For anyone who saw Back To The Future Part II at an impressionable age, the fact that we have almost reached the impossibly futuristic year of 2015 without being any nearer to widespread use of the hoverboard, the self-drying jacket or the tiny expanding pizza seems a major disappointment.
But the reality of the future may be even more awe-inspiring than Marty McFly’s intelligent clothing and Doc Brown’s flying car that runs on banana skins. Emerging technologies such as 3D printing, and concepts such as the connected world of the Internet of Things could change the way we all live and work in scarcely believable ways.
A study this month from research house The Future Laboratory, in conjunction with Virgin Media Business, sets out to answer the question: what will the world look like in 2025?
The report forecasts the continued rise of a number of concepts and technologies that are already in their nascent stages. The remote working revolution will continue apace, with going to work becoming the exception rather than the norm.
The Future Laboratory also envisions a world where sophisticated avatars will keep tabs on our physical wellbeing and doctors can use 3D printing technology to remotely supply prescribed medication straight to a patient’s home. Meanwhile, touch technology and holograms will take immersive collaboration experiences far beyond even the most advanced videoconferencing systems that are currently in existence.
The proliferation of machine-to-machine networking will be one of the key drivers of technological progression, predicted Mark Heraghty, chief executive of Virgin Media Business. Areas to benefit from advances will include education and, particularly, healthcare.
The Virgin boss claimed the current system of waiting days for an appointment and then having to kill time in sterile waiting rooms will become incredibly old-fashioned as connectivity and collaboration technologies advance.
“Take consumer banks as [a yardstick]; who wants to spend 10 days waiting for an appointment?,” he said. “We have got used to [a new way of doing things] in the banking world, and could never go back to the old world of visiting your bank manager and getting money from a counter. The healthcare system looks pretty antiquated by comparison.”
“[For the elderly and infirm], we can envisage care being delivered remotely and at least delaying the date at which someone has to leave the comfort of their home.”
But can the channel really turn this impressive-sounding vision of our future into genuine revenue-generating opportunities? Or will the extinction of some of its biggest cash cows and the move towards a new way of delivering and using technology spell doom for resellers?
Mathias Knöfel, senior manager for corporate benchmarking and pricing research at Context, predicted that the rise of the cloud could increase direct selling and require the channel to redefine its role.
He said: “Vendors and corporates might still use the reseller channel due to value-add, but the more different operating systems are linked to the cloud - Chrome/Android, iOS, Windows - the more we might see a direct delivery model through online or on-street stores such as Google Play, Amazon, Apple stores, and Microsoft stores for the consumer channel.”
Predictably, exploiting the opportunities presented by the cloud was a recurrent theme in what channel onlookers told CRN about how VARs should adapt. Dave Chalmers, EMEA vice president of HP Enterprise Group, asserted that by 2025 “all organisations will have hybrid environments… they will hold on premise what makes the organisation unique, but everything else on the cloud”.
“Differentiated vendors and channel players will be those that thrive in the hybrid, messy environment, where organisations change cloud-based services regularly. If you can handle that rate of change, you will thrive,” he added.
“Those partners that stay in hardware arbitrage will struggle as they will need to demonstrate added-value services. From the vendor point of view, the key challenge will be management of hybrid environments. For the channel it will be the expertise and advice helping clients manage their hybrid environments.”
But Dave Stevinson, sales director at distributor VIP Computers, points out that the need for physical products can never be eradicated, and channel players that adapt effectively will always thrive.
“The IT channel will still exist in 2025, demonstrating that Darwin was right and the survival of the fittest remains true,” he said. “Users will still need physical inventory and there will not be a more efficient way of fulfilling hardware than through the IT channel of vendor, distributor and reseller working in harmony. But VARs must stay close to their customers and realise that the technology we will all use in 2025 may not even exist today.”
The concept of 3D printing might sound far-fetched to most people (or at least most who do not work in the tech industry), but the technology has been around for the best part of a decade.
Market watcher Wohlers Associates predicts the market will be worth $3.1bn (£1.9bn) by 2016, and $5.2bn by 2020. The technology is often pegged as the next big thing, and one that could break out into more widespread consumer use. But Dave Stevinson, sales director at distributor VIP Computers, belies that even by 2025, “3D printing will be very niche and hardly used”.
Alastair McAulay, IT expert at PA Consulting Group, agrees that “the general population will not immerse themselves in freeware CAD packages, abandon buying things in the shops, and make everything from bath plugs to baby toys on their own 3D printers”.
But the technology will take off in the business world in certain niches, he believes, using the example of a company that could “print a replica of your newborn baby’s foot”. “The ecosystem of 3D printing service companies will expand to make it easier for people to print things that have value to them,” he explained.
Connectivity and the Internet of Things
The concept of the Internet of Things is another that has been around for some years, having been coined by renowned British technologist Kevin Aston in 1999. But the idea of a world where the lines between the physical and virtual world begin to blur and everyday objects – perhaps even our own bodies – become connected devices appears to be drawing closer to becoming reality.
David Chalmers, chief technologist at HP’s EMEA Enterprise Group, predicts that “the Internet of Things will be the dominant model in 2025 and will power all sorts of services available through the internet”. He singles out the example of sensor-equipped street lamps that come on and off when necessary. “[There will be] more consumer technologies in the home and sensor technology in everything,” he added.
“These sensors will communicate machine to machine in incredible volumes, far more than person to person or machine to person. Everything we see or touch will have a sensor, leading to an exponential increase in data volumes.”
Big data and cloud
Big data and the cloud are concepts that are already very much with us. But our usage of cloud services and the exponential proliferation of data volumes are two trends that are sure to continue unabated. Annual internet traffic is projected to pass the zettabyte mark in 2015 – this is equivalent to one trillion gigabytes. A recent Symantec study claims that businesses across the globe currently store 2.2 zettabytes of data. The Future Laboratory report expects total worldwide data storage to reach 100 zettabytes by 2025. This equates to 36 billion years of HD video. Gareth Whiting, channel manager for Business ByDesign at SAP UK and Ireland, said: “The amount of information stored in the cloud will quadruple with the mainstream adoption of private, public and community clouds.” David Noguer Bau, head of service provider marketing at Juniper Networks, goes even further. “Ultimately, one way or another all data will reside in the cloud. It is just a matter of time,” he said. The prediction of Kim King, vice president of channels at Progress Software, falls somewhere in the middle: “Data volumes will continue to grow and we believe that by 2025, 75 per cent of an organisation’s data will be in the cloud.”
Mobility and touch
The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets has ensured that mobile connectivity and touchscreen technologies are already a big part of everyday life. But the mobility revolution will surely start to have a bigger impact on the way we work and live, and our long-standing reliance on keyboards and mice may become a thing of the past as input technologies based on gesture or voice become prevalent.
Richard Eglon, marketing director at support services firm Comms-care, predicts that “in tomorrow’s world, BYOD will become the sole IT policy of all organisations”.
“Once a single device is being used across all areas of our lives, and applications are solely accessed from private and public cloud infrastructures, demand for a virtual ‘Any device, single desktop’ view of a network will proceed,” he said. “This virtualised world will provide VARs with both challenges and opportunities.”
While Luke Noonan, purchasing director of low-cost tablet maker disgo, perhaps unsurprisingly predicts that the tablet will become the predominant client computing form factor. “In terms of home entertainment, the tablet device won’t just be a second screen anymore,” he said. “It will also be the control centre for the home, turning the lights on and off, changing the temperature or changing the TV channel.”
Looking into the channel's crystal ball
“A tablet device will be the only way to order a meal in a restaurant, take notes in a meeting, view products to purchase or watch in-flight entertainment.”
Luke Noonan, purchasing director, disgo
In 2025, 65 per cent of today's primary school kids will be in jobs that don't yet exist.
“The physical keyboard and mouse will definitely be history and input devices will be a blend of voice, eye movement, gesture, tilt and handwriting recognition, which will be ubiquitous. The screen will be even slimmer, with no bezel and integrated into glass desks, walls and even windows.”
Dave Stevinson, sales director, VIP Computers
In 2025, data-enabled buildings will reduce energy consumption and C02 emissions by 50 - 70 per cent
“Spare parts for machines such as cars and high-value domestic appliances will no longer be held in a warehouse. Instead they will be ‘printed’ by the repairer on demand as required.”
Alastair McAulay, IT expert, PA Consulting Group
There will be 100 zettabytes of data stored by 2025
“By putting sensors on lamp posts so they are activated only when people are near, they will save considerable amounts of power for local authorities and the nation.
Clichés such as ‘the fridge will order you more milk as needed’ will become real, because it is not technically hard to do.”
Dave Chalmers, chief technologist, vice president HP Enterprise Group EMEA
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“I am still waiting for a true universal language decoder. I spend a lot of my time overseas and would love a device that allows for a true real-time, highly accurate translation.”
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