. 3D printing takes a big leap 

3D printing already exists in the lives of many families: some Finnish children have been introduced to 3D printing at school or the library. The prices of 3D printers have decreased rapidly, the most affordable models costing a few hundred euros.  

Gartner predicts, that this year, 3D printing will begin to change companies’ revenue models. 3D printing will affect the manufacturing industry and the production of spare parts. While in the past, a company would produce all its spare parts in one factory, in the future, this production may be spread out to where the customers are. This can have a drastic effect on the profitability calculations related to a factory investment. 

6. Digitalisation of staff training

This year, more and more companies will organise online staff training, supported by face-to-face training days. Money and ease are big incentives for companies for choosing online training. Large companies save travel days and expenses and stay up-to-date on the progress of training. Online training is easier for the staff, as they can participate in training wherever they are. 

Udemy, which organises online staff training, predicts that this year’s trends include learning experiences personalised by artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as gamification. Udemy also estimates that the drop in prices will increase the role of virtual and augmented reality in staff training. 

7. VR and AR – who collects the pot? 

Everyone is talking about virtual reality (VR) ja and augmented reality (AR). Early adopters are buzzing about VR, but we still haven’t seen a VR product hit the mass market. In Finland, the network connections are ready for everyday AR use, but the technology, such as VR glasses, is currently too expensive to have mainstream appeal. 

VR and AR offer enormous opportunities for companies. They can utilise VR and AR in training personnel, maintaining equipment and creating a better customer experience, among other things. The Finnish company Collaprime, for example, offers companies communications solutions utilising VR.

Consumer content will also diversify. This year, the company behind the hit game Pokémon Go, Niantic, is launching the augmented reality game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Sports, especially, are brimming with commercial potential, as virtual reality takes watching sports on your couch to a whole new level. 

8. Digital detox – simple becomes sexy

The debate on the influence of mobile devices on the human brain and concentration heats up. Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya added fuel to the fire by stating that social media is ripping apart society. In an interview with the Guardian, Palihapitiya said that he doesn’t use social media and won’t allow his children to use it either. 

More and more employees want to read less work notifications outside working hours. Various application management methods are being examined as a possible solution for this. Concentration is a key topic of discussion at workplaces and in occupational health care. 

Another novelty on the market is the Kickstarter-funded Light phone, which is connected to a user’s smartphone. The credit-card-sized Light phone uses the same phone number as the smart phone and is meant for placing and receiving traditional calls only. Phones have become such an integral part of people’s lives that very few are willing to give up their phone completely for even a day. However, these types of simple devices offer a break from the stream of push notifications.

9. Biometric identification enters the workplace

Biometric identification, i.e., identification by using fingerprints or facial recognition, for example, is quickly becoming a feature of consumer devices. Many are already paying at the grocery store with their fingerprints or opening their phones with a mere glance. 

In 2018, biometric identification will enter the workplace. Biometric identification enables employers to reduce risks posed by employees’ own devices and, on the other hand, establish a two-phase identification process based on fingerprints. 

On the whole, data security will be discussed in 2018, as much, if not more, than in previous years. Instead of technical firewalls, attention will be paid to company processes and improving users’ security-related skills.

10. Chatbots speak Finnish 

Chatbots, which until now have spoken mostly English, are starting to speak Finnish as well. Many Finns are already using chatbots, whether they know it or not, although there aren’t many Finnish-speaking chatbots yet. 

Probably the most popular platform will be Facebook’s Messenger, which is already used by a considerable number of Finns. However, there is still much refining to be done. Many chatbots focus more on entertainment than utility, and it is likely that the implementation of Finnish services will be a rocky road. 

The research firm Gartner predicts that by 2021, more than 50 per cent of companies will spend more money on bots and chatbots than on developing downloadable apps. 

11. Nanosatellites cause fluctuations in the world markets

The data provided by statistical offices and forecasters has traditionally served as fuel to the stock and commodity markets. In the future, more and more investment decisions will be made based on data generated by nanosatellites, especially in the commodity markets. Satellite technology has become so much cheaper that the world can now be photographed up to every 15 minutes. This enables, for example, the assessment of crops from space, which provides extremely valuable information for the commodity futures market. In the future, the market may possess more accurate information on the coming crop than the farmers themselves. 

One threat to this scenario is the vast amount of space debris already existing in the orbit. The movements of space debris are difficult predict, which creates its own challenges for satellite-based data solutions. 

12. Business Intelligence for SMEs 

Big data is becoming concrete for Finnish companies in 2018. Finnish SMEs, especially, are increasingly turning to business intelligence services which, to a growing degree, operate conveniently in a cloud. For Finnish companies, big data will become concrete in the form of proactive analytics, which companies can use to react flexibly to spikes in demand, so as not to lose sales. 

Prices will decrease across the board, and services will become accessible to more and more people. Big trends include visuality and transparency of data for all the employees of a company. 

13. Artificial intelligence becomes a reality

In Finland, the debate on artificial intelligence has become polarised in recent years: AI will either destroy or save us – and nothing in between. 

This year, AI will become a reality for many of us. Workplaces will discover that AI is the dreaded robot, albeit without the human form. Many will be glad to see a decrease in routine tasks, as this will free up time for more challenging problem-solving.

14.    Talking to devices – can Siri find your webstore?

More and more people will be talking to their devices, as services, such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, find their way into Finnish homes. Online shops are starting to think about how their range can be found by voice search. 

Amazon reported that after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, their best-selling product in the US was the Echo Dot voice assistant. Purchase paths are still complicated, but voice shopping is definitely on its way, and companies are beginning to plan for it. 

15.    The next phase of platform economy – will the giants win big?

Facebook and Google continue to dominate platforms, as, for example, more and more retailers are taking their customer service to the Facebook Messenger platform. Many chatbots serving Finnish companies will be on Facebook Messenger. Facebook and Google will continue grabbing advertising euros from the national media. 

The big question is, what is happening on the Finnish platform front. How is, for example, Wolt’s international expansion going? Which platform will host MaaS-services? What share of Finnish taxi and ride sharing business will go to Uber? Will the social welfare and healthcare reform bring about a new domestic platform innovation? 

Download the full trend review 2018 including three expert interviews. Inka Mero, Nina Nissilä and Kim Väisänen each discuss an interesting technology trend [link]