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Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: The Future of IT: A Strategic Guide

Ten industries that IT will revolutionize in the years ahead

Almost every industry — from food to education to healthcare — is adding IT services. Here are ten places to watch for high-tech disruption in the coming years.

1. Farming

Farming is quickly becoming a high-tech job, as farmers attempt to figure out ways to increase crop production to feed the world's growing population. Arable land is diminishing and climate change is threatening crop yields, so farmers are using big-data analytics to better monitor, manage, and understand their outputs. For example, Climate Corporation, a San Francisco based startup, offers a cloud-based service that looks at soil quality and weather data to help determine the best places and conditions to plant, and constantly sends updates to farmers' systems to help them better understand their crop yields. 

2. Energy utilities

Traditionally, energy utility companies are slow to adopt new technologies, and they have a set business model that has worked for them for decades. Renewable energy, however, needs advanced battery technology and new storage and transmission systems, so this has to change. It is starting to with the development of microgrids and other smart grid technologies, which are a major part of the future for utilities. New technologies, like transmission gear, sensors, and software are the core of this development. According to Richelle Elberg, senior research analyst at Navigant Research, the market for smart grid IT will grow to more than $23 billion by 2023. 

3. Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles are powered by high-tech batteries, but the technology for them is not yet fully developed. Some startups are trying to figure out the best recipe for the batteries themselves, and others are working on software systems to help propel the entire energy management and storage system forward. Both require an enormous amount of IT. Data analysis is big with EVs too, as most cars, like Ford's models, are equipped with sensors that track the behavior of the driver so that companies can better understand and develop EV technologies. 

4. Solar industry

As solar panel prices decrease and more individuals and companies adopt them, the renewable energy industry is finally heading toward the mainstream. The problem is, most people still don't know much about the practicality or utility of solar power, so tech startups like MapDwell, a spinoff from MIT, are emerging to fill the gap. MapDwell is making detailed maps of solar potential for buildings and homes in cities. It's a huge data set and assessment tool. 

5. 3D Printing

There's no industry transforming the future faster than 3D printing, but the technology is also infiltrating many other ones, like healthcare, manufacturing, and aerospace. What does that mean for IT? First, it will mean new tech jobs that revolve around understanding, developing, and monitoring the printers. But it also means a lot for software development and management, as new design services emerge in the coming years. 

6. Healthcare

The healthcare industry is also notorious for developing slowly, but all that is changing with the advent of bioprinting, Internet of Things technologies, telemedicine, and big data analytics. The FDA hasn't yet caught up with the speed of development or really tried to stop any of it yet, so there is plenty of room and time for IT to find its place in the industry. This means there will be IT jobs in hospitals and clinics, software companies, hardware companies, data science companies, and even big tech companies like Intel, Microsoft, and Google, which are all dabbling in medical tech. 

7. Government

Technology is changing the way government processes work. Cities like Boston and New York are adding social media directors and Chief Digital Officers to promote campaigns, run social media, and get people to interact more with their government. Organizations like Code for America are looking to revamp government websites to make them more efficient. There are even accelerators dedicated to the cause. For example, Significance Labs is a NY-based accelerator that is recruiting top tech talent to design apps for low-income Americans. 

8. Education

According to Code.org, nine out of 10 schools in the US don't even offer computer programming classes. But tech and computer science education will be increasingly important as the world works to get more children, especially girls, to learn to code to help prepare for the 1.1 million STEM jobs that will be available in the US by 2018. Advocates are trying add computer science education in all levels of education to build a pipeline for the future of IT. 

9. Toys

Toys are getting smarter. People are building toys that serve a purpose and incorporate robotics, sensors, and computers. For instance, Trobo is a plush robot that works with an iPad app to teach children about STEM subjects. With these types of toys, especially ones with additional mobile and tablet apps, comes IT management services. 

10. Water

Companies like Lagoon and Dropcountr are using sensors and data analytics to identify and monitor leaks and water waste in the home so that people can better conserve the resource and their money. On the utility side, startups such as Valor Water Analytics are providing solutions to help utilities harness the power of their data to identify anomalies.

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