Four Technology Trends for 2022—Putting People Back in the Picture

February, 2022

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By Tom Dunlap, Director of Research, Avasant Research

IT organizations everywhere have been tasked with leading the digital transformation. But that transformation seems pretty bleak—artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotic process automation, and blockchain. Where are the people in your digital transformation? When you look back on what you accomplished in 2022, will you be able to say you made things better for your customers? How about your users?

When we decided to look at the technology trends for 2022, it would have been easy to rattle off the usual suspects of digital transformation. After all, we’re near the end of a pandemic, a supply chain disruption, and “the great quit.” Automating everything and turning it over to AI seems awfully tempting. The problem is that until our new robot overlords do take over the world, enterprises still sell to people. The bulk of the work is still done by people. So, the logical decision is to look at trends that will put people front and center.

Based on our research over the past year, we review four emerging enterprise trends. We picked these because they are among the best ways that companies can improve, and they share the same aspects: improving the customer experience, collecting and using data the right way, protecting privacy and security, and improving worker productivity and safety.

The first two—immersive tech and wearables and analytics—bring technology deeper into our lives, hopefully for the better. The second two—zero-trust security and opting out of apps—are needed in response, so that our security and privacy are maintained in the face of the first two technologies, getting up close and personal. In short, we wanted to look at trends that focused on customers and employees rather than the bottom line. We believe, in the end, that thinking about these trends will help you grow your business, protect your data, and maybe ease your conscience.

Immersive Technology—The Key to Winning in the Metaverse

The buzzword for 2022 is metaverse. But the metaverse is not the trend. The metaverse is simply a description of the collapse of the boundaries between real and virtual worlds. The key to companies finding new revenue in the metaverse is an immersive customer experience. Customer needs have radically evolved since the beginning of the pandemic, and the demand for immersive tech is accelerating in 2022.

What are immersive technologies? They include virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), the next generation of smarter digital assistants that make use of natural language processing, AI-powered, omnichannel communications, personalized experiences, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and eventually near-horizon technology such as holograms.

The technology the enterprise chooses is actually less important than the experience it creates. Since the PC was invented, the primary interface between people and technology has been the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Even smartphones simply recreate this experience in miniature. Immersive technologies attempt to eliminate, or at least supplement, these tools and “cut the cord.”

They either immerse us in a virtual world or provide a sensory experience. They put data, knowledge, or entertainment directly into our environment and allow us to interact with it rather than simply observe it. For many companies, 2022 will be about crafting these experiences for customers for the first time, as many of the technologies are still very new. The leaders in the metaverse will be the companies that imagine the new immersive experience for customers before their competition does.

In short, this is the part of the metaverse that companies have to get right. Other foundational tech, such as blockchain, cloud, and 5G, are the backbone, but the revenue is in experience. It is a frontier, much like the early days of the World Wide Web, where the design of the experience matters almost more than the content or the product—at least in the early stages.

But immersive tech is not only about the metaverse and customer experience. VR, AR, and MR are becoming useful tools in the enterprise, and the use cases are growing. This will only accelerate in 2022. For example, a surgeon could practice a medical procedure without touching a real patient. Or a maintenance worker could be trained on a repair operation without having to touch production equipment. VR is also increasingly being used to provide a 3-D experience, for example, in touring a factory. A manufacturing engineer can even reconfigure a plant layout using 3-D copies (called digital twins) in a VR environment.

What are the bottom-line benefits of using immersive tech in business? There are many, including:

    • Time and cost savings: Imagine simultaneously training employees across the globe in maintenance or new procedures. Or virtually showing a new building to potential buyers in a short amount of time. Immersive tech enables these tasks.
    • Risk reduction: Immersive tech can, for instance, allow workers to see an environment which could be hazardous or impossible to access. It can also reduce the risk to trainees when undertaking complicated training procedures.
    • Faster learning: Immersing employees into a “real-life” scenario means they are more likely to absorb information rather than viewing it on a video or via an instruction manual.
    • Improved customer response: Customers appreciate innovative and efficient communication, which they get with immersive tech. This ultimately can boost sales.

COVID-19 has shown the world that we do not necessarily have to be physically connected to continue with business operations—a virtual connection will suffice. Zoom parties, virtual concerts, and online school are all possible now with digital connectivity. However, people still crave a physical presence. This is where immersive tech can step in to fill that void.

In the not too distant future, immersive tech will change how we interact with each other, not just in our personal lives but in business. Nevertheless, there are some risks. We are likely to see a digital talent gap in the use of the technology and the widening of the digital divide—the immersive tech haves and have-nots. We are going to need a genuine drive to train workers at all levels—both in IT and in lines of business—to ensure there is equal access to this technology.

For much more on this subject, check back in March for our major annual study, Worldwide Technology Trends.

You Wear It Well and Your Computer Knows It

The pandemic rapidly accelerated the use of numerous technologies, ranging from telehealth to using apps to order almost anything for home delivery. Another big trend is the use of wearables. We are not talking just about Fitbits and smart watches. The next generation of wearables will be specialized and take advantage of sensors and interfaces to more tightly integrate our bodies with the digital and virtual world.

People are walking data makers. Our vital signs, our purchasing habits, our movements, or anything else we can measure become fodder for new services in wearables. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the healthcare and health insurance sector.

Healthcare was already in the midst of a great transformation before the pandemic started. According to some estimates, 75% of nearly $4 trillion in annual healthcare spending in the US is for treatment of chronic diseases. Healthcare payors and providers have been seeking better ways to help patients manage these diseases to reduce costs. With numerous interoperable, connected medical devices and wearables, service providers are leveraging medical data to coordinate care, moving to “hospital-at-home” models and adding care management/disease management protocols to achieve better patient outcomes. This lowers healthcare costs and creates new mechanisms to empower and engage patients as consumers in “value-based care” contracting environments. In addition, there is a growing list of wearable devices including fitness trackers, smart watches, and skin patches being integrated into these new ecosystems. There are even pills that can be swallowed containing sensors that monitor vital signs and report this data through Bluetooth.

Cutting-edge insurers need to leverage the same wearables that healthcare providers are using, along with analytics, to enable their policyholders to better manage their health. For example, insurers can track member participation in health clubs or their fitness habits. With this approach, insurers can incentivize healthy habits with premium discounts. And they can also anticipate health problems by identifying risks for disease through predictive analytics. However, these applications have security and privacy implications, which are major issues in terms of regulatory compliance, and they must be addressed. That leads to our next emerging technology, zero-trust security.

There are many wearables in use in a wide swath of industries. Here is another example: Police and firefighters are increasingly using wearables to alleviate some of their job risks and help them perform better. Smart glasses and smartwatches can alert first responders of impending danger and provide insight into the state of their surroundings. Police bodycams, another wearable, have had a massive impact on society in the past few years, with high-profile, bodycam-filmed arrests and shootings in many American cities.

Wearables can also play a role in immersive experiences, as the data that is collected from these devices can be used by digital assistants, omnichannel services, and other technologies to anticipate and predict the needs of customers.

For more on this subject, see our Insurance Digital Services 2021–2022 RadarView.

Trust Nobody to Protect Everybody

The first two technologies on this list—immersive tech and wearables with analytics—bring technology deeper into our lives. In the face of that, security becomes paramount. Ransomware, privacy breaches, and spear phishing attacks put both customers and enterprises at risk. A zero-trust security framework is the best way to protect your perimeter.

A zero-trust security model adapts to the changing landscape by treating all traffic as outsiders, providing access to only segmented networks and enforcing the principal of least privileges (POLP). A zero-trust solution can be implemented through various approaches including a software-defined perimeter (SDP), identity governance, micro-segmentation, and software-defined network access to support various use cases such as biometrics and multifactor authentication (MFA)

A zero-trust framework is essential for proactively protecting companies from emerging cyber threats. A network divided into granular, isolated segments in a zero-trust security framework facilitates monitoring, efficient control, and faster response to new threats. Moreover, the SDP capabilities integrated in a zero-trust framework ensure authorization-based access. This lets companies better defend against variations in attacks.

If your company needs a zero-trust framework but lacks the requisite IT security skills (a common challenge), it is time to reach out for help. Many service providers have developed platforms based on zero-trust security principles, focusing on the user experience, automation, and enhanced visualization. Moreover, these solutions are getting more powerful as security and service companies collaborate. Examples include Accenture, which partnered with Safe-T on a Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) solution to provide access control for internal and cloud services; IBM, which partnered with Okta to strengthen its end-to-end cloud solution offerings; and DXC collaborating with McAfee to improve its MVISION Endpoint Detection and Response  (EDR) and enhance detection and resolution time.

As companies enable remote access to critical IT infrastructure, it becomes imperative to follow zero-trust security principles. Moreover, there is an increased need for introducing security in the early stage of the business life cycle.

For more on zero-trust security principles, see our Cybersecurity Services 2021 RadarView.

The Great Opt-Out

The previous trend was about security; the great opt-out is about security’s sister: privacy. Toward that end, the trend toward opting out of the tracking associated with applications and services will explode in 2022. As mentioned, humans are walking sources of data. But many consumers have had enough of their data being relentless collected, their locations tracked, and their privacy disregarded.

However, most consumers are willing to give their data to trusted sources in exchange for services that they find essential. The year 2022 will be, in part, about this negotiation. Customers will not want to be walking the metaverse with their virtual hand on their personal data wallet. But just like you would not walk down a city street at night with great wads of cash in your hands, customers will pick and choose trusted virtual places to selectively disclose their personal data.

One company that demonstrated their understanding of this is Apple, when it released iOS 14.5. With that release, Apple started enforcing a policy called App Tracking Transparency. Now, apps on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV are required to get permission from users to use Apple’s identifier for advertisers, known as the IDFA. This change sent Facebook and other social media properties into a tizzy. Facebook even placed full-page newspaper ads claiming the move would hurt small businesses.

Since that controversy started, surveys show that users are rejecting being tracked by a much wider margin than expected. They also want to protect their privacy at numbers higher than anticipated. Some states and countries are responding with privacy laws that give customers great power over their own data.

Successful companies and solutions will need to move to a respectful and transparent approach with consumers to avoid issues around people opting out. This should include the addition of capabilities to allow consumers to review and easily understand what is being tracked and captured. The really successful companies will have to allow users to opt out, but they also will need to come up with financial or customer-service incentives for people to not opt out. This could include the expansion of loyalty programs that reward the customer in some way. Creative companies will work to make things a win/win, with consumers understanding, “What’s in it for me?”

It’s All About People

To be sure, 2022 will see the growth of these four business technology trends, as well as the continued rise of digital transformation. The pandemic accelerated the use of immersive tech, wearables, and numerous other technologies, ranging from telehealth to using apps to order almost anything for home delivery. All of this needs to be undergirded by a robust approach to security and privacy.

What do IT organizations need to do as we emerge from the pandemic? It would not hurt to start with thinking of how digital transformation impacts people. Customers and employees alike have had it. Employees are quitting in droves to find better work conditions or retire early. Customers are searching for the safest, most meaningful experience. Rehumanizing technology and evaluating the data-privacy exchange could be the difference between winning and losing in 2022.

Avasant analysts, directors, partners, and fellows contributing to this report include Dave Wagner, Tracell Frederick, Amrita Keswani, Mark Gaffney, Frank Scavo, and Fred Pond.