Industry experts from Northern Ireland consider the major tech trends of 2018

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  • 2018 is already shaping up to be quite a year for tech. So what new advances will we see in the fields of Blockchain, AI, VR, Data, Cyber Security, GDPR, UX and IoT? We asked industry leaders to give us their views on the year that lies ahead.

    Artificial Intelligence is already capable of an ever-growing range of tasks - from predicting maintenance needs in factories to carrying out financial transactions –impacting how many of us live and work.

    As our workplaces continue to evolve in response to ongoing digital and demographic changes, we can expect to see an increased focus on collaboration between technologists and innovators in 2018 to create AI solutions that transform the way businesses operate.

    Fujitsu is collaborating globally with the Microsoft Corporation in the field of AI, to accelerate the transformation of the ways people work in companies.

    Looking to the future, AI solutions will free up employees to focus on more complex and added-value activities, provide support via intelligent assistants, help forge new business connections based on data analysis and deliver a highly personalised and dynamic experience for work-day tasks.  

    Digital assistants will take care of calendar scheduling and administrative tasks such as travel booking, while wearable devices will help people authenticate and gain access to information and systems anywhere, anytime.

    If enterprises are to keep pace, they will need to effectively plan now and lay the foundations for everything from the implementation of office space and infrastructure, to the technical skills they will need to build and support a workforce that will be reshaped by AI.

    Sinéad Dillon is a Principal Consultant at global ICT solutions provider Fujitsu (UK and Ireland)


    (Big) Data

    Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like the term ‘Big Data’ has been a little overused. I personally have found myself using it less and less - because we are really just talking about data.

    The use of the word ‘big’ in this context can have many connotations. The unfortunate thing is that most people automatically assume it’s all about size. I’ve spoken to people who have told me that Big Data Analytics isn’t relevant to them as they only have a few gigabytes/terabytes (delete as appropriate) of data.

    Personally, I’m less concerned with the volume of data and more about the variety. Many readers who have grown tired of the term Big Data will appreciate that both these factors are equally relevant in this context but many still don’t appreciate that.

    I tend to focus my conversations on data, and for many people the real challenge is trying to figure out how to make sense out of a variety of different datasets.

    One of the trends I see in 2018 will be the realisation that the challenge lies not in building a data lake, but in linking your data together and making sense of it.

    What we do now has long since moved beyond helping people organise their data and focused on helping them use it. More recently, most of our focus has moved beyond simple analytics and visualisation and towards more complex analytics and machine learning. This is where (big) data really becomes relevant and this is where I see the most significant changes in the coming year.

    With the recent UK industrial strategy placing so much focus on AI and data, this is the year when people stop talking about big data and start just using it, and using it the right way.

    Dr Austin Tanney is the Head of Life Sciences and Healthcare at Analytics Engines



    Increasing demand in the initial coin offering (ICO) space will become yet more prevalent this year. This will disrupt traditional organisation structures, and the means of investments and raising funds.

    We’re starting to see a move away from only financial services organisations looking at uses for blockchain, and are seeing more activity in energy and utilities, manufacturing and healthcare which we predict will continue in the year ahead.

    There is a big opportunity for blockchain to provide transparency and accountability in the supply chain. Blockchain for digital identity purposes will also become more tangible over the next 12 to 18 months.

    Seamus Cushley is a Director of Blockchain, Fintech & Digital at PwC UK


    Cyber Security

    Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

    This certainly applies to the cyber security challenges confronting all organisations in 2018.

    Beyond being a fun start-of-the-year exercise, there is real value to be gained by organisations in taking time to review the wide range of cyber security predictions available. They can act as useful aids in understanding the current industry and cyber threat trends when planning future strategies and investments, and at the same time provide information to educate others within your organisation.

    Organisations need to expect that they will be subject to cyber attacks. This does not mean they will all face sophisticated state-sponsored attacks. The majority of attacks target basic vulnerabilities and require organisations to get their cyber hygiene in order. Business owners need to treat cyber security in the same way it deals with other business risks. They need to understand what needs to be protected, assess the risk and put appropriate measures in place. Ciaran Martin, CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre stated that “cyber defence is about risk management and harm reduction”.

    It is likely we will see the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) taking action - including fines - against the many organisations that have not yet addressed General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) compliance requirements which come into effect in May 2018.

    Phishing, malware and ransomware will continue to evolve and target users in new areas. With the current interest in crypto-currencies, don’t be surprised to see malicious crypto-mining apps or attacks targeting coin-exchanges and user’s coin-wallets.

    Privileged account access is a key target for the cyber attacker. There will be more organisational focus on improving the management of privileged account credentials due to the risks they present of system-wide access with little ability for protection once access is granted.

    Internet of Things (IoT) networks and devices including consumer products will be subject to new ransomware attacks or be used for mounting botnet attacks.

    2018 will see an increase in cloud services breaches through errors, design issues and ineffective controls, as organisations, particularly using IaaS, struggle to implement effective traditional security controls (for which they are responsible) and which do not map well to new cloud-based environments.

    We will see increasing pressure from corporate organisations and government for evidence of good cyber security hygiene from their SME supply chains through independent certifications such as Cyber Essentials, IASME and ISO 27001. This is being driven by evidence of increases in the number of supply-chain attacks.

    There will be more focus placed on cyber attack detection to supplement existing preventative controls. Effective security monitoring and analytics (now in some cases utilising Artificial Intelligence (AI) and/or machine learning technologies) can help organisations react to attacks quicker and when complemented with suitable incident response processes significantly reduce the impacts.

    There will continue to be a shortfall in skilled cyber security professionals which may drive organisations to consider the use of managed security services or external cyber security services.

    Conrad Simpson is a Director of specialist cyber security company, Cyphra.  



    Any tech companies which rely on the use of personal data whether to provide a B2C service, or hosting on a client’s behalf through a cloud-based solution, will need to dedicate the next few months getting to grips with the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The regulation comes into force on May 25.

    Whether they are acting as ‘controllers’ or ‘processors’, if they are relying on consent as the legal basis for processing, tech companies will need to give serious thought to the nature of the consent they are obtaining from data subjects in order to provide a viable service which keeps them (and their clients) on the right side of the new law.

    As consent needs to be freely given, unambiguously and informed, for a lot of businesses (particularly the likes of fintech and adtech) this will mean working out how to translate complex uses of personal data in a way that is intelligible to consumers. It may also cause some headaches for tech providers of solutions which have no direct user interface (meaning less scope to obtain consent) – as is increasingly common in the IoT.

    Rather than leading to websites plastered with consent banners and links to realms of text, hopefully the challenges posed by the GDPR will inspire innovation: less reliance on consent, and consideration given to the other legal bases for processing which more closely align the rights of data subjects with the interests of the business. Tech companies harnessing that innovation are set to leap ahead in 2018.

    Katey Dixon is a Director at specialist commercial, technology, IP and media law practice Forde Campbell LLC



    It is estimated that there are already 20 billion connected devices globally, and we expect that this year, more and more devices will become connected - from washing machines that order more detergent when you need it, to trackers you attach to bikes, kids, suitcases and anything you don't want to lose.

    However, in many ways, the full potential of IoT is only now being realised. In 2018 we believe we will see more of a shift in focus on the number and diversity of connected devices towards a broader vision in which business goals, people and value take centre-stage - what is called ‘IoT in action’. 

    For us, this means demonstrating how the sensor data we collect through our devices can deliver ‘actionable insights’ for cities to use in the design of safer and smarter cities.

    With the huge influx of data being created through IoT, we predict that edge networking and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will have greater relevance, technologies we have also incorporated into our new product ACE, which we bring to market in mid-2018. 

    Other trends will be a move towards standardisation and the industry looking at greater security, especially with the introduction of GDPR this year. We also predict that more retail companies will start to look at using IoT to connect with customers, grow their brands and improve the customer journey in deeply personal ways.  

    The changes that IoT will bring to our society are nothing short of revolutionary and we are very excited to be part of it.

    Irene McAleese is Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of cycle tech company See.Sense



    What might be on the horizon for UX in 2018?

    AR and VR will take out the trash – lots of what currently passes for applications of AR and VR experience design will go the way of Shoshkeles (showing my age there), hamburger menus and the Flash intro – falling strictly into the “seemed like a good idea at the time” category.  

    As VC’s run out of patience and the marketplace generally gets bored of solutions looking for a problem, the market will calibrate to focus in on the applications of the technology which actually add value to people’s lives.

    People will continue to misuse the term UX – alas too many in our industry will add the label “UX” to job roles and people whose only claim to the title is that they know lots about UI and read Mashable once a month.

    The best interface is no interface – the greatest compliment that can be paid to an interface is that it isn’t noticed – it allows its users to achieve their goal with minimal effort.  So with voice and wearable technology becoming more mainstream, we will increasingly interact with technology with an entirely natural interface.

    The online and offline worlds are joining up – as consumers we live our lives effortlessly and thoughtlessly online and offline. The complementary disciplines of service design, product design and experience design allow brands the opportunity to join up the online and offline world for their customers.  So companies will be able with integrity to offer their customers a consistent and joined up experience in-store, online, on mobile device and across various channels – but only by knowing them intimately.

    Companies who obsess on their customers and solving their problems will continue to win – since 1995 digital product owners who obsess on their customers beat competitors and outperform the market.  Google said it best when they published their manifesto in 1997 entitled ‘Ten things we know to be true’ which started with the phrase “focus on the customer and all else will follow”.  We do well to mimic their design and product philosophy as their commercial performance would suggest they know what they’re talking about.

    Gareth Dunlop is CEO & Founder of dedicated experience design agency, Fathom 


    Last year, there was a lot of buzz in the immersive media sector about AR, which for most consumers still means mobile AR. However, in 2018, with no sign of a killer AR app yet, many are pinning their hopes on headset-based augmented or mixed reality (MR) and the spotlight has focussed on Magic Leap, who have teased the market with the promise of an incredible MR headset by the end of 2018.

    But while AR and MR continue to bristle with unfulfilled potential, VR is maturing as a medium and is poised and ready to consolidate its long-term appeal in 2018.  Prices are falling fast and the user base is set to double or more.  Stephen Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’ hits cinema screens in March, showcasing the potential of VR to the mass market. 

    Oculus launches their $199 ‘Go’ standalone-headset this quarter, and a raft of Windows VR headsets have already started to hit the shelves. This is all in addition to the rapidly growing PSVR, Rift, Vive and GearVR markets. 

    Educational and industrial use-cases are ever more prevalent, VR arcades and installations are sprouting up everywhere. The number of high-end gaming titles available across all platforms is exploding and 360 video content production is growing even faster.  So will 2018 be the year that VR finally enters the mainstream and proves it’s in it for the long haul?

    Phil Morrow is CEO of cinematic virtual reality studios RETìníZE

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