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Service providers predict 2022 technology trends

Cloud developments, data analytics technology and nascent metaverses could keep consultants and integrators occupied for the coming year and well beyond.

The expected course of 2022 technology trends will send service providers over the well-trodden paths of cloud computing and onward to the uncharted metaverse.

Partner executives shared their technology forecasts, outlining several key developments they and their customers will likely pursue in the months ahead.

Heres' the rundown: Cloud will manifest itself as an operating model and industry-specific IT play, as well as a core technology, opening a range of deployment options for service providers. Data analytics and AI will let consultants address clients' supply chain issues, while also helping them explore creative business ventures. The metaverse, meanwhile, could prove a ripe sector for partners equipped with advisory and integration skills.

Read on for the details:

  1. Cloud computing breaks through boundaries

Cloud has become a mainstay of the partner business over the past decade. Important as it is, cloud's scope will become broader still in 2022. Cloud no longer equates to solely the public cloud or IaaS, said Karthik Narain, lead at Accenture Cloud First, the professional services company's cloud arm.

Karthik Narain, lead at Accenture Cloud FirstKarthik Narain

"The meaning of cloud is changing from a very singular definition of one technology or one destination," Narain said. "Cloud is going to become more of an operating system or operating model. We will see in 2022, and beyond, where customers will have a cloud-based architecture across their landscape."

That cloud vision, built on a foundation of configurable, consumable and automatically manageable infrastructure, will extend from the public cloud to the edge -- and cover everything in between, Narain noted.

As cloud goes broader, it will also go deeper. COVID-19 accelerated cloud migration as organizations looked for ways to quickly digitalize their operations. That shift to cloud-centric business models, however, needs to continue, according to Ganeshan Venkateshwaran, president at Trianz, a digital transformation consulting firm based in Santa Clara, Calif.

Ganeshan Venkateshwaran, president at TrianzGaneshan Venkateshwaran

"Barely pushing some trial workloads to assess the cloud's efficacy won't do," he said. "What is required is a strategic approach to use the cloud as a catalyst for business model innovation and growth, and not just a cost or operational efficiency play."

Cloud use is becoming less about trimming expenses and more about linking to business objectives. Narain, citing Accenture research, said organizations that aggressively adopted cloud during the pandemic grew revenue five times faster than companies less committed to digital technology.

The task for service providers next year: convince the cloud laggards to pursue the bigger cloud picture.

"Technology leaders must let go of any narrow view of cloud economics," Venkateshwaran said. Opportunities for consultants include migrating clients' infrastructure to the cloud and rolling out cloud-native applications, he added.

  1. Industry clouds build momentum

Cloud has been billed as a critical component of digital transformation. But the technology must meet industry-specific needs to make fundamental business change happen, according to service providers.

"We'll need more vertically targeted solutions in the marketplace to really bring cloud to the next level," said Nicholas Merizzi, principal in Deloitte Consulting's Cloud Strategy offering. "What's exciting about industry cloud is it is geared toward business transformation."

Nicholas Merizzi, principal in Deloitte Consulting's Cloud Strategy offeringNicholas Merizzi

A growing number of businesses will start examining industry clouds in the next 18 to 24 months, sparking a $640 billion market by 2026, according to a Deloitte technology trends report.

Industry clouds will emerge at the industry sector and subsector levels, as opposed to becoming a broad-based, industry-wide endeavor, he added. Instead of a banking cloud, customers will adopt clouds specific to retail banking, capital markets or wealth management, he noted.

Hyperscalers, SaaS vendors, 5G companies and content delivery networks will provide the building blocks for industry clouds, Merizzi said. While those companies set the foundation for industry clouds, customers can focus on the specific applications and processes that set them apart. They can layer on their competitive differentiation instead of worrying about the lower levels of the technology stack, he noted.

"Time to market is critical and resources are sparse," Merizzi said. "What these industry clouds enable is a faster time to market."

  1. Private IaaS model offers cloud alternative

Pay-as-you-go pricing became a more widely available option for in-house technology deployments in 2021 and could make an even bigger splash over the next 12 months.

A number of IT vendors now offer cloud-like consumption models, setting the stage for broader customer adoption. Cisco Plus, Dell Apex, HPE GreenLake, NetApp Keystone and Pure as-a-Service are among the competing products. The Cisco and Dell offerings emerged in 2021, spanning storage, compute and networking as a service.

Kent Christensen, cloud and data center practice director at Insight's Cloud and Data Center Transformation organizationKent Christensen

Kent Christensen, cloud and data center practice director at Insight's Cloud and Data Center Transformation organization, said the as-a-service approach is poised to accelerate in 2022. Insight, based in Tempe, Ariz., provides services such as billing consolidation and tech support around vendors' consumption-based offerings.

"It's a huge market," he said. "Customers have lots of questions."

Half of those customers, he said, may eventually adopt private IaaS as an alternative to public cloud or as a bridge to eventual public cloud adoption. The potential cost savings makes the as-a-service model hard to ignore, he said. To wit, Insight has found some customers can run workloads on pay-as-you-go hardware, housed in their own data centers, for half the cost of using the public cloud.

Technology leaders must let go of any narrow view of cloud economics.
Ganeshan VenkateshwaranPresident, Trianz

That cost savings is particularly notable for workloads such as everyday VMs, virtual desktop infrastructure and SQL databases, Christensen said. Those workloads are stable with regard to compute and storage demand and don't require the elastic resources the public cloud provides.

"Standard workloads are showing, over and over, that we can do this better on equipment that runs in your cloud," he said.

But for Accenture's Narain, the expansion of the as-a-service concept reinforces the benefits of cloud as an operating model.

"Regardless if it's a public cloud or your own data center converted to private cloud, all of these places would want to consume technology by taking advantage of how the cloud works," he said.

Quantum evolution, use case assessment to continue

Expectations for quantum computing have dropped somewhat as hardware and software makers soldier on with incremental, rather than revolutionary, progress.

Advances continue, however, despite the technology dropping off the mainstream radar, Thoughtworks' Mason said. IBM in late 2021, for instance, launched a 127-qubit processor, clearing the 100-qubit hurdle in its battle for dominance with China's Jiuzhang 2.0 quantum computer.

While research and development continue, customers will assess the technology's business potential.

"There is a group of clients who have been pioneering exploration of quantum computing for the past few years, and they are likely to continue their research efforts investigating increasingly advanced use cases," said Scott Buchholz, managing director at Deloitte Consulting.

Industries active in that regard will include financial services, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers, and government.

  1. AI, analytics see rising demand

The continuing disruption of COVID-19 will heighten the need for AI, machine learning and data analytics in 2022.

Supply chains, in particular, will likely remain unsettled, as labor, raw material and component shortages persist. Service providers predict customers will tap data science to get a better handle on items prone to scarcity.

"There is an unprecedented demand for supply chain solutions powered by analytics," said Shashikiran PB, vice president of supply chain and manufacturing at Tredence Inc., an AI consultancy and data analytics company with headquarters in San Jose, Calif.

Shashikiran PB, vice president of supply chain and manufacturing at TredenceShashikiran PB

Consumer packaged goods companies, for instance, can use data analytics to calculate a stockout possibility score (SPS) for particular items, helping them predict future stock shortages. SPS considers a range of variables, including whether an item is locally sourced, single sourced or multiple sourced, days of supply available, suppliers' predicted performance, real-time shipment tracking data and weather conditions, Shashikiran said.

Supply chain "control towers" will also rank among the 2022 technology trends, he added. A supply chain control tower is a system that uses analytical tools, applications and dashboards to improve supply chain visibility.

While analytics could help organizations modify supply chains, the process, itself, may be in for an overhaul. A complex, unpredictable environment calls for a more comprehensive approach to analytics.

"Siloed data analytics initiatives must give way to a democratized, integrated set of data services," Venkateshwaran said. Those services should provide a single point of access across all data, spanning on-premises and multi-cloud environments, he noted.

Mike Mason, global head of technology at ThoughtworksMike Mason

The current climate of uncertainty could also shake up machine learning (ML) algorithms. Mike Mason, global head of technology at Thoughtworks, a digital consultancy in Chicago, cited online ML as a development to watch in 2022. A lot of ML work to date has involved training algorithms on historical data to predict future results. But algorithms that depend on historical data can't respond to radical change, Mason said.

Systems that use online ML, however, gain insight on the fly as they continuously encounter new data. For example, a system for setting hotel room rates could use online machine learning to determine which price points result in sales and adjust itself accordingly. Feedback from each transaction hones the algorithm as it is "rewarded" for setting a price that attracts buyers.

But analytics and AI won't solely focus on the vagaries of supply chains and pricing. Customers will also use AI and ML creatively to create products, uncovering novel combinations of ingredients for products from baked goods to whiskey, Mason said. As for the latter, Thoughtworks recently worked with Swedish distiller Mackmyra to develop a beverage. "We used an AI system to help sift through the millions of possibilities for how to blend whiskey," Mason said.

  1. Customers explore the metaverse

The metaverse or, more accurately, metaverses, will likely pique enterprise interest in 2022. The concept pulls together 3D modeling, extended reality (XR), cryptography and blockchain, among other technologies. The result is a virtual world where digital alter egos -- called avatars or metahumans -- work, amuse themselves and shop.

Just how fast the technology catches on is anybody's guess. "Timelines are a slightly unknown factor at the moment," acknowledged Mark Curtis, head of innovation and thought leadership at Accenture Interactive.

Mark Curtis, head of innovation and thought leadership at Accenture InteractiveMark Curtis

That said, COVID-19 has served as a catalyst for metaverse exploration, Curtis noted. Indeed, organizations may find the metaverse a natural progression to already-commonplace virtual meetings. Metaverse applications include workplace collaboration, with Mesh for Microsoft Teams scheduled to debut in 2022. That offering will let customized avatars huddle up.

Other applications include entertainment, e-commerce and building design. Companies in various phases of building metaverse platforms include Disney, Meta (formerly Facebook), Microsoft, Niantic (publisher of Pokemon Go) and GPU vendor Nvidia.

For service providers, the newfangled metaverse offers two traditional business opportunities: advisory services and systems integration. The former involves cutting through the hype and applying the emerging technology in a business context, Thoughtwork's Mason said.

A key thrust will be helping clients reinvent their business processes for a virtual world. Marketing could prove an active area in that regard.

"As [metaverse] matures, the effects on marketing are going to be huge," Curtis said. "Clients are already asking: 'What does my brand do in the metaverse and what can it do differently?'"

Dan Guenther, lead for XR at AccentureDan Guenther

Even relatively basic things such as corporate logos will need to be revisited. Logos are currently designed as 2D assets, noted Dan Guenther, lead for XR at Accenture. But in the metaverse, logos will be viewed from a multitude of angles, he added.

As for integration, customers may need help tying together 3D design, XR and its constituent virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) components, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). That latter use blockchain to represent a unique piece of digital content. In the metaverse, NFTs will let metahumans purchase, own and trade items, Curtis said.

"Product is very important here," he added, noting customers' ability to develop new business models in the metaverse. "NFTs have a huge role to play."

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