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The top emerging technologies to watch from 2017-2021: Forrester

The 15 emerging technologies that Forrester believes have the potential to change the world.

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A lot of change is coming -- it's time to make your technology bets. (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Think back just a few years -- social, mobile, cloud, and big data ruled the emerging technology landscape. Business and technology management executives wondered what big data meant, when the cloud would disrupt their companies, and how to engage effectively on social channels. In 2016, Hadoop turned 10, the cloud has been around even longer, and social has become a way of business and life. So, what's next?

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There are the 15 emerging technologies Forrester thinks you need to follow closely. We organized this year's list into three groups: systems of engagement technologies will help you become customer-led, systems of insight technologies will help you become insights-driven, and supporting technologies will help you become fast and connected.

Why these 15? You might have noticed a few glaring omissions. Certainly blockchain has garnered a lot of attention; and 3D printing is on most of our competitors' lists. The answer goes back to being customer led, insights driven, fast, and connected. Those of you that follow our research will recognize these as the four principles of customer-obsessed operations. The technologies we selected will have the biggest impact on your ability to win, serve, and retain customers whose expectations of service through technology are only going up. Furthermore, our list focuses on those technologies that will have the biggest business impact in the next five years. We think blockchain's big impact outside of financial services, for example, is further out, so it didn't make our list, even though it is important. Maybe it will by 2018, when I update our list next.

Here are five of the fifteen that Forrester believes have the potential to change the world:

  • IoT software and solutions bring customer engagement potential within reach. Theses software platforms and solutions act as a bridge between highly specialized sensor, actuator, compute, and networking technology for real-world objects and related business software. This technology gives firms visibility into and control of customer and operational realities. By 2021, technology for specific use cases will be mature, but protocol diversity, immature standards, and the need for organizational changes will still stymie or delay many firms.
  • Intelligent agents coupled with AI/cognitive technologies will automate engagement and solve tasks. Intelligent agents represent a set of AI-powered solutions that understand users' behavior and are discerning enough to interpret needs and make decisions on their behalf. By 2021, we think that automation, supported by intelligent software agents driving by an evolution in AI and cognitive technology will have eliminated an net 6 percent of US jobs. But the loss won't be uniform. There will be an 11-percent loss of jobs that are vulnerable, and a 5-percent creation of jobs in industries that stand to benefit.
  • Augmented reality overlays digital information and experiences on the physical world using combinations of cameras and displays. While we cover both VR and AR, we find that while a lot of attention has been placed on VR, AR has more play for enterprises in the short term and eventually for consumers. By 2021, we will be fully into a transition period between separated and tightly blended physical and digital experiences in our work and lives.
  • Hybrid wireless technology will eventually create connected everything. Hybrid wireless technologies are the interfaces, and software allow devices to simultaneously leverage and translate between two or more different wireless providers, protocols, and frequency bands, such as light, radio, Wi-Fi, cellular, and Sigfox. By 2021, a virtual network infrastructure will emerge to weave together wireless technologies that globally connect IoT and customer engagement platforms.

A lot of change is coming -- it's time to make your technology bets.

Brian Hopkins is VP and principal analyst at Forrester. Brian covers systems of insight, big data, data management, and analytics technology architecture and strategy. He also leads our emerging technology and technology innovation research and authors Forrester's top technology trends and top emerging technology reports for Enterprise Architecture Professionals. His research provides practical advice to architects and technology strategists seeking to embrace the business technology (BT) agenda with emerging digital technology, big data, analytics, and insights to execution technologies. Follow him on Twitter: @practicingEA