By Tim Wood, Executive Head – IS & IT at Vox

Mark Twain reportedly once said: “Never make predictions, especially about the future.” The world of technology is awash with predictions, and these excite and scare us in equal measure.

Some predictions have lived to haunt those who made them, such as CEO of Intel, Andrew Grove, as quoted by the New York Times in 1992 saying: “…the idea of a wireless personal computer in every pocket is ‘a pipe dream driven by greed’”.

Another, made in 1998 by Professor Emeritus at Princeton University Paul Krugman reads: “The growth of the internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in Metcalfe’s Law – which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants – becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.”

While we reflect on these predictions, we should also acknowledge that driverless cars, augmented reality, Internet of Things, mass data and a host of other technological advancements were all predicted in various guises before they occurred.

Another well-known saying is that forecasts reveal more about the forecaster than the future – and in my case, I believe in technology’s potential to add value to our lives and businesses. And so, as we look at technology trends for 2022 and beyond, it’s important to do so to the backdrop of exciting innovations globally that will improve lives and businesses, while acknowledging the reality of our South African context.

Many businesses are stretched, electricity security continues to be a concern, cybercrime is on the rise and specialised IT skills are in short supply and come at a premium. This means many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are likely to continue contracting outsourced IT service providers to bolster their IT teams, where they will be able to take advantage of IT audits, support on cloud strategies, pen tests to find cybersecurity weaknesses in their organisation, and desktop support, among a host of other functions.

Let’s get back to the future. While much of the global technology commentary going into 2022 and beyond won’t necessarily be of immediate concern to local businesses and their budgeting teams, there are a number of ways local businesses can start dipping their toes into new technology.

The big five global technology themes for 2022 and beyond.

  1. Artificial Intelligence

AI tools are embedded into many widely used cloud services and this will continue to grow exponentially over the next few years as the technology is embraced by service vendors.  Some of these are natively part of the core offering, such as spam filtering, credit scoring, anti-malware and fraud detection, while others are being offered as additional add-on modules that come with hefty price tags.  As competition between the service providers grows, AI technology will increasingly be embedded into the core service offering and will no longer be seen as a separately licensable add-on.  As with the evolution of all technology over time, it will become more affordable to adopt.

How can South African businesses benefit?  Position your business to take advantage of cloud service offerings as the AI toolset becomes part of mainstream applications. If you want to start dabbling with AI technology, have a look at available functional software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings such as lead forecasting or cybersecurity threat detection. If you are interested in internal development projects, consider the API web services available from the cloud super vendors (Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure).

Choose a project that will turn the dial and start prepping relevant data because clean, organised data will be key to success. Remain focused on practical implementation to solve real business problems.

Hang tight, before you know it, South Africa will have driverless taxis overtaking on yellow lines and cutting in front of us!

2. Internet of Things

Telemetry and SCADA devices have been around forever so what is different heading into 2022? The world is more connected than ever with massive volumes of data being generated every second of the day.  IOT device proliferation (including wearables), advances in connectivity, storage and processing capability backed by advances in AI and machine learning have transformed what is possible.

How can local businesses take advantage of IoT in SA today? In its simplest terms an IOT environment takes a data feed from a monitored data source and triggers appropriate workflows based on predetermined triggers. Identify areas of your business that could benefit from this level of insight and automation.

Integration into CRM, ERP or other business applications can enrich the data feed and provide improved insights and customer experience management capability.

Areas where businesses could benefit would be asset tracking with geo-fencing capability to generate an alert if the asset leaves a demarcated area, or security monitoring including license plate, biometric monitoring and facial recognition.

However, cybercrime means that security and defence mechanisms must be paramount in any IoT strategy.

3. Quantum computing

When the technology becomes commercially available it will completely revolutionise what is possible but it won’t be troubling local IT manager budgets in 2022. However, businesses that are positioned to leverage cloud services will benefit first when the technology arrives.

4. 5G

5G rollout will progress steadily but coverage will continue to be patchy over 2022. The technology holds a lot of promise, as it will take South Africa another stride forward in mobile connectivity but we will need to wait a little longer for it to completely change our world.

It will provide another weapon in the IT manager’s arsenal and can provide alternative permanent or temporary connectivity and redundancy options to mainstream fibre. In time, it will further enable the mobile workforce and a work from anywhere model.

5. Blockchain and Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

Blockchain technology fuelled the rise of cryptocurrency and continues to find application across the cyber landscape.  Its immutable, or unalterable, nature, secure architecture and global transparency make it a compelling technology for tracking digital transactions.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are growing in popularity as a way of uniquely identifying digital assets (movies, videos, photos) and representing ownership in the digital world. Content creators are able to make their creations available to a global market, retain ownership and earn royalties through this mechanism.  As an example, Adobe is adding a “Prepare for NFT” (Content Credentials) option to their Photoshop software.

Business use cases that could leverage this technology include:

    1.  Identification and certification of documents such as ID or passport
    2. User identity management
    3. Domain name ownership
    4. Real estate (virtual and physical)
    5. Supply chain tracking