Since 1995, Gartner has been tracking the development and adoption of new technologies by plotting them on their Hype Cycle, updated yearly. Last month, they released their 2012 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, plotting the progress of some of the hottest disruptive technologies and trends.
The idea behind the Hype Cycle is that most new technologies go through similar stages in their adoption, though often at different speeds. First, there’s a “Technology Trigger” as a new discovery is made and is on the cusp of commercialization. Speculation runs wild and it enters a period of rising hype, culminating in a “Peak of Inflated Expectations” where analysts and technologists think that is can do anything. Naturally, the new technology can not live up to the overwhelming industry hype, creating a backlash that eventually bottoms out with a “Trough of Disillusionment.” After being widely dismissed, technologists begin to see its true benefits and use it where appropriate on the “Slope of Enlightenment” until it finally reaches the “Plateu of Productivity” where it serves mission needs effectively as a trusted capability. As the rate at which discoveries traverse the curve is variable, Gartner labels each technology on the Hype Cycle with the expected time frame when it will hit the Plateau of Productivity, ranging from less than two years to more than ten years or even “obsolete before plateau.” Gartner updates the Hype Cycle yearly to include new technologies and update the standings on the technologies currently being discussed.
An example of a technology at the Technology Trigger stage this year is quantum computing, which is not expected to reach the Plateau of Productivity for over ten years. Some technologies with growing hype are the “Internet of Things” or connecting more everyday objects to the web, which is also more than ten years away from the plateau, and Big Data, which is predicted to be two to five years away from its most productive period. We’ve come to a similar conclusion about industry hype surrounding Big Data, noting that, like Cloud Computing, we are reaching the point where vendors will try to put a Big Data label on any solution as hype grows, requiring a mission-oriented definition for CIOs. Social analytics and Bring Your Own Device, both two to five years out from their Plateau of Productivity, are perched at the Peak of Inflated Expectations. We see this as BYOD policies outpace security guidelines and proper Mobile Device Management solutions in private companies and government agencies. Coming down are Internet TV, still five to ten years away from realizing its potential, and Cloud Computing, which has begun to be misapplied and oversold with rational use still two to five years away according to Gartner. Text analytics, with two to five years to go, and hosted virtualized desktops, with fewer than two years left to proper acceptance, are said to be in the very Trough of Disillusionment right now, with industry expectations at their lowest point now that the hype has worn off. Rising up the slope of enlightenment are consumerization of IT and biometric authentication but both are still two to five years away from the Plateau of Enlightenment. An example of a technology that has either reached that stage or is on the cusp is predictive analytics, which is now being used across the public and private sectors in a sensible manner.
The theme for this year was “Tipping Points.” Gartner believes that technology should be looked at in sets of related and supporting capabilities, and sometimes, while most of the solutions have reached maturity, some key pieces need a little more development. These capabilities are at the tipping point where they may explode at any moment. Some technologies judged to be at their tipping point include “bring your own everything”, the next step beyond BYOD, which still needed to mature across the board, “Big Data at Small Prices” which would be enabled by advances in cloud computing, big data, and in-memory database management systems, and a “cashless world” which is still waiting on improvements in over-the-air transfers and near field communication. Gartner also expects 3D printing, smart devices, business intelligence to make breakthrough advances in the near future.
Whether or not you agree with Gartner’s analysis, it raises important points on the life cycle of emerging and disruptive technologies and provides context for evaluating a technology’s trajectory. Also, because Gartner is such a respected voice in technology and business, where solutions fall on their Hype Cycle may influence the actual hype a technology generates.