Drawing reports from 29 analyst houses, futurologists, and trend spotters including the likes of Gartner, Fast Co and IBM, the unit has kept pace with the top ten developments businesses need to be preparing for:
Gigabit spoke to Senthil Ravindran, Global Head of Virtusa xLabs, to find out more about the report...
Could you give me a brief overview of Virtusa and its xLabs? What do you hope to achieve?
Virtusa is a global digital engineering company that helps organisations achieve their digital transformation goals. We typically work with mature, industry-leading companies that need to re-imagine their IT approach in order to stay ahead of the competition. xLabs is a digital innovation hub within Virtusa set to help clients accelerate their digital transformation by using disruptive emerging technologies. It combines digital engineering and ‘design thinking’ to reduce the time and cost involved with rolling out new tech solutions and provide clients with a competitive edge.
In your opinion, what are some of the key takeaways from Virtusa’s Trend Almanac?
While each of the trends we’ve identified in this year’s Almanac will have a big impact, in my personal opinion it’s the steps being taken in AI that has the most transformative potential. Our research suggests that we’re on the cusp of a massive upgrade in AI’s capability this year as it moves away from playing a supporting role, and into a more collaborative one where machines start to ‘teach’ other machines.
Essentially, where machine learning concentrates on making algorithms more accurate, machine teaching looks at improving the task of teaching other machines. All AI is built on data, but even for machines, some data can be hard to gather – it might be risky, rare, or costly to process. In those cases, machines can share their experiences with other machines, or even create synthetic experiences for each other to augment the difficult data. Just as humans learn from each other in social groups, so too will machines. The upshot is that we’re going to see a transformative leap forward in AI capabilities in the near future.
In Virtusa’s Trends Almanac, you highlight how we are likely to see blockchain used to safeguard data and enable the healthcare sector. Why has it taken society taken longer to adopt blockchain for common applications? What are we missing out on if we don’t tap into this emerging trend?
Blockchain has suffered from the same fate as any buzzword or ‘next big thing’ – the hype. It first came into public consciousness alongside Bitcoin which, for all its promise, has been characterised as risky or even illegitimate by governments and businesses alike.
Thankfully, blockchain’s benefits are beginning to become clearer as it demonstrates its value across all manner of industries. In healthcare, for example, blockchain’s distributed, inalienable format is being used to tighten up the pharma supply chain to address the $200m counterfeit drugs market, and to safeguard the consistency and integrity of electronic medical records.
It’s important that blockchain continues to win observers over. If businesses and governments ignore it, we could potentially miss out on a technology that answers the biggest data protection questions we currently face. In an era where the risk of cyber attack continues to grow, blockchain’s benefits for data protection can’t be overlooked.
With the upcoming rollout of 5G, what role will the Internet of Things (IoT) play in our lives in the future? What should businesses be aware of when it comes to IoT?
We can expect the IoT to take a much more prominent role in our lives with the arrival of 5G. We’re already accustomed to using smart devices like Amazon’s Alexa, but 5G’s capabilities will enable a whole range of new IoT use cases, allowing organisations to think bigger than faster download speeds or smarter fridges. 5G could enable transformative new capabilities such as remote surgery where surgeons can use robotic arms and haptic gloves to perform operations remotely from anywhere in the world.
Yet organisations should be careful not to rush their IoT plans. As with other digital innovations, the level of hype can lead organisations to quickly implement various IoT projects without first considering where they’ll fit, or how they support the organisation’s wider goals. Integrating IoT applications across complex legacy environments, for example, can often slow the IT department down, and hold back a wider digital transformation strategy. In the first instance, businesses need to take a step back, amass the right expertise, and consider how and why an IoT project will benefit them and how it can be implemented.
In the Virtusa’s Trends Almanac, you identify how businesses will soon be able to get far more commercial value out of Deep Learning. Can you elaborate on this?
While many technology professionals will have heard of deep learning, few will have actually seen any commercial value from it yet. It’s still a bit of a niche – known for stunts such as the AlphaGo defeat of Go champion Lee Sedol – and largely confined to research labs rather than IT departments. Yet this year, we can expect businesses to start using it in earnest.
This is because last year Google released an open-source AI framework that enables developers to skip the stage of building simulated AI environments and get straight into experimenting with and even prototyping commercial AI applications. As a result, organisations can now take advantage of sophisticated AI without it costing them a fortune – what was once an expensive bet without clear goals behind it is now becoming a risk-free, cheaper way of using advanced AI capabilities in a commercial setting.
What advice would you give a business embarking on a new digital transformation strategy?
Think bigger. All too often, IT departments under pressure from the board rush to implement digital technologies such as cloud or AI as a quick fix, often in a piecemeal manner without a clear idea of what the aims are. This is a recipe for disaster, particularly given a common reliance on legacy systems that aren’t equipped to share data with each other.
Organisations should take a more holistic approach. Digital transformation isn’t about executing a few random projects, it requires a complete overhaul of the entire business. Ultimately, it requires a cultural change, new skills and the courage to leave behind legacy business models.