A buzzword seldom comes alone, and so online publications, podcasts and the like repeatedly talk about the one big - no, mega - trend of "digitization. But if companies want to profit from the digital transformation in the long term and not miss the proverbial boat, buzzwords must not end up as empty shells in a bookmark list. Instead, digital decision-makers should finally use the 2020s to open all doors and gates in the corporate structure to the so-called megatrend. With the Corona pandemic, it became abundantly clear that the digitalization train will not tolerate delays. Anyone who doesn't get on board now will be left lonely at the track. Or even more concretely: Companies that don't follow the big trends NOW face a bleak future.
So instead of speaking in catchphrases, we should finally start thinking in concrete steps. Talking about a megatrend of digitization may sound appealing, but it masks the full scope of digital transformation at all levels and in all areas of society, business, politics and culture. What digitization-ready companies actually benefit from is a breakdown of the megatrend into its component parts. If we want to fully penetrate the topic of digitization and integrate it into the corporate structure in a target-oriented manner, we should take a closer look at which specific trends result from digitization, namely Big Data, cloud services, artificial intelligence (AI) as well as hyperautomation.
But first the question remains: Is digitization a megatrend at all? Or rather the overarching entity that runs like a thread through the actual megatrends of our time? The answer depends on whom you ask. While the general debate often refers to the "megatrend of digitization" in more colloquial terms, business experts and specialist publications take a somewhat more differentiated view of the situation. After all, there is no such thing as digitization. Rather, it is part of every aspect of our lives - and in its triumphal march it does not stop at the major streams of change of our time. Digitalization is therefore not a megatrend, but rather a building block of all megatrends.
But what actually is a megatrend and how does it differ from short-lived hypes? The term "megatrend" was coined by British futurologist John Naisbitt in 1982. Unlike general trends, such as in the area of consumer goods, which tend to be short-lived and have a life span of a few years, the life expectancy of megatrends usually spans several decades. In addition, megatrends bring about a profound change that runs through all aspects of life. The Zukunftsinstitut defines megatrends this way:
"Megatrends do not need to be "predicted, because they are already here and mark changes that have been shaping us for a long time and will continue to do so for a long time to come. Megatrends are deep currents of change. As development constants of global society, they span several decades. A megatrend affects every individual and encompasses all levels of society: business and politics as well as science, technology and culture. Megatrends change the world - and slowly, but fundamentally and in the long term."
Megatrends therefore have a lasting impact on the way we work, communicate, think, act, in short: live. According to the Zukunftsinstitut, the following twelve megatrends currently exist: gender shift, health, globalization, individualization, connectivity, mobility, neo-ecology, new work, silver society, security, knowledge culture and urbanizattion. All megatrends are based on numerous sub-trends. And it is precisely here that it becomes clear that digitization has long been a thread running through all current and future change processes. The "Internet of Things" sub-trend, for example, is part of the connectivity, security and new work megatrends. "Big Data" drives the megatrends of urbanization, health, connectivity and security.
All too often, when we talk about digitization, we actually mean the technological aspect of digital change and overlook the other side of the coin: the communication factor. The Zukunftsinstitut cautions that "digitization should not be equated with technology, but understood more comprehensively: as digitally networked communication." And indeed, communication - both from human to machine and between machines - is what characterizes the "megatrend of digitization." Digital technologies have fundamentally changed the way people and devices communicate. This requires new technological structures. So let's take a look at which major trends will accompany companies in their digitization projects over the next few years:
In recent years, the cloud has become the invisible yet omnipresent control center in almost all companies. This almost divine character may also have been the reason why private individuals and companies alike were initially skeptical about cloud-based data storage. After all, it was only a few years ago that many had said goodbye to their filing cabinets in favor of drive storage. Only to find a short time later that all internal data had been stored in such a way that not only was it not accessible (the digitization of documents had already brought this about), but also in a place that seemed even more anonymous.
In the meantime, life and work without cloud-based data storage is unthinkable. According to the IDC study "Data Age 2025", the cloud as the No. 1 data storage medium forms the new heart of enterprise digitization. By 2025, 49% of all stored data will reside in public cloud networks, according to the study's publishers. That's because with the increasing popularity of data-producing devices and processes - from smartphones that synchronize snapshots in real time with the laptop in the living room, to automation processes in the modern enterprise that evaluate and transmit data at breakneck speed - the need for data storage continues to grow. It goes without saying that the cloud, one of the major trends in digitization, will be with us for a long time to come.
Lots of "automation" and even more "hype." When Gartner touts a trend, the IT world listens. Before the analyst firm proclaimed "hyperautomation" as the big thing for 2020, the term was nowhere to be found in any reference book. In the meantime, hyperautomation is on everyone's lips. But what is behind it? With the hype surrounding hyperautomation, Gartner has once again proven that you don't have to reinvent the world to make a big hit. In fact, the term refers to what used to be called process automation.
"Hyperautomation refers to an approach in which organizations rapidly identify and automate as many business processes as possible. It involves the use of a combination of technology tools, including but not limited to machine learning, packaged software and automation tools to deliver work."
Hyperautomation, then, refers to the holistic automation of enterprise-wide processes using tools such as machine learning or artificial intelligence. Instead of using process automation only in subareas of the company and with the help of individual tools, as has been the case in the past, the trend is moving toward a strategic approach that intelligently integrates all workflows and processes in the company.
Far more frequently than its big sister, Robotic Process Automation is already being used today - and beyond its use in industry. With the help of RPA, standardized business processes can be automated. This enables companies to implement time-consuming routine tasks quickly and without errors, such as transferring data from one system to another or entering orders. Instead of relying on RPA alone, all hyperautomation tools will be smartly combined in the future: In the future, RPA (Robotic Process Automation), BPM (Business Process Management), Workflow Engine and Process Mining will interact in the company in such a way that complex business processes can be completely automated.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the future of factories and businesses. Or rather, it will lay the foundation for their future viability. So far, AI has only been used in a few areas. But in those areas, it is being used all the more successfully. With the help of AI, companies are able to recognize patterns and independently design solutions based on them. Processes can thus be considerably simplified and accelerated. In medicine, AI is already being used successfully in diagnostic procedures. In the financial sector, too, credit checks can be automated thanks to AI-supported technologies. In the future, AI will penetrate all areas with high automation potential. From production and maintenance workflows to administrative processes, the use of artificial intelligence will significantly increase value creation in companies. Artificial intelligence plays a key role in RPA and hyperautomation. With the trend toward holistic automation processes, artificial intelligence will also steadily gain in importance and continuously drive digitization in companies.
23 times to the moon or 222 times around the earth. According to the ICD study, this is how long the stack of DVDs would be if the entire global volume of data were stored on them. Or to put it more concretely: In the coming years, the global volume of data will increase tenfold. These infinite volumes of data demand new ways of processing and storing them. Companies are not only producing ever greater volumes of data, they also need to be able to store and analyze it. In addition, the use of data-producing devices continues to increase in digitized companies thanks to RPA and AI. Big Data is therefore not just a major trend in digitization, but a continuous driver of it. The ever-increasing digitization of all business processes means that the need for databases will continue to grow. The largest data producer is industry, followed by the financial and entertainment sectors. With the transition to digital medical records and the use of intelligent machines to analyze patient-related information, Big Data will also play an increasingly important role in the healthcare sector in the future, according to the Seagate study. The fact remains, however, that companies in all industries will produce and process a flood of information in the future.
In a strategic guide, the analyst firm Gartner advises digitization officers to prepare for a decade of radical technological innovations. And indeed, most companies are only at the beginning of their digital journey. The cloud has already replaced on-premise solutions as the main storage location for internal company data and will continue to grow in importance. Not least because of the enormous amount of data that is accessed, stored and sent around the world every day. Big Data will significantly define the digital transformation in companies in the coming years and open up new possibilities for data storage. Big drivers of Big Data are the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which hold unimagined potential for both Factory 4.0 and the digital workplace. The fact that process automation must be viewed holistically is demonstrated by the hyperautomation trend proclaimed by Gartner. If CDOs and CIOs want to invest in the future, processes must be automated holistically. In the end, the digital race will probably be won by those companies that see these trends not as temporary hypes, but as paving the way to the future.
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Gartner’s Top Strategic Predictions for 2021 and Beyond: Resetting everything. 20 November 2020