Best of IBMCAI: Top seven tech lessons from 2015

By Julie Yamamoto and Raluca Dode

Have you made any tech resolutions for the New Year? Going green with a hybrid car? Making your home more intelligent with smart appliances? Trying to get healthier with a weight-loss app? The New Year is a great time to set resolutions and think about what’s ahead for the year. In the coming weeks, the IBM Center for Applied Insights will release some articles on upcoming trends and directions, so stay tuned.

As we look ahead, however, it’s also an ideal time for reflection. Which topics generated the biggest buzz? What does that suggest about the future? When we looked back at the most influential posts from last year, they aligned around seven pieces of advice.

1. Don’t be caught off-guard by IoT.

Search trend data can be really interesting. If you search for terms like “social media” or “analytics,” the trend lines seem to show a marked correlation between when the search volume spiked and when those areas began to have a real impact on business. So it’s no accident that search volumes have dramatically increased this year on the Internet of Things (IoT), which also happens to be the most popular topic on our blog. Our top 2015 post, in fact, Twenty IoT trends to watch, continues to garner strong interest, as does our IoT industry series, covering the manufacturing, energy and utilities, transportation and retail industries. To stay in the loop on this hot topic, be sure to watch for the next IoT trends post coming out later this month.

Source: Google search trends
Source: Google search trends

2. Break away from the crowd with cognitive computing.

Another emerging trend that sprinted its way into our top posts for the year was Five ways cognitive computing will transform business. The search pattern for “cognitive computing” is interesting because it is basically flat (non-existent) prior to 2009 but really starts to pick up speed in 2013. The idea of the smart machine has certainly been capturing human imagination in movies and fiction well before IBM experts John Kelly and Stephen Hamm published their book, “Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing” in 2013. However, as fiction turns into reality, the potential for solving what were previously unsolvable problems presents a huge opportunity for business and the planet. It’s an opportunity that is looming larger for business leaders. A recent study noted that more than a third of CxOs already see cognitive as being key to preparing for a future where the competitor of tomorrow will be invisible today.

3. Turbocharge decision making with data insights.

It’s no surprise that the explosion of data and how organizations can use analytics to generate valuable insight was one of the highest ranked tech topics we covered on our blog. Getting value from massive amounts of data was a burning topic in 2015, and we expect to see continued interest in 2016.

Derek_FranksBusiness leaders are especially interested in the specifics of how data insight can be used to drive competitive advantage and generate business value. And many organizations are working to become more data-driven. The payoff can be substantial, as we saw in this post that highlights how analytics powered Netflix’s bold investment in “House of Cards”.

These benefits are proving to be nearly universal as industries and enterprises across the globe are leveraging data insights to reshape business models and increase customer engagement. Big data and analytics were among the top tech focus areas for CIOs in Latin America. Organizations in Brazil made big data and analytics integral to their decision making processes. Banking and telco businesses in the Middle East and Africa leveraged big data to better understand their customers, reduce fraud and risk, and build a competitive advantage.

In 2015, we embarked on a quest to discover how forward-thinking businesses capitalized on data and analytics for strategic and timely decision making, the challenges organizations were facing and how they can overcome them. We saw that when making sense of multiple sources of structured and unstructured data becomes a challenge, the cloud can provide a new way to produce and consume insight in big organizations, and insight-as-a-service applications can be essential in their journey from data to insight. To show the pervasiveness of data – even at a very personal level – one of our data scientists shared how he used data to find the right car at the right price.

4. Amaze your customers and fans through intelligent social analytics.

blind_spot_bigIn our new always-on, interconnected world, the balance of power (and conversation) is shifting away from a one-to-many to a one-to-one. Customers want instant information, personalized and tailored to their individual needs. Social data can be a huge source of business insight to help businesses respond to this demand. We’ve highlighted ways in which organizations are making sense of social data: They go beyond simple reporting and analyze behaviors, trends, patterns and correlations to create a powerful instrument for better customer insight and engagement.

This is true in the world of sports as well, where fans want to go beyond just watching the event and immerse themselves in the entire experience through a wealth of interactive media – getting closer than ever before to their heroes. As our Roland Garros analysis revealed, the famous tennis event, also known as the French Open, has become an explosion of data, information and insight that is helping players, coaches, commentators, organizers and sponsors become more intelligent about how they deliver the fan experience. Moreover, it’s helping fans gain their desired instant access to interactive game insights and instant replays, all of which is shareable, interactive and engaging. Fans are no longer simply at the game; they are now part of it. This is a great inspiration for businesses, as patterns of social data can help them answer critical questions that suggest the optimum course of action for success.

5. Discover the secrets of successful mobile development.

Source: Scripting a successful mobile development projectMobile is everywhere now, and cutting the cord is becoming more and more ubiquitous with the growth in wearables and the IoT. Mobile development skills are hard to come by – most mobile developers we interviewed in 2015 have five years of experience or less. So, as demand for mobile functionality continues to rise, it could outpace IT organizations’ capacity to deliver in the next few years. In this high-stakes landscape, knowing the secrets of success for mobile development projects could be a key to competitive advantage in the next few years.

One emerging area that this could have a profound impact on is in smartphone and mobile payment technologies. Fintech startups in Japan may be the pioneers in this digital money arena as companies in the communication, transportation and retail industries have been investing in mobile payment options for the past decade.

5. Bet on your own data leaders.

The reality of a rapidly changing technology industry is that tapping into the right talent and skills to stay on top of emerging trends is of paramount competitive importance for businesses. We spoke to forward-thinking organizations that are hiring new types of data leaders — chief data officers, chief analytics officers and other executives in roles that focus on implementing and optimizing their use of data. Data leaders who can successfully overcome challenges and drive value for their businesses are in high demand, even in traditional industries such as government. As businesses become increasingly data-driven, the demand for analytics skills will likely outpace the availability of those skills in the marketplace. Many organizations have major to moderate gaps in analytics skills. As the shortage continues, one strategy organizations can take is to build the skills from within with these three tips.

7. Tap into a smarter workforce with workforce science.

Smarter-Workforce-AnalyticsEven though human resources (HR) is an area of the business that sits on top of a gold mine of owned data, most of these teams are unable to apply predictive analytics to address important people issues and maximize their workforce potential. While many workforce teams seem to be reasonably comfortable with basic benchmarking and reporting, most are still at an early stage in their workforce analytics journey. Building a workforce analytics function: The first 100 days offers HR teams a simple phased approach for establishing this critical function which is predicted to become even more essential as we head into 2016.

What’s your top focus for 2016?

As technology is constantly evolving, what are the areas that could provide the most impact and opportunity for both businesses and individuals? Looking at the technology topics that generated the most buzz last year, it seems that advancements such as cognitive computing, IoT, analytics and workforce science could have a transformative impact. Stay tuned for more insights from @IBMCAI and have a wonderful, insightful 2016!

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