Every year, business leaders and emerging technology experts share their predictions about the tools that will shape the next 12 months. In January, the tech columnist, futurist and influencer from Raconteur Bernard Marr, shared his views on the essential topics that no business could afford to ignore in 2023: AI, cybersecurity and the metaverse. Now, more than halfway through the year, have these things changed?
Business obsession with AI grows
Artificial intelligence has long been on the radar of savvy business leaders, but the release of ChatGPT last November has spawned an obsession with this group of technologies in the first half of 2023, the scale of which few could have predicted.
“Generative AI will continue to gain considerable airtime in boardrooms. It will act like a Trojan horse,” says Kate Smaje, global head of McKinsey Digital, referring to its potential reach into many aspects of the business world.
Any leader who is hesitant to adopt generative AI, perhaps because of the fear it engenders in employees who fear losing their job, can no longer afford to procrastinate. AI has become an essential business tool that could even create new opportunities for the workforce, according to Smaje.
“The focus is moving away from just technology and toward collaboration between humans and technology,” she says. “Now it’s about meeting the reskilling challenge of creating the next generation of fast-paced engineers; investing in what it takes to lead an AI-enabled organization; and the change management needed to get the most out of this powerful technology.
Cybersecurity: never sexy but always crucial
With the rise of AI, ever more robust cybersecurity measures are required. Charles Eagan, chief technology officer at BlackBerry, cites a study his company conducted in early 2023 that found that nearly half of all IT managers believed a successful cyberattack, enabled by generative AI, would occur during this year.
“It became clear how accurate the prediction was,” he says.
Even without considering the adoption of AI by cybercriminals, the number of attacks continues to grow. In his Cybersecurity Breach Survey 2023published in April, the UK government estimates that there were 2.39 million cases of cybercrime in the previous 12 months.
This year alone, PayPal, JD Sports, Capita, X (formerly Twitter) and the NHS are known to have suffered significant data security breaches. Just this week, news broke of a cyberattack on the UK’s electoral rolls.
Weak software supply chains continue to expose vulnerabilities that allow hackers to breach multiple companies’ defenses in a single strike, Eagan notes. A notable example is the cyberattack on payroll provider Zellis in June, which compromised the personal data of thousands of employees at organizations including BA, Boots and the BBC.
“Too many companies optimistically assume that their software partners’ security is comparable to their own,” he says. “Trust alone is not enough. Instead, 24/7 threat monitoring – through extensive detection and response – is essential.
But AI also has defensive applications. Eagan explains that predictive AI allows businesses to more proactively detect threats and respond to them more effectively, describing it as “the great equalizer of cybersecurity.”
It may also be reassuring to know that 44% of UK businesses surveyed in BlackBerry’s study plan to launch next year with AI-based cyber protection in place, rising to 78% of here at the end of 2024.
Was the metaverse a red herring?
According to Google Trends data, the number of online searches featuring the term “metaverse” peaked in January 2022 and has been declining since. But there are still companies putting their eggs in the extended reality basket.
Notably, Apple announced its mixed reality headset, the Vision Prowith great enthusiasm in June 2023. Management consulting Bain recently published research suggesting that the metaverse could reach up to $900 billion (£708 billion) in revenue by 2030, although it could remain in the seed stage for at least five more years.
But does the metaverse really offer anything to businesses?
“I’ve never encountered an environment where this sort of thing feels comfortable for easy interaction, even in hybrid working,” says Pete Williams, director of data at publisher Penguin Random House UK . “It always depends on the variability of your connection and the equipment you use. A consistent experience is really hard to achieve.
He mentions a colleague’s first attempts at hybrid mixed reality meetings and how frustrating the experience can still be.
“I don’t think anyone is ready for this,” Williams says. “The recent widespread adoption of hybrid working led us to falsely believe that it was going to be easy. But now that people are gathering in person again, that goal has taken a backseat. It will really take someone revolutionary like Apple, with a user-first rather than tech-first mindset, to make the Metaverse relevant to people.
Why data literacy should be a top priority
What should be a priority for companies in the second half of the year is the democratization of internal data, according to Williams. This material wealth, wherever it is located in the organization, “must be free to mix.”
He argues that companies must combine this work with a concerted effort to improve data literacy across the organization.
Williams would advise any business leader to “give people the skill to interact with information – the ability to build a compelling argument with data.”
Reaching this point depends as much on leadership and culture change as it does on specific IT tools. This principle applies to all technical teams in organizations, according to Smaje.
“The next six months will be less about new technology trends and more about how businesses use what they have responsibly and collaboratively,” she says. “I hope we talk more about harnessing the power of technology trends rather than the technology itself.”
As meteoric as the rise of AI has been in recent months, for most businesses the human ability to understand, shape and deploy the powerful technology at their disposal remains essential.