Each year, analysts predict some of the upcoming trends in the technology industry. Here is a look at some of the IT trends that matter for 2016, according to Hu Yoshida, chief technology officer at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS).
A greater focus on application and analytics
1. IT skills undergo transformation
To meet the challenges of IT transformation, IT must offload the grunt work that ties its staff to infrastructure management and operations and start to develop specialist skills in areas such as cloud enablement, analytics, DevOps, mobile, and business solutions. This transformation of IT skills will involve a change in culture and will require the commitment of both business and IT leaders.
DevOps is a software development methodology where operations and development engineers work together throughout the application cycle, resulting in high IT performance. Companies with high IT performance are twice as likely to exceed their profitability, market share, and productivity goals.
3. Data warehouses transition into data lakes
Big Data analytics involves the processing of large amounts of heterogeneous data derived from multiple sources and across multiple knowledge domains. Data lakes enable this by bringing together data sources in their original state which can then be analyzed by applications that are brought to the data. They must also be able to incorporate existing data warehouses to leverage the investments that have already been made.
4. IT takes control of provisioning analytics platforms
Business leaders will look to IT to make investments in analytics platforms, acknowledging the fact that IT has a better understanding of security, data privacy, integration, and the service level requirements of the business. This will reverse the shadow IT trend of business units acquiring their own analytics platforms and tools and creating their own data silos.
Instead of providing reference architectures detailing best practices for application enablement, vendors will begin to deliver these best practices as templates implemented through converged solutions. The converged infrastructure offers a more evolved platform for deriving greater cost efficiencies and time savings by allowing IT resources to be managed more cohesively.
6. In-memory databases gain traction
The move to in-memory databases will gather momentum as faster reporting and analysis deliver a clear competitive advantage in today’s real-time business environment. Developments such as the consolidation of SAP’s business suite onto the HANA in-memory database with S/4 HANA, and the emergence of converged solutions and cloud service providers, will help simplify IT and facilitate this migration.
7. Flash devices begin to replace high-performance disks
The availability of multi-terabyte flash devices will enable flash to compete with high-performance 15K RPM disk drives on a capacity-cost basis. As a result, the majority of storage systems delivered in 2016 will contain a percentage of flash to boost response times and reduce the cost of managing storage performance.
IT leadership drives innovation
8. Businesses prepare for next-gen cloud
According to a study by The Economist, some of the best practices that will help business leaders make the most of their cloud opportunities include improving supplier selection; choosing the right cloud service for the right task; making better use of integrators to connect cloud services to existing IT infrastructure; and considering factors such as cloud’s potential to improve business operations and boost employee efficiency.
9. IT infrastructure companies will be disrupted
As IT begins to focus more on application delivery, analytics, and the Internet of Things, pure-play infrastructure companies will try to cope with declining revenues by splitting off some parts of their business, acquiring new infrastructure companies, or merging with other infrastructure companies to drive economies of scale. However, in the longer term, they will have to be able to integrate IT with operational technology to deliver solutions around the Internet of Things that matter, in areas such as public safety, transportation, health, and life sciences.
10. IT plays leadership role in the 3rd Platform
IT will play a more proactive role in leading businesses through the transformation driven by social, mobile, analytics, and cloud, collectively known as the 3rd Platform. Contrary to the view that IT no longer plays a dominant role in driving enterprise technology spending, we believe that the compelling value of IT lies in its ability to implement 3rd Platform technologies in accordance with corporate requirements for security, data protection, availability, and collaboration. If IT does not step up to this leadership role, the result will be silos of information and duplication of processes that will inhibit business growth.
Please view the webinar discussing the top 10 IT trends that I see for 2016. This piece features insights from Greg Knieriemen, our technical evangelist, and Adrian Deluca, our Asia Pacific CTO. Greg and Adrian added their own perspectives on these trends. I would also like to hear your views. As you will see, I am expecting a major transformation to happen in IT and in the vendor community.
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About Hu Yoshida
Hu Yoshida is responsible for defining the technical direction of Hitachi Data Systems. Currently, he leads the company's effort to help customers address data life cycle requirements and resolve compliance, governance and operational risk issues. He was instrumental in evangelizing the unique Hitachi approach to storage virtualization, which leveraged existing storage services within Hitachi Universal Storage Platform® and extended it to externally-attached, heterogeneous storage systems.
Yoshida is well-known within the storage industry, and his blog has ranked among the "top 10 most influential" within the storage industry as evaluated by Network World. In October of 2006, Byte and Switch named him one of Storage Networking’s Heaviest Hitters and in 2013 he was named one of the "Ten Most Impactful Tech Leaders" by Information Week.
The emergence of blockchain technology couldn’t be more fortuitous for the 130-year old diamond industry, much of which is still powered by scraps of paper, a gentlemen’s handshake, and the promise to pay. But higher-quality synthetic stones are rampant and harder to detect, while hackers have breached certificate repositories, increasing the risk of fraud from fake, stolen or conflict zone diamonds.
This was the backdrop of an announced partnership between SAP Ariba and Everledger to explore blockchain initiatives that will help reduce risk and fraud for banks, insurers and open marketplaces, including the diamond industry. I listened to executives from both companies explain the partnership during an insightful roundtable at the recent SAP Ariba Live 2017 event.
“The ultimate beneficiary of our technology is the consumer,” said Leanne Kemp, CEO at Everledger. “Using the distributed ledger, people will know where their diamonds came from, if they’ve been rightfully traded, and if it’s a true diamond or a synthetic stone.”
Know your asset’s provenance
“We want to bring transparency to a worldwide business network that’s been fairly opaque ─ 81 countries are involved in the international diamond trade,” said Kemp. “The world is at a point where we can apply the worldwide ledger to mother earth’s assets, meaning diamonds. We have the ability to know and track an object through its provenance chain, enabling proof of its associated certification as well as compliance with duties and taxes.”According to Kemp, her fast-growing London-based startup has transacted over one million diamonds in its blockchain, and is expanding to cover other valuable assets such as wine and art.
New level of procurement trust
Blockchain has the potential to improve visibility into contracts between buyers and sellers for faster business with better outcomes for both parties in many industries. “If you can track and trace diamonds, you can track and trace anything,” said Joe Fox, vice president of Business Development and Strategy at SAP Ariba. “It makes sense for us to team up with Everledger, and apply the same chain framework around all goods for our customers.
Fox believes blockchain will transform procurement with a new trust protocol as applications are layered onto a cloud-based, tamper-proof network, driving more innovations. It will also help buyers gain greater trust in suppliers via third party verification across the supply chain.
“Blockchain brings trusted commerce,” said Fox. “We’re adding blockchain to the application layer so that we can build enhancements to existing applications and new chain-based applications using Hyperledger that we hadn’t even considered before like smart purchase orders and smart invoices. Blockchain is a business structure accessible everywhere sitting on the internet, and that’s what companies have been waiting for from a business enterprise software perspective.”
Opportunity in disintermediation
Getting diamonds onto the blockchain with a digital representation is just the beginning of market transformation. While blockchain allows international payments in minutes, potentially disintermediating banks, Fox said those institutions will shift to a more important, long-time role, providing trust between parties exchanging funds. Only now those transactions are based on matching the digital to the physical relative to currency and assets. “The quality of the chain is based on how well it’s designed for inheriting external trust,” he said.
It may be hard for seasoned diamond traders to imagine a world without bits of paper and their word alone, but trust us, it’s coming.
With people now looking beyond the banking industry for promising use cases built on blockchain technology, BlockShow Europe 2017 could not have come at a better time.
Held April 6-7 at the Alte Kongresshalle in Munich, Germany, the event attracted more than 560 people and featured 26 speakers, making it the largest international blockchain event in Europe to date. Organized by Cointelegraph in partnership with Nexussquared and BlockPay, BlockShow Europe provided ample opportunity for networking, knowledge sharing, and education.
The event attracted a mostly young, entrepreneurial crowd, many of whom were already working in established Bitcoin and blockchain startups. Innovation experts from the corporate sector were also on hand, as well as “explorers” who were just getting familiar with the technology. According to Cointelegraph, more than 200 individual networking meetings took place during the event.
Notable and quotable
Moderator Elizabeth Lumely, a leading expert on fintech solutions and managing director of Rainmaking, guided the program in a constructive exchange that offered information useful to both Bitcoin and blockchain people alike. She shared the results of a recent survey by Cointelegraph that asked: What is necessary for blockchain in the enterprise? Fifty-seven percent of respondents answered “security first for Bitcoin,” while 43% answered “smart contract Ethereum.”
Bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem presented the opening keynote, “The Current State of the Blockchain.” During his address, Shrem, founder of the Bitcoin Foundation and currently responsible for business development for cryptocurrency exchange Changelly, compared blockchain technology with the power of the printing press for its potential to remove corruption, power, and control from the hands of the few and put it back into the hands of the people. Shrem said, “The printing press gave people the ability to publish their own information very cheaply across borders around the world and distribute it in a decentralized way. Bitcoin is the printing press of our time. And blockchain technology is what’s powering that.”
Trust: the decisive factor
Panel discussions took on provocative hot topics like the challenges of blockchain implementation and initial coin offerings (ICOs) of cryptocurrencies. Panel experts agreed that blockchain technology is good for solving issues of trust, which they said seems to be the best measure for evaluating the promise of use cases. The blockchain community, however, is faced with challenges common to new technologies: lack of standardization; fee structure; interoperability between different blockchains; and absence of relevant legislation. One hurdle for new users of the technology may be a willingness to accept full responsibility for their data and use of the technology. As one panelist noted, there is no blockchain help line, for example, in the event that you lose your privacy key.
The banking industry was represented with a keynote from Daniel Drummer, vice president at JP Morgan, describing the blockchain-related projects underway at his company. In another keynote that resonated well with the audience, Milan Sallaba, partner at Deloitte, shared his organization’s insights and advice on how entrepreneurs can move from blockchain use cases to scalable production.
Use cases showcase breadth of new technology
Throughout the day, startups took to the main stage to present their blockchain use cases and business models. Here is a sampling of just a few.
Energy: The aim of SolarChange is to incentivize people and even developing nations to produce solar energy and sell it back into the grid. The blockchain billing mechanism allows people to track how much energy they are feeding into the grid.
Content distribution:DECENT provides a peer-to-peer content distribution network, without the absorbent fees associated with traditional publishing houses. Content on the network includes books, blogs, music, and video provided directly from the artist or author. DECENT’s Caesar testnet launched in March, and it plans to launch its mainnet in June.
Supply chain:Kouvala Innovation Oy, based in Finland, is using blockchain technology to enable an information backbone for the movement of goods Europe-wide – or the “Internet for Logistics” – so that every logistics company on the network can benefit from a new level of transparency into shipping activities. Test results with live data are expected at end of June.
Intellectual property:Bernstein.io is using blockchain-based, secured digital certificates to create a trail of record for inventors’ creations. Digital certificates can also be attached to non-disclosure confidentiality agreements to establish the existence of a creation and record who knew of it. Legal acceptance of blockchain certificates is developing rapidly because they provide reliable documentation for clients.
Fine art:Verisart is a startup that is using blockchain technology to provide verification of authenticity for fine art.
Blockchain Oscars: more use cases!
The event also featured a Blockchain Oscar Competition to select the most promising startups working with blockchain technology. The winner for “Most Innovative Blockchain Startup” was Etherisc, a German startup specializing in providing a blockchain solution for the insurance industry that uses smart contracts. The prize in this category was €5,000 worth of Bitcoins. The winner for “Startup with the Biggest Potential for Betterment of Humanity” was SolarChange. The prize in this category was €5,000 worth of tokens from Humaniq, a next-generation bank offering solutions for the unbanked.
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About Jacqueline Prause
Jacqueline Prause is the Senior Managing Editor of Media Channels at SAP. She writes, edits, and coordinates journalistic content for SAP.info, SAP's global online news magazine for customers, partners, and business influencers .
Last August, a woman arrived at a Reno, Nevada, hospital and told the attending doctors that she had recently returned from an extended trip to India, where she had broken her right thighbone two years ago. The woman, who was in her 70s, had subsequently developed an infection in her thigh and hip for which she was hospitalized in India several times. The Reno doctors recognized that the infection was serious—and the visit to India, where antibiotic-resistant bacteria runs rampant, raised red flags.
When none of the 14 antibiotics the physicians used to treat the woman worked, they sent a sample of the bacterium to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for testing. The CDC confirmed the doctors’ worst fears: the woman had a class of microbe called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Carbapenems are a powerful class of antibiotics used as last-resort treatment for multidrug-resistant infections. The CDC further found that, in this patient’s case, the pathogen was impervious to all 26 antibiotics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In other words, there was no cure.
This is just the latest alarming development signaling the end of the road for antibiotics as we know them. In September, the woman died from septic shock, in which an infection takes over and shuts down the body’s systems, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Other antibiotic options, had they been available, might have saved the Nevada woman. But the solution to the larger problem won’t be a new drug. It will have to be an entirely new approach to the diagnosis of infectious disease, to the use of antibiotics, and to the monitoring of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)—all enabled by new technology.
Keeping an Eye Out for Outbreaks
Like others who are leading the fight against AMR, Dr. Steven Solomon has no illusions about the difficulty of the challenge. “It is the single most complex problem in all of medicine and public health—far outpacing the complexity and the difficulty of any other problem that we face,” says Solomon, who is a global health consultant and former director of the CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance.
Solomon wants to take the battle against AMR beyond the laboratory. In his view, surveillance—tracking and analyzing various data on AMR—is critical, particularly given how quickly and widely it spreads. But surveillance efforts are currently fraught with shortcomings. The available data is fragmented and often not comparable. Hospitals fail to collect the representative samples necessary for surveillance analytics, collecting data only on those patients who experience resistance and not on those who get better. Laboratories use a wide variety of testing methods, and reporting is not always consistent or complete.
Surveillance can serve as an early warning system. But weaknesses in these systems have caused public health officials to consistently underestimate the impact of AMR in loss of lives and financial costs. That’s why improving surveillance must be a top priority, says Solomon, who previously served as chair of the U.S. Federal Interagency Task Force on AMR and has been tracking the advance of AMR since he joined the U.S. Public Health Service in 1981.
A Collaborative Diagnosis
Ineffective surveillance has also contributed to huge growth in the use of antibiotics when they aren’t warranted. Strong patient demand and financial incentives for prescribing physicians are blamed for antibiotics abuse in China. India has become the largest consumer of antibiotics on the planet, in part because they are prescribed or sold for diarrheal diseases and upper respiratory infections for which they have limited value. And many countries allow individuals to purchase antibiotics over the counter, exacerbating misuse and overuse.
In the United States, antibiotics are improperly prescribed 50% of the time, according to CDC estimates. One study of adult patients visiting U.S. doctors to treat respiratory problems found that more than two-thirds of antibiotics were prescribed for conditions that were not infections at all or for infections caused by viruses—for which an antibiotic would do nothing. That’s 27 million courses of antibiotics wasted a year—just for respiratory problems—in the United States alone.
And even in countries where there are national guidelines for prescribing antibiotics, those guidelines aren’t always followed. A study published in medical journal Family Practice showed that Swedish doctors, both those trained in Sweden and those trained abroad, inconsistently followed rules for prescribing antibiotics.
Solomon strongly believes that, worldwide, doctors need to expand their use of technology in their offices or at the bedside to guide them through a more rational approach to antibiotic use. Doctors have traditionally been reluctant to adopt digital technologies, but Solomon thinks that the AMR crisis could change that. New digital tools could help doctors and hospitals integrate guidelines for optimal antibiotic prescribing into their everyday treatment routines.
“Human-computer interactions are critical, as the amount of information available on antibiotic resistance far exceeds the ability of humans to process it,” says Solomon. “It offers the possibility of greatly enhancing the utility of computer-assisted physician order entry (CPOE), combined with clinical decision support.” Healthcare facilities could embed relevant information and protocols at the point of care, guiding the physician through diagnosis and prescription and, as a byproduct, facilitating the collection and reporting of antibiotic use.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s antibiotic stewardship division has deployed a software program that gathers information from electronic medical records, order entries, computerized laboratory and pathology reports, and more. The system measures baseline antimicrobial use, dosing, duration, costs, and use patterns. It also analyzes bacteria and trends in their susceptibilities and helps with clinical decision making and prescription choices. The goal, says Dr. David Haslam, who heads the program, is to decrease the use of “big gun” super antibiotics in favor of more targeted treatment.
While this approach is not yet widespread, there is consensus that incorporating such clinical-decision support into electronic health records will help improve quality of care, contain costs, and reduce overtreatment in healthcare overall—not just in AMR. A 2013 randomized clinical trial finds that doctors who used decision-support tools were significantly less likely to order antibiotics than those in the control group and prescribed 50% fewer broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Putting mobile devices into doctors’ hands could also help them accept decision support, believes Solomon. Last summer, Scotland’s National Health Service developed an antimicrobial companion app to give practitioners nationwide mobile access to clinical guidance, as well as an audit tool to support boards in gathering data for local and national use.
“The immediacy and the consistency of the input to physicians at the time of ordering antibiotics may significantly help address the problem of overprescribing in ways that less-immediate interventions have failed to do,” Solomon says. In addition, handheld devices with so-called lab-on-a-chip technology could be used to test clinical specimens at the bedside and transmit the data across cellular or satellite networks in areas where infrastructure is more limited.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can also become invaluable technology collaborators to help doctors more precisely diagnose and treat infection. In such a system, “the physician and the AI program are really ‘co-prescribing,’” says Solomon. “The AI can handle so much more information than the physician and make recommendations that can incorporate more input on the type of infection, the patient’s physiologic status and history, and resistance patterns of recent isolates in that ward, in that hospital, and in the community.”
Speed Is Everything
Growing bacteria in a dish has never appealed to Dr. James Davis, a computational biologist with joint appointments at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago Computation Institute. The first of a growing breed of computational biologists, Davis chose a PhD advisor in 2004 who was steeped in bioinformatics technology “because you could see that things were starting to change,” he says. He was one of the first in his microbiology department to submit a completely “dry” dissertation—that is, one that was all digital with nothing grown in a lab.
Upon graduation, Davis wanted to see if it was possible to predict whether an organism would be susceptible or resistant to a given antibiotic, leading him to explore the potential of machine learning to predict AMR.
As the availability of cheap computing power has gone up and the cost of genome sequencing has gone down, it has become possible to sequence a pathogen sample in order to detect its AMR resistance mechanisms. This could allow doctors to identify the nature of an infection in minutes instead of hours or days, says Davis.
Davis is part of a team creating a giant database of bacterial genomes with AMR metadata for the Pathosystems Resource Integration Center (PATRIC), funded by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to collect data on priority pathogens, such as tuberculosis and gonorrhea.
Because the current inability to identify microbes quickly is one of the biggest roadblocks to making an accurate diagnosis, the team’s work is critically important. The standard method for identifying drug resistance is to take a sample from a wound, blood, or urine and expose the resident bacteria to various antibiotics. If the bacterial colony continues to divide and thrive despite the presence of a normally effective drug, it indicates resistance. The process typically takes between 16 and 20 hours, itself an inordinate amount of time in matters of life and death. For certain strains of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, though, such testing can take a week. While physicians are waiting for test results, they often prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics or make a best guess about what drug will work based on their knowledge of what’s happening in their hospital, “and in the meantime, you either get better,” says Davis, “or you don’t.”
At PATRIC, researchers are using machine-learning classifiers to identify regions of the genome involved in antibiotic resistance that could form the foundation for a “laboratory free” process for predicting resistance. Being able to identify the genetic mechanisms of AMR and predict the behavior of bacterial pathogens without petri dishes could inform clinical decision making and improve reaction time. Thus far, the researchers have developed machine-learning classifiers for identifying antibiotic resistance in Acinetobacter baumannii (a big player in hospital-acquired infection), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (a.k.a. MRSA, a worldwide problem), and Streptococcus pneumoniae (a leading cause of bacterial meningitis), with accuracies ranging from 88% to 99%.
Houston Methodist Hospital, which uses the PATRIC database, is researching multidrug-resistant bacteria, specifically MRSA. Not only does resistance increase the cost of care, but people with MRSA are 64% more likely to die than people with a nonresistant form of the infection, according to WHO. Houston Methodist is investigating the molecular genetic causes of drug resistance in MRSA in order to identify new treatment approaches and help develop novel antimicrobial agents.
The Hunt for a New Class of Antibiotics
There are antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and then there’s Clostridium difficile—a.k.a. C. difficile—a bacterium that attacks the intestines even in young and healthy patients in hospitals after the use of antibiotics.
It is because of C. difficile that Dr. L. Clifford McDonald jumped into the AMR fight. The epidemiologist was finishing his work analyzing the spread of SARS in Toronto hospitals in 2004 when he turned his attention to C. difficile, convinced that the bacteria would become more common and more deadly. He was right, and today he’s at the forefront of treating the infection and preventing the spread of AMR as senior advisor for science and integrity in the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “[AMR] is an area that we’re funding heavily…insofar as the CDC budget can fund anything heavily,” says McDonald, whose group has awarded $14 million in contracts for innovative anti-AMR approaches.
Developing new antibiotics is a major part of the AMR battle. The majority of new antibiotics developed in recent years have been variations of existing drug classes. It’s been three decades since the last new class of antibiotics was introduced. Less than 5% of venture capital in pharmaceutical R&D is focused on antimicrobial development. A 2008 study found that less than 10% of the 167 antibiotics in development at the time had a new “mechanism of action” to deal with multidrug resistance. “The low-hanging fruit [of antibiotic development] has been picked,” noted a WHO report.
Researchers will have to dig much deeper to develop novel medicines. Machine learning could help drug developers sort through much larger data sets and go about the capital-intensive drug development process in a more prescriptive fashion, synthesizing those molecules most likely to have an impact.
McDonald believes that it will become easier to find new antibiotics if we gain a better understanding of the communities of bacteria living in each of us—as many as 1,000 different types of microbes live in our intestines, for example. Disruption to those microbial communities—our “microbiome”—can herald AMR. McDonald says that Big Data and machine learning will be needed to unlock our microbiomes, and that’s where much of the medical community’s investment is going.
He predicts that within five years, hospitals will take fecal samples or skin swabs and sequence the microorganisms in them as a kind of pulse check on antibiotic resistance. “Just doing the bioinformatics to sort out what’s there and the types of antibiotic resistance that might be in that microbiome is a Big Data challenge,” McDonald says. “The only way to make sense of it, going forward, will be advanced analytic techniques, which will no doubt include machine learning.”
Reducing Resistance on the Farm
Bringing information closer to where it’s needed could also help reduce agriculture’s contribution to the antibiotic resistance problem. Antibiotics are widely given to livestock to promote growth or prevent disease. In the United States, more kilograms of antibiotics are administered to animals than to people, according to data from the FDA.
One company has developed a rapid, on-farm diagnostics tool to provide livestock producers with more accurate disease detection to make more informed management and treatment decisions, which it says has demonstrated a 47% to 59% reduction in antibiotic usage. Such systems, combined with pressure or regulations to reduce antibiotic use in meat production, could also help turn the AMR tide.
Breaking Down Data Silos Is the First Step
Adding to the complexity of the fight against AMR is the structure and culture of the global healthcare system itself. Historically, healthcare has been a siloed industry, notorious for its scattered approach focused on transactions rather than healthy outcomes or the true value of treatment. There’s no definitive data on the impact of AMR worldwide; the best we can do is infer estimates from the information that does exist.
The biggest issue is the availability of good data to share through mobile solutions, to drive HCI clinical-decision support tools, and to feed supercomputers and machine-learning platforms. “We have a fragmented healthcare delivery system and therefore we have fragmented information. Getting these sources of data all into one place and then enabling them all to talk to each other has been problematic,” McDonald says.
Collecting, integrating, and sharing AMR-related data on a national and ultimately global scale will be necessary to better understand the issue. HCI and mobile tools can help doctors, hospitals, and public health authorities collect more information while advanced analytics, machine learning, and in-memory computing can enable them to analyze that data in close to real time. As a result, we’ll better understand patterns of resistance from the bedside to the community and up to national and international levels, says Solomon. The good news is that new technology capabilities like AI and new potential streams of data are coming online as an era of data sharing in healthcare is beginning to dawn, adds McDonald.
The ideal goal is a digitally enabled virtuous cycle of information and treatment that could save millions of dollars, lives, and perhaps even civilization if we can get there. D!
Despite the progress made in some countries, I am also aware of others that are still resistant to digitizing their economy and automating operations. What’s the difference between firms that are digital leaders and those that are slow to mature? From my perspective in working with a variety of businesses throughout Europe, it’s a combination of diversity and technology availability.
European companies are hardly homogenous. Comprising 47 countries across the continent, they serve communities that speak any of 225 spoken languages. Each one is experiencing various stages of digital development, economic stability, and workforce needs.
Nevertheless, as a whole, European firms do prioritize customer acquisition as well as improving efficiency and reducing costs. Over one-third of small and midsize companies are investing in collaboration software, customer relationship management solutions, e-commerce platforms, analytics, and talent management applications. Steadily, business leaders are finding better ways to go beyond data collection by applying predictive analytics to gain real-time insight from predictive analytics and machine learning to automate processes where possible.
Small and midsize businesses have a distinct advantage in this area over their larger rivals because they can, by nature, adopt new technology and practices quickly and act on decisions with greater agility. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of European firms are embracing the early stages of digitalization and planning to mature over time. Yet, the level of adoption depends solely on the leadership team’s commitment.
For many small and midsize companies across this region, the path to digital maturity resides in the cloud, more so than on-premise software deployment. For example, the flexibility associated with cloud deployment is viewed as a top attribute, especially among U.K. firms. This brings us back to the diversity of our region. Some countries prioritize personal data security while others may be more concerned with the ability to access the information they need in even the most remote of areas.
Technology alone does not deliver digital transformation
Digital transformation is certainly worth the effort for European firms. Between 60%–90% of small and midsize European businesses say their technology investments have met or exceeded their expectations – indicative of the steady, powerhouse transitions enabled by cloud computing. Companies are now getting the same access to the latest technology, data storage, and IT resources.
However, it is also important to note that a cloud platform is only as effective as the long-term digital strategy that it enables. To invigorate transformative changes, leadership needs to go beyond technology and adopt a mindset that embraces new ideas, tests the fitness of business models and processes continuously, and allows the flexibility to evolve the company as quickly as market dynamics change. By taking a step back and integrating digital objectives throughout the business strategy, leadership can pull together the elements needed to turn technology investments into differentiating, sustainable change. For example, the best talent with the right skills is hired. Plus, partners and suppliers with a complementary or shared digital vision and capability are onboarded.
The IDC Infobrief confirms what I have known all along: Small and midsize businesses are beginning to digitally mature and maintain a strategy that is relevant to their end-to-end processes. And furthering their digital transformation go hand in hand with the firms’ ability to ignite a transformational force that will likely progress Europe’s culture, social structure, and economy.