The pace of change within the technology industry can be overwhelming, with new products and technologies being brought to market with increasing frequency. Every year, we’re bombarded with lists detailing the technology trends we need to look out for and while some of them will go on to make a real impact, others are often little more than a fad.

Unfortunately, the hype that often accompanies these supposed innovations is often significant and, when coupled with the need for companies to be more technologically-savvy than their peers, some organisations become so intent on being an early adopter, they don’t stop to think about the business-need. 

rsz istock 1066422156

While organisations should certainly exercise some caution before investing half their yearly IT budget on something shiny that will bring no additional business value, it also doesn’t pay to dismiss every new technology. Digital transformation is an ongoing journey and unless you’re prepared to make some strategic investments along the way, you could find yourself trailing behind your competitors faster than you’d expect.

Here at Techworld, we cover a lot of new and emerging technologies that we think are set to play an important role in the future of the business world. Although we can’t list the pros and cons of everything on the market, here are three technology trends we think are worth taking a closer look at.

Green IT

Green technologies are not necessarily a new concept however, they’ve undergone something of a resurgence recently in the wake of the renewed discussions around climate change. Ranging from renewable energy sources, to electric vehicles and environmentally friendly services, green IT offerings are enabling companies to increase resource productivity and efficiency and decrease their environmental impact.

As organisations of all sizes and across all sectors continue pledging to cut their emissions and go carbon neutral in an effort to undo some of the damage to the planet, the end of 2018 saw new investments in environmental technology total $279.8 billion and transactions reached an all-time high of $393.8 billion.

"Going green can increasingly save you money and help protect you from future energy shocks,” Greenpeace head of IT, Andrew Hatton, told our sister publication, CIO UK. "Many companies are investing in green energy solutions both because ethically it's the right things to do, but increasingly, it also makes financial sense."

Although solar and wind power continues to generate the most money in terms of energy investments, the development of electric vehicles has gained a lot of traction over the last few years. British entrepreneur James Dyson has started work on designing and manufacturing electric cars and NIO, the Chinese rival to Tesla, floated a $1 billion IPO.

For Morag Watson, chief innovation officer at BP, it’s a foregone conclusion that the world is changing and it’s up to us how we participate.

"Digital is fundamental to being able to produce the energy, because you want the energy to be increasingly clean, and renewable," says Watson. "Digital is fundamental to renewable. You cannot do renewable energy without digital. You can't do it. It's fundamental to solar. It's fundamental to wind. It's fundamental to distributed energy."

In the UK, the government is continuing to support the Energy Catalyst programme in partnership with Innovate UK. The scheme supports UK-based researchers and businesses to develop highly innovative, market-focused energy technologies that tackle cost, emissions and security. To date the Energy Catalyst has invested around £100 million across 250 projects and more than 750 organisations.

Robotics

Robotics technology has long fascinated people from all walks of life, with videos filling social media time lines depicting some of the most advanced robots engaging in Parkour style moves.

Although there is a lot of debate around the ethics of robotics and the dangerous precedents they could set, there has also been a lot of talk about the enterprise use cases for robotics technology.

While your average business is unlikely to need Sophia hanging around the office on a daily basis, organisations are starting to make significant investments in the underlying technology. According to IDC, global robotic spending for hardware, services and software is expected to triple by the end of 2021, to $215 billion.

Read next: Cambridge's open source 'Vegebot' solves lettuce-picking automation challenge

Manufacturing, logistics and healthcare organisations have been leading the way in the adoption of robotics technology. The evolution of robotics technology away from rigid automation and towards robotic process automation (RPA) means software robots are now able to handle a larger variety of office tasks, excelling in semi-structured environments where they can be integrated as a part of an overall system.

Whenever robots are mentioned in the same breath as the enterprise, there is usually some fearmongering about job losses. The IPPR thinktank estimates up to 44 percent of jobs in the UK could be automated over the coming decades, equating to over 13.7 million displaced workers.

Although that figure looks alarming, Melonee Wise, CEO of one such robotics company called Fetch Robotics, told Techworld that contrary to stereotype these robots save rather than destroy jobs, freeing people up to focus on more useful tasks.

“In general, the jobs people in some of these distribution centres are doing is very hard. Some of them log 40 miles a day. Robots can cut that down. Some people have bad knees or flat feet or suffer pain doing their job. Robots can help. In some cases, we’re actually saving people's jobs,” she said.

From industrial robotic arms to autonomous vehicles, drones and unmanned mobile robots for transport and delivery, robots are becoming an increasingly common site in many businesses – depending, in part on the use case and the technology available.

AR and VR

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies have started to gain traction in recent years due to its widespread adoption throughout the games industry.

Like with most new technology, commercially available VR headsets still largely fall into two categories, expensive or low-quality, meaning that consumers have not adopted the tech at the speed the industry had been hoping for. AR technology, or mixed reality as it’s sometimes referred to, has also been slow to gain widespread uptake. However, games like Pokemon Go have seen widespread commercial success.

Read next: 'Gaming could be an antidote to a world where jobs have been automated' - Improbable CEO

In terms of enterprise investment, VR and AR technology is increasingly being used to provide new employees with training. Tractica forecasts that worldwide enterprise VR hardware and software revenue will increase from $1 billion in 2018 to $12.6 billion annually by 2025.

Using either a VR headset or a Microsoft HoloLens style piece of hardware, workers in high-risk industries such as aviation, oil and gas or healthcare can now hone their skills in a virtual world rather than on the job, minimising the risk of injury or costly mistakes.

Tom Symonds, CEO of VR startup Immerse, has previously spoken to Techworld about the benefits of using a virtual environment for the purposes of training and education. Immerse launched its multi-user learning platform in early 2017 which allows users to simultaneously collaborate in both a 2D and 3D VR environment. At the time, it was a feature of the Immerse platform that was completely unique.

"We think the power of the solution is magnified further by turning it into a collaborative experience, where the trainer is sitting in a different location from the people they are training. The implications for that in terms of the enterprise are huge in terms of cost saving and efficiency."

More recently, American company Honeywell has rolled out VR and AR simulations to help train their industrial workforce. Using Microsoft’s HoloLens, employees are trained to respond to a variety of scenarios in a purpose-built immersive environment. The company claims this approach has a 70-80 percent knowledge retention rate after three months, a figure which is higher than other, more traditional, forms of learning.