by Mike Lynch

Next big things now

Sep 28, 20125 mins
IT Strategy

One of the questions that I am often asked is, “What is the next big thing in technology?”

Perhaps I am in a privileged position in that I see many young companies and university research projects that are, quite literally, mind-blowing and so, I will try to summarise what I see as particularly interesting areas that are ripe for development.

One thing is for certain, we are entering a period of incredible change, not just in technology, but in the way we interact with it.

As I write, there is a war being declared by smartphone manufacturers who are still vying for market-dominant positions.

Whichever smartphone you have in your pocket, it provides you with more computational power than your average super-computer had 20 years ago.

That amount of mobile processing means that the world is about to change.

The very first trend that springs to mind as being influential is entirely due to this smartphone revolution: it is the Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, trend.

We are seeing senior executives taking smartphones and tablets to the office and either configuring them themselves, or else transferring documents onto these devices to read later.

These documents are sometimes confidential, and yet are leaking through the corporate firewall in a way that is forcing a re-think on security protocols, cloud management and even IT procurement and policies.

The Internet of Things is beginning to move out of the idea lab and into the mainstream. Across the pond, the smart house is becoming a reality with remote-controlled energy-saving devices and clever appliances that can detect anomalies in their function or even alert you to the dwindling supply of milk in your fridge.

Actually, what is really interesting about the Internet of Things is not only the ability to connect everyone and everything on the web, but also the data that is generated – how we analyse it and the value that can be extracted from this information will be game-changing as companies use that insight to deliver ever-more relevant products.

We are still at the beginning of the Big Data era and companies large and small are scrambling to determine not only its significance but also its value.

That big data is growing exponentially, requiring ever-larger amounts of storage space and ever more complex algorithms to process it, is a given.

But given the sheer volume of data and the absolute impossibility for humans to get through it all, only computers can understand the meaning of and act on the content of text, audio and video fast enough to deliver value from the information.

There are already truly ground-breaking results for customers, from the CCTV system on a city’s subway that can alert officials when a person looks suspiciously like they might jump under a train, to finding evidence of fraudulent activity hidden in emails.

CIO Event:

The CIO Big Conversation Consumerisation: How to manage the new era of mobility

Date: Thursday 25th October 2012 Time: 6:30pm Location: The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, London

To register for your place, email

Event Overview:

The Big Conversation is a business technology leadership forum that brings IT leaders together to listen, share & shape opinions on the key issues the CIO community faces. The evening will include a keynote from a top CIO 100 speaker sharing his experiences on this topic, as well as the opportunity to share your views with fellow CIOs over networking drinks and canapés.

And we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the big data revolution yet.

Another area I am completely fascinated by is how the fundamental technologies that power big data analytics can be applied to enable whole new areas such as personal medicine.

For example, today in cancer treatment, a mechanistic pathway model is used to perform a hierarchical analysis of tumour progression.

But cells become resistant and the average tumour can undergo 20,000 mutations. Applying some radical thinking and mathematics we can create new personalised treatment protocols.

The list could go on, but I will wrap up with security. The current approach to end-point security would be like placing a lock on every door and every window across an entire city.

A new philosophy and approach is required because the real threat to an organisation is people walking out with information, not people walking in.

As computers begin to understand the content, and therefore the value, of what is stored on them, they can automatically secure important information.

They can also monitor activity and, if they spot unusual or atypical behaviour, can raise an alert.

Clever mathematical algorithms also help gaming sites tell human players from computers. You wouldn’t want to play high-stakes poker against a computer, and the online casinos know that humans who keep losing to computers will soon become their ex-customers.

It is almost impossible to answer that question about the next big thing, but there are lots of big things coming down the technology pipe and plenty of opportunities for fun and to develop leadership positions in all these areas.