Technology Leader’s Guide To Emerging Technology

There are a variety of trends contributing to the growth of emerging technology. From digitization and connectivity to AI and cloud, today’s business environment is a fertile ground for new and expanding technologies. Technology has given the customer more power and control over their experiences while completely disrupting business models and industries, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the generative AI explosion. Global tech spending is up 5.3% this year as more organizations work to apply new technology to their business models.

Organizations that can leverage these trends effectively have the potential to gain a competitive advantage and drive innovation in their respective industries. The key to successfully leveraging emerging technology is understanding the benefits that specific technologies can bring to your organization, knowing how to evaluate the technologies available, and having the right skills in place to deploy and maximize the technology.

What Is Emerging Technology?

Forrester defines emerging technology as the practical application of new technical knowledge to existing or emerging products or services. These technologies are still in development or early adoption stages and have the potential to disrupt existing industries and create new ones.

What Are The Benefits Of Emerging Technology?

Emerging technologies present new opportunities to create new market value and innovative business models. They often enable improved and disruptive ways to deliver better customer outcomes.

Their benefits can vary depending on the specific technology and its application. But some common benefits include:

Innovation and creativity
New technologies often enable new ways of thinking, problem-solving, and creating, leading to innovative solutions and creative products or services.
Efficiency and productivity
Many techs can automate tasks, streamline processes, and improve communication, leading to increased efficiency and productivity in various industries.
Competitive advantage
By adopting emerging techs early or utilizing them in unique ways, businesses can gain a competitive advantage.
Improved customer experience
Some new technologies can enhance customer experience by providing personalized services, real-time assistance, and seamless interactions across multiple channels.
Cost savings
Some technologies can reduce costs by automating tasks or improving resource utilization.
Environmental benefits
New software and tools can help reduce environmental impact by promoting sustainable practices or reducing waste through more efficient processes.

Evaluating Emerging Technologies

Companies that understand the value of emerging technologies understand the importance of continuously scanning the horizon for what’s new. But instead of producing watch lists, high-performing organizations set priorities for their tech choices and view them as opportunities that live at the intersection of existing IT capabilities, new technology, and business opportunity. They can assess the potential value of new technologies, put them through their paces in a realistic business context, and transition the winners into full-scale production. They prioritize the opportunities that they are planning to pursue.

Forrester’s ReCPI framework breaks down the four phases that are involved in evaluating emerging technologies: research, communicate, prove, and integrate.

Research: When it comes to the research phase, the ReCPI framework recommends three steps:

  • Research trends first, then dive into the technologies driving them.
  • Assess the potential value and risk more broadly.
  • Try out the technology before you start communicating about it broadly.

Communicate: Effective communication is an essential piece of technology research. There are two main points for communicating emerging technologies:

  • Focus on education, not promotion.
  • Focus your persuasion efforts on sponsors with resources to spend.

Prove: In the prove phase, your organization determines its readiness for a new tech by taking the following steps:

  • Prove technology capability through experiments.
  • Assess your culture and talent fit for a specific technology.
  • Evaluate the impact on processes and the technology architecture.

Integrate: To ensure your emerging technology innovation efforts can scale from proof of technology to commercial value, organizations should:

  • Support ad hoc innovation and focus on specific business cases with short-term payback.
  • Support strategic innovation by demonstrating how it can meet broad business goals.
  • Support technology-driven innovation (TDI) by proving its disruptive potential.

It’s important to note that these phases don’t represent a static series of “one and done” process steps but are a set of interrelated activities around which you iterate as needed.

In addition to the considerations in the ReCPI model, there is another key factor to consider when evaluating any emerging technology: maturity. When will the technology deliver the expected benefits to your organization? And what is the maturity of your organization to leverage the technology?

It is helpful to group technologies into what Forrester calls “benefit horizons” to help understand how mature a technology is and when it may deliver benefits to an organization. For example, technologies in the short-term benefit horizon are expected to deliver ROI in the next two years, those in the medium-term horizon will be more in the two- to five-year range, and those in the long-range benefit horizon will take more than five years to produce benefits for most firms.

Of course, every firm is different and has its own priorities and risk appetite that can factor into its technology investment strategy. More mature firms may take a more aggressive approach to investing in emerging technologies that are further out on the benefit horizon or may have a specific use case that is ready for a tech in this bucket. But less mature or more risk-averse firms may want to be more conservative in their technology investments.

Shiny Object Syndrome

Emerging technologies are always … emerging. That means they can show up on technology radars and watch lists and drop off at an unpredictable cadence and pace. For example, in 2022, marketers and investors were taken in by metaverse hype and invested millions in metaverse-related technology such as VR, virtual worlds, NFT-based loyalty efforts, and Web3. And many of those investments have failed to produce a real return.

That variability makes it even more vital for technology leaders to separate the hype from true promise in developing a business case for emerging technologies. During the explosive stage, shiny tech objects can entice and distract firms from delivering real value, and executive FOMO (fear of missing out) can override rational decision-making. Historically, new technologies went through a pattern of exploding onto the scene, then going through a down cycle before eventually settling into (hopefully) a place they can deliver real business value without distracting the organization. But today, the cycles are less predictable with a lot of different patterns — some where tech can explode and jump right to value and others where they come and go. And sometimes a technology like quantum computing can be on the horizon for a very long time and just creep along until it explodes.

To avoid getting too caught up in the hype and myths surrounding a new technology, consider these four common mistakes technology leaders make. They may:

  1. Fail to consider human willingness to use the technology. Just because a new technology is developed doesn’t mean people will actually use it. For example, while augmented reality (AR) has been available for a long time and can deliver great experiences, Forrester’s Consumer Benchmark Survey, 2023, found that only 24% of online adult AR adopters use it to consume information.
  2. Not properly assess the benefits and risks of the new technology. It’s important to weigh the potential benefits against the costs and risks before adopting an emerging technology. For instance, while genAI may offer significant productivity gains, technology leaders must consider privacy risks and security concerns.
  3. Choose use cases that the technology is not ready to support. It’s important to ensure that the technology can effectively support the use cases you’ve identified it for. For example, extended reality (XR) may be useful for employee training and remote assistance, but the current form factors are still too large and crude for most consumer applications.
  4. Be confused about the difference between emerging technology and innovation. Some teams fail to understand the difference between an innovative technology and a business innovation that creates value. Measuring tech teams based on how many technologies they introduce rather than the actual value created can lead to this confusion.

Technology professionals can help their research and innovation peers decipher fact from fiction and understand the architectural implications of certain decisions. This requires a new mindset for the more traditional or conservative technology teams. They must embrace concepts like minimal viable products (MVPs), failing fast, exceptions management, and frequent and continuous engagement with business counterparts. To do this well, technology teams must weave three core themes into their day-to-day support:

  1. Evolve the architecture. This approach treats architecture as an evolution rather than a static entity. The technology team’s role is to enable the proofing, integrating, expediting, and scaling of emerging technology in a way that blends the ability to innovate with context and architectural knowledge to minimize wasted cycles. That means keeping close tabs on existing standards and reasons for exceptions while managing those exceptions over time.
  2. Implement high-risk technology. The security and risk (S&R) teams help establish the organization’s risk tolerance, working side by side with technology teams to identify and analyze risks and mitigate and monitor them. Ultimately, it falls on the technology team to develop a resilient plan to use new high-risk tech.
  3. Communicate with peers. All of this work necessitates collaboration and communication with multiple groups — innovation and research teams, business stakeholders, S&R professionals, technology workers outside the tech professionals’ team, HR stakeholders, and technology leadership. Historically, collaboration and communication haven’t been the greatest strengths for tech professionals, and a key challenge will be taking complex concepts and communicating them in a clear and concise manner.

You could chase every shiny new idea … but you’d exhaust your budget and your CFO would hate you and you probably wouldn’t achieve anything.

Paul Miller
Forrester VP and Principal Analyst at Technology & Innovation Summit EMEA

Examples Of Emerging Technologies

Each year Forrester analyzes hundreds of new and emerging technologies and creates a list of top 10 emerging technologies that may rise above the rest in terms of promise. These are our latest technologies, listed by which benefit horizon they fit under.

Short-term benefit horizon
  1. Generative AI (genAI): Obviously “the” technology of the past year. It’s being used in a broad sense here, considering it’s a set of technologies and techniques that includes large language models and leverages massive amounts of data to generate new content. To learn more, visit our generative AI hub here.
  2. Autonomous workplace assistants (AWAs): Software that can make decisions, act without approval, and perform a service based on environment, context, user input, and learning in support of workplace goals.
  3. Conversational AI: Software that uses a combination of deterministic decision trees, natural language processing, and machine learning to provide automated assistance by simulating a two-way conversation via text or speech.
Medium-term benefit horizon
  1. Decentralized digital identity (DDID): Solutions and identity networks that provide distributed, verifiable, and revocable credentials — and claims — based on decentralized trust mechanisms between issuers, verifiers, and users.
  2. Edge intelligence: Capabilities that help capture data, embed inferencing, and connect insight within a real-time network of application, device, and communication ecosystems.
  3. Explainable AI (XAI): Techniques and software capabilities for ensuring that people understand how AI systems arrive at their outputs.
  4. TuringBots: AI-powered software that augments developers and their teams’ ability to develop and manage software applications in automatic and autonomous ways.
Long-term benefit horizon
  1. Extended reality (XR): A technology that overlays computer imagery on a user’s field of vision using augmented, mixed, and virtual reality technologies that are supported by the same developer tools, sensors and cameras, and simulation engines.
  2. Web3: A concept that promises a World Wide Web that is not dominated by Big Tech or other established firms like banks.
  3. Zero Trust edge (ZTE): A solution that securely connects and transports digital information, using Zero Trust access principles, in and out of remote sites leveraging mostly cloud-based security and networking services.

Addressing The Skills Gap

When working to fill tech skill needs, it is important to consider the skills required at the three different stages of innovation: exploration, deployment, and scaling.

  • The exploration stage requires a broad understanding of a wide range of technologies, as well as a deeper knowledge of some specific technologies to determine how to apply them to specific business scenarios.
  • The deployment stage is about designing, deploying, and operating technologies, so key skill requirements include technology design and programming, systems analysis and evaluation, human-centered design, and privacy and ethics awareness.
  • The scaling stage is when you bring emerging tech to all users in your organization, which involves governance and education. Skills such as communication and change management are important in this stage.

When it comes to gaining the necessary skills, the options are similar to those you have for tech itself: Build them internally or go outside to find them. In Forrester’s Digital Business Strategy Survey, 2023, 33% of digital business strategy decision-makers polled said they planned to hire new employees to address emerging tech skill needs. That point alone speaks to how competitive the market is and will become for the skills needed. Other options include training or upskilling existing talent, using freelance talent, or partnering with external organizations that specialize in the right skills.

Training and upskilling existing talent can be a cost-effective way to address the skills gap. This can involve providing employees with training programs, workshops, or online courses to develop their knowledge and skills in specific technologies. Upskilling programs can also include mentoring and on-the-job training to ensure employees can apply their newfound skills in real-world scenarios. By investing in the development of your existing workforce, you not only fill skills gaps but also foster a culture of continuous learning and innovation.

Leveraging freelance talent or external consultants who specialize in emerging technologies provides access to expertise without the long-term commitment of hiring full-time employees. You can engage freelancers on a project basis to provide the specific skills and knowledge needed for a particular initiative. This flexibility allows organizations to tap into a diverse pool of talent and adapt quickly to changing technology needs.

Collaborating with external organizations that specialize in emerging technology skills is another avenue to consider. This could involve partnering with universities, research institutions, or technology companies to access their expertise and resources. These partnerships can facilitate knowledge transfer, access to cutting-edge research, and even co-innovation opportunities. By collaborating with external organizations, you can leverage their specialized skills and stay at the forefront of technology advancements.

In addition to addressing the immediate skills gap, you must develop a long-term strategy for building and maintaining the skills within your organization. This involves creating a learning culture that encourages employees to stay updated on emerging technologies and provides opportunities for continuous skill development. You can achieve this through regular training programs, knowledge-sharing sessions, and participation in industry conferences and events. It is also important to establish career pathways and growth opportunities for employees who want to specialize in emerging technologies, ensuring that they have a clear progression plan and are motivated to acquire and apply new skills.

Emerging technologies offer immense opportunities for organizations to innovate, differentiate, and create value. However, to fully harness their potential, you must have the right skills and capabilities in place. Evaluating emerging technologies requires a systematic approach that considers factors such as potential value, maturity, and fit with organizational goals. It is important to avoid falling into the trap of “shiny object syndrome” and focus on technologies that have the potential to deliver real business value.

Furthermore, addressing the skills gap is crucial for successful implementation and adoption. This can involve training and upskilling existing talent, leveraging freelance or external expertise, and fostering partnerships with organizations specializing in emerging technology skills. By investing in the right skills and capabilities, organizations can stay ahead in the ever-evolving landscape of emerging technology and drive innovation and growth.

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