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What might digital transformation look like over the next decade?

Published 10 August 2023 in Technology • 7 min read

Every now and then, one exercise we like to perform at the Digital Business Transformation Center is to look into our metaphorical crystal ball to try and predict some of the digital technologies that will occupy us over the coming years.

I was recently tasked with drafting an article on what tomorrow’s technologies would look like. I quickly came up with a hitlist of the digital technologies I thought would be around. But then, in keeping with our times, I thought I’d ask Chat GPT-4 what it thinks about it too.

Within a matter of seconds, and after a small disclaimer on how difficult it is to predict the future, here’s what I got:

In my eyes, this output is impressive. Not only because ChatGPT confirmed three out of four of my ideas, and came up with a few more, but it was also much more concise in its output compared to the Google searches I did to guide my thinking. It goes without saying that it was way faster.

Up until recently, we were mostly discussing if AI and automation technologies will be able to successfully perform routine, repetitive tasks and replace humans performing such tasks. With the arrival of large language models (LLMs), we have now caught a glimpse of how performing creative tasks is also likely to be disrupted. And we’re just getting started.

All this leads to my first favorite technology: when it comes to organizations’ digital transformation in the next decade, advances in AI and Machine Learning will be making a splash. The potential productivity and performance gains for organizations are huge. A recent survey by McKinsey shows that more than 50% of organizations are already investing more than 5% of their digital budgets in AI.

Some 63% of the respondents claimed they expect their investments in AI to increase over the coming three years1. More importantly, I don’t see this as a game for the very few: while the Microsofts of this world will be reaping a large part of the benefits in the AI value chain, AI-powered applications will be offered as a B2B service. As a result, organizations will be able to customize and train off-the-shelf AI applications with their own datasets to differentiate themselves from competitors.

In this context, building strong data management capabilities will be more important than ever. We have been hearing for a while now that ‘data is the new oil’; in this new landscape, organizations that fail to leverage their information resources will be much more likely to be disrupted. It is reasonable to expect more than a few operational, ethical, and regulatory hiccups along the path of AI development, but this transformational digital technology is here to stay.

Some 63% of the respondents claimed they expect their investments in AI to increase over the coming three years.
Some 63% of the respondents claimed they expect their investments in AI to increase over the coming three years

My second favorite technology for the coming decade is quantum computing. The arrival of quantum computing (mostly a matter of when, not if) is bound to overcome the computational limitations of digital computing. Investments in quantum computing are also gaining traction: Worldwide investments in quantum technology start-ups reached their highest levels in 2022, at $2.35 billion, with approximately 68% of all investments in quantum technology since 2001 coming into the industry over the past two years, an indication of investor confidence in the technologies’ future potential.

Quantum computing will address existing optimization problems (e.g., finance, supply chain management, energy management, and transportation). Simulation capabilities will also dramatically increase. It will further advance machine learning, NLP, and cognitive computing/AI capabilities. An example could be enhanced computer vision going beyond facial recognition.

Quantum computing will also introduce new risks, e.g., new cybersecurity challenges, as traditional encryption methods are likely to become obsolete. Quantum computing even has the potential to raise questions about the security of blockchain technologies.

My third favorite technology is based on next-generation wireless communication networks (6G). These will arrive at the end of this decade and will bring significant advances in communication speeds (expect 100x faster than 5G networks). 6G will further enable the development of the metaverse and lead us closer to the creation of real-time, personalized 3D worlds.

Business applications can be found in the areas of education and training, mobility services, e-commerce, and healthcare provision3. Future wireless communications will also impact the way we connect online and interact with others, as well as with computers. Advances in this space could include more sophisticated and user-friendly forms of virtual, augmented, and extended reality. Multimedia-rich experiences such as holographic communication systems could move from the realm of science fiction and become part of everyday life.

6G will further enable the development of the metaverse and lead us closer to the creation of real-time, personalized 3D worlds

Finally, my fourth favorite set of digital technologies (one that Chat GPT didn’t mention) is around digital sustainability. Organizations will face increased pressure to showcase their sustainability credentials in the coming years. Deploying technologies that create, use, transmit, or source digital data will be instrumental in helping them achieve their sustainable development goals.

Digital sustainability tools can aid organizations in measuring and reducing both direct and indirect emissions, reusing products and components, and reprocessing waste materials that cannot be reused as input for future production. Examples of digital sustainability tools can include, among others: carbon management systems, product traceability systems supporting the assessment of global material flows, CAD tools to assess sustainability performance, smart metering with feedback design, IT detecting a product’s optimal lifespan and eco-impact, and mobile apps designed to inform on recycling and drive behavioral change.

The successful deployment of digital sustainability tools is not just a matter of ramping up an organization’s digital and environmental transformations: the most successful organizations will be those that identify the synergies between the two and integrate digital sustainability tools into their products and services.

In summary, the above four digital technologies form my hitlist for the coming decade. As ChatGPT said before giving me its predictions, “It’s impossible to predict the future with absolute certainty.” Nevertheless, if I were a betting man, these are the areas I would be putting my money on.


Lazaros Goutas

Term Research Professor at IMD and Research Fellow at the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation

Lazaros Goutas is a Term Research Professor at IMD and Research Fellow at the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation. His research broadly examines the impact of digital transformation on organizational and individual performance.


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