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The road ahead for software in 2020

Chris Pope Profile picture for user Chris Pope December 20, 2019
Low-code/no-code, DevOps for business value, AI driving human touch, 20:20 insight - ServiceNow's Chris Pope surveys the road ahead for software in 2020

Billboards through spectacles - Photo by alina grubnyak on Unsplash

The enterprise software industry is a river of constant change. New development methodologies, changing approaches to platform mechanics and the continual enhancement of existing toolsets and functions mean that we’re always looking to better the innovations of the last 12 months with increased power and functionality.

Good software vendors are very transparent about their immediate future roadmaps. This helps customers plan their upgrade paths and predict their own commercial development roadmaps.

Traditionally then, given this constant drive to improve, the end of the year has always served as a fitting time to lay down some informed conjecture detailing the most likely areas for development going forward. So what can we expect from technology and software in 2020?

Opening up a new DIY toolbox

In terms of key trends and game changers, let’s consider the fact that we’ve been able to encapsulate a good deal of the internal mechanics of software engineering and present them in the form of low-code/no-code tools. These technologies allow us to condense the guts of coding into an abstracted upper layer. Users can drag-and-drop or use natural human language commands to create varying degrees of functionality.

This revelation in coding allows non-technical, or at least less technical, users to bring software functions together and create business applications without taking a degree course in software engineering.

The rise of low-code/no-code is significant for a number of reasons. First, the planet doesn’t have enough developers to keep pace with the demand for enterprise software, so giving business professionals the ability to create applications even of the most basic form is fundamentally important. Second, this development means we can free up our software engineers to work on new and emerging innovations in areas like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and, perhaps soon, quantum computing that offers the potential to process exponentially more data compared to classical computers.

Looking forward into 2020 and beyond, we will see that low-code/no-code has lowered the barrier to entry for creating applications. The challenge now is getting users to physically put their hands on a keyboard and start touching these tools. It’s like DIY, once you pick up a toolbox and get your hands dirty, you realise how much you can achieve.

The new value in value

Things are changing in business value metrics too. When we look at the union of developers and operations inside DevOps, our focus over the last decade has been mostly dedicated to increasing development and deployment velocity. Forrester however predicts that business value will now overtake velocity as a favoured DevOps metric.

So value today doesn’t just mean money and financial terms of trade anymore. It means value in terms of how fast a business can change and adapt. It also means how much value you have delivered to your customer. Some measures of ‘new value’ will be quantitative measures that we can track quite accurately, but others will be qualitative and much harder to track based on a measure of sentiment and human feeling.

AI drives human touch

While we’re on human emotive experiences, let’s consider the fact that, slightly paradoxically, the rise of AI will allow us to be more human. As we apply AI-based efficiencies to an increasing number of workplace tasks, we are able to take a hands-off approach to many of the repeatable and definable tasks that AI is so good at shouldering.

We will witness a positive development in the number of ‘human touch’ jobs and roles. Technology analysts suggest that masseurs — sports, therapeutic or the more exotic kind — will be the last people to ever see their jobs changing due to AI robots. But other human touch roles will also flourish. Jobs that need human empathy, intuition and randomness of thought will be able to grow and develop.

What all this means is that we will be able to apply more of our own individual humanistic approach to the way we carry out work. Work itself will become more experiential and less like a collection of tasks that need to be checked off. This will allow us more time to do a better job for any given task. If we’re baking a cake, it will be richer, more lustrous, and with extra toppings.

20:20 software in 2020

Conveniently for those who wish to jump on the marketing tagline opportunity, 2020 will be the year of 20:20 software. This term describes software applications and services that have a clear vision for which data sources they need to be connected to ensure that timely information gets to the right place for business decisions to be made.

The rise of 20:20 software gives us the chance to get a new and much more accurate view of what resources we need in line with own personal work tasks. This allows us to focus on the things that really add value to the business. There is a natural hierarchy here as task alignment for individuals becomes connected intelligence for teams, then departments and then entire businesses. What used to be top-down management now becomes a user-first bottom-up growth cycle where creativity is championed from the start.

So will we still be talking about digital transformation in 2020? Yes, of course we will. But 2020 will really be the year that the rubber hits the road. Now that so many businesses have made significant moves to cloud platforms and services, we can start to learn more from best practices and, crucially, shared practices to make work and life better for everyone.

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