The 10 Most Critical Business Technologies to Watch

McKinsey lists key tech that will reshape companies over the next decade

By Irving Wladawsky-Berger

If your business isn’t already familiar with applied AI, trust architecture, 5G networks, and clean energy, it will be in the next 10 years. These are among the top tech trends that will dominate business decisions in the near future, according to a new McKinsey study.

“In the next decade, we’ll experience more progress than in the past 100 years combined, as technology reshapes health and materials sciences, energy, transportation, and a wide range of other industries and domains,” notes a recent McKinsey study on the The top trends in tech. “The implications for corporations are broad.”

The report notes that while “these trends may not represent the coolest, most bleeding-edge technologies, they’re the ones drawing the most venture money, producing the most patent filings, and generating the biggest implications for how and where to compete and the capabilities you need to accelerate performance.”

“Unifying and underlying them all is the combinatorial effect of massively faster computation propelling new convergences between technologies; startling breakthroughs in health and materials sciences; an array of new product and service functionalities; and a strong foundation for the reinvention of companies, markets, industries, and sectors.”

Six Metrics

The McKinsey study examined over 40 technologies trends based on their technical maturity and industry impact in order to identify those that mattered most to companies.

Then, to quantify the overall disruption a trend is likely to cause, the study calculated a momentum score for each technology based on six metrics: publications and patent filings — the leading indicators of the importance of a trend; news mentions and online searches — which represent the level of public interest; and amounts and number of companies making private investments — the measures of financial interest. “Comparing composite momentum scores will help executives recognize how much disruption a trend is likely to cause and how soon that disruption will have business implications.”

The study selected the top ten trends — seven cross-industry, and three industry-specific — based on their momentum scores and disruptive business impact.

These top trends reinforce each other, amplifying and accelerating their disruptive impact on industries and business models.

Let me summarize the key attributes of each trend, in the order of their momentum scores.

  1. Distributed infrastructure

Key technologies: cloud and edge computing

Objective: move computing power toward the edge of networks to reach data-hungry devices, with far-less latency, in a greater number of locations and to accelerate decision making

Potential impact: Over 75% of enterprise-generated data will be processed by cloud and edge computing by 2025

Technical maturity: medium; Applicability: medium-to-high

Momentum score: 45

“Wide availability of IT infrastructure and services through cloud computing could shift demand for on-premise IT infrastructure and reduce the need for IT setup and maintenance, while the democratization of infrastructure will help shift competitive advantage away from IT to software development and talent.”

2. Applied AI

Key technologies: machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, speech recognition;

Objective: train AI-based algorithms to make sense of real-world data, including natural language documents, videos, images, and audio

Potential impact: by 2024, over 50% of user digital-service touch points will be augmented by AI-driven algorithms

Technical maturity: medium; Applicability: high

Momentum score: 41

“As AI matures and continues to scale, it will enable new applications (e.g., more rapid development cycles and detailed customer insights), eliminate labor for repetitive tasks (e.g. filing, document preparation, and indexing), and support the global reach of highly specialized services and talent (e.g. improved telemedicine and the ability of specialized engineers to work on oil rigs from the safety of land).”

3. Next Generation computing

Key technologies: application specific integrated circuits (ASICs), quantum computing

Objective: enable the development of AI-driven services using very large data sets and machine learning and cut development cycles in the chemical, pharmaceutical and other industries

Potential impact: over $1 trillion potential value of use cases by 2035

Technical maturity: low-to-medium; Applicability: high

Momentum score: 39

“High computational capabilities allow new use cases, such as molecule-level simulation, reducing the empirical expertise and testing needed for a range of applications and leading to the following: disruption across industries such as materials, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals; highly personalized product developments, for instance in medicine; the ability to break the majority of cryptographic security algorithms, disrupting today’s cybersecurity approaches; and the faster diffusion of self-driving vehicles.”

4. Future programming

Key technologies: software 2.0, neural networks, machine learning, big data

Objective: use machine leaning methods to automate software development

Potential impact: about 30% reduction in working time required for software development and analytics

Technical maturity: medium; Applicability: medium

Momentum score: 38

“Software 2.0 creates new ways of writing software and reduces complexity; however, as companies look to scale their software-development capabilities, they will need to master DataOps and MLOps practices and technology to make the most of the future of programming.”

5. Trust architecture

Key technologies: blockchain, Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT), zero-trust security

Objective: help commercial entities and individuals establish trust and conduct business without the need for intermediaries to address the growing threat of cyberattacks

Potential impact: about 10% of global GDP could be associated with trust architecture technologies by 2027

Technical maturity: medium-to-high; Applicability: medium-to-high

Momentum score: 32

“Trust architectures help commercial entities and individuals establish trust and conduct business without need for intermediaries, even as zero-trust-security measures address growing cyberattacks; countries and regulatory bodies may likely have to rethink regulatory oversight; distributed-ledger technologies will reduce costs and enable transformative business models.”

6. Future of connectivity

Key technologies: 5G broadband networks, IoT

Objective: enable faster connectivity across longer distances, with exponentially faster downloads and latency reduced to nearly nothing

Potential impact: 5G could help reach up to 80% of the world’s population by 2030

Technical maturity: medium; Applicability: medium

Momentum score: 31

“With either high-band or low- to mid-band 5G reaching up to 80% of the global population by 2030, enhanced coverage and speed of connections across long and short distances will enable new services (eg, remote patient monitoring), business models (eg, connected services), and next-generation customer experiences (e.g. live VR).”

7. Process automation & virtualization

Key technologies: robotics, Industrial IoT, RPA, digital twins, additive manufacturing (AM)

Objective: streamline routine tasks, improve operational efficiency, and accelerate time to market

Potential impact: 50% of work tasks could be automated by 2025; 50 billion devices by be connected by IIOT by 2025; and about 10% of manufacturing processes could be replaced by AM by 2030

Technical maturity: high; Applicability: medium

Momentum score: 24

“Self-learning, reconfigurable robots will drive automation of physical processes beyond routine activities to include less predictable ones, leading to fewer people working in these activities and a reconfiguration of the workforce. … Advanced simulations and 3-D/4-D printing will virtualize and dematerialize processes, shortening development cycles as ever-shorter product and service life cycles continue to accelerate, further pressuring profit pools and speeding strategic and operational practices.”

8. Clean energy

Key technologies: carbon-neutral energy generation, nuclear fusion, batteries, smart distribution and metering

Objective: address the rapidly growing need for clean-energy generation;

Potential impact: generate over 75% of global energy with renewable technologies by 2050

Technical maturity: medium-to-high; Applicability: low-to-medium

Momentum score: 19

“As clean technologies come down the cost curve, they become increasingly disruptive to traditional business models, creating new business-building opportunities, operational-improvement programs driven by clean technologies, and new climate-change mandates that could alter the balance sheet of carbon-intense sectors — all while providing the green energy needed to sustain exponential technology growth.”

9. The ‘bio’ revolution

Key technologies: biomolecules, biosystems, biomachines, biocomputing, omics

Objective: major innovations in a number of industries including health care, agriculture, energy, consumer products and services

Potential impact: $2 trillion to $4 trillion of direct economic impact over the next 10 to 20 years

Technical maturity: low-to-medium; Applicability: medium

Momentum score: 18

Genomics, proteomics, and other omics “enable rapid analysis of genetic materials and open up possibilities (e.g. for rapid vaccine development, personalized medicine, and gene therapy). Using biological material for computing purposes can enable a vast expansion of data storage using DNA as the information medium.”

10. Next generation materials

Key technologies: nanomaterials and nanoparticles, graphene, single-layer materials

Objective: enable new functionality and enhanced performance in pharma, energy, transportation, health, semiconductors, and manufacturing

Potential impact: Broad disruptive potential in a number of industries including construction, automotive, packaging and manufacturing

Technical maturity: low-to-medium; Applicability: low-to-medium

Momentum score: 14

“By changing the economics of a wide range of products and services, next- generation materials may change industry economics and reconfigure companies within them (e.g. by allowing for the integration of sustainable materials and renewable energy sources into processes), even as innovations in materials science help create smart materials with programmable properties that respond to stimuli from external factors.”

“Executives must think through three primary questions as they consider where and when to invest, while getting the timing right,” notes the McKinsey study in conclusion.

Scale of impact: How important is this trend for a given industry or company?

Technical maturity: How fast do you need to react?

Fit with the organization: Is it the right time to scale any of the technologies given their stage and speed of maturity?

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MIT IDE Paula Klein, Editor

MIT IDE Paula Klein, Editor

Addressing one of the most critical issues of our time: the impact of digital technology on businesses, the economy, and society.