Geoff Wilson / Digital Strategy / April 15th, 2017

Key Software Trends Innovation Leaders Need to Know

A recent McKinsey report identified 12 disruptive technologies that will shape the future of the world and of business – a continuing shift to Industry 4.0 based on automation, big data, cloud computing and the connected Internet of Things. While these technologies may not apply to every enterprise, they’re supported by a few key software trends that every business innovator should be aware of. 

As enterprise organizations explore how to pursue large-scale emerging technologies, it’s vital to remember that while hardware shapes the form of many new platforms, software drives the function. When exploring new tech, here are four software trends innovators need to know as they prove new ideas, scale existing products and seek to avoid disruption.

 

Microservices Architecture – If you work in the enterprise, you know the daily struggles of working with legacy software systems – platforms that layer new functionality atop old code for years until the system loses stability, speed and efficacy. While legacy software is surely valuable, it creates true headaches for the enterprise. Yet unfortunately, many digital innovators are tasked with incrementally improving legacy products of the core business, or build new products in the same ways they’ve always been built.

Microservices offers a new way of building software that focuses on creating distributed apps that work alongside each other, rather than stacking shared code and resources that may limit growth and expansion. Since each service – cloud computing, database, payment processing, etc. – is built and performs independently, software becomes far more stable and scalable. Each service can be optimized, rewritten or taken offline completely without affecting the functionality of the platform.

This architecture offers a unique opportunity for business and IT innovators to build a product with the long-term future in mind. By laying a foundation of scalability and stability, innovators ensure software products that can flex to meet customer demands without the typical mess of iterative code.


Blockchain – Best known as the foundation for the digital currency Bitcoin, it’s easy to dismiss blockchain as a hacker technology. Yet, as the technology matures, it’s clear it offers great promise, and potential challenges, for the enterprise – some have called it the second coming of the Internet. That may seem hyperbolic for a technology in its infancy, but blockchain may offer new efficiencies for everything from healthcare records to voting to retail supply chain management.

Similar to how microservices distributes applications, a blockchain creates a distributed database, or ledger, which allows for security and transparency across an entire data ecosystem. A secure, private blockchain makes it far easier to manage transactions and interactions across massive systems and datasets. Recently, Walmart and IBM announced a blockchain initiative to manage its global supply chain of pork to avoid potential outbreaks of tainted food. The project ties the entirety of the commercial network together, providing full transparency, from producer to packaging plant to retail store, all within a single system.

While blockchain is still in its early days, it’s a technology that innovators and executives cannot afford to ignore for long. Take a look at how blockchain may revolutionize the way we share and interact with data transactions, and how the first iteration of the technology – Bitcoin – is only the tip of the iceberg.

Open Source and API Integration – Public application program interfaces (API) are nothing new in the development world, yet they can open critical paths for innovators looking to rapidly build prototypes to prove an idea’s merit. Software APIs create valuable opportunities for innovators to create openness within the innovation lab, find external partners and generate new revenue streams for the core business.

New software development is a game of balance, particularly when trying to determine if an idea has legs in the marketplace. Innovators need to weigh the cost of developing proprietary technology against the value of quickly validating a product feature using an open source tool. Using APIs to accomplish certain tasks, rather than creating custom, proprietary tools allows product managers to determine what works in a product and then set a path toward developing a custom tool down the road.


Emerging User Interfaces – As we saw at CES 2017, new products featuring Amazon Alexa integration reigned supreme. While many companies have struggled to adapt to voice interaction in a meaningful way (it’s quite likely your customers don’t need a smart product), voice is just one new frontier for the way consumers use products and services. In the past, we’ve shown that voice interaction is the next wave of user experience, and it’s an area that most UX designers don’t fully consider when approaching product choices.

Emerging UIs seem like an extension of physical products, but they’re largely driven by software – cloud computing, adaptive artificial intelligence systems and more. New interactions like chatbots, Slack interactions, and connected packaging all represent unprecedented consumer interaction and experiences. Deploying these technologies appropriately requires a new mentality around software and what it’s capable of.

This article was originally published on EnterpriseInnovation.com, our new publication focused on corporate innovation strategies, profiles and news.