The Evolution of Apps At the Heart of the Business Ecosystem

Michael Brown, Systems Engineering Manager at F5 Networks, discusses the role of apps at the heart of ever-complex business environments…

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It is now widely accepted that we are on the verge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The fast, emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, and the IoT, are set to dramatically change society.

Opportunities for unprecedented productivity and efficiencies at a corporate and individual level will unfold, but such progress also brings significant risks.

Apps sit at the heart of our rapidly evolving digital landscape. At one level, they are time-saving functions for consumers that sit as clustered icons on the home screen of their smartphones. At another level, they underpin crucial functions in enterprise processes. In line with the wider digital revolution, apps are undergoing a remarkable change.

Development in the fields of AI and machine learning…is driving collaboration and transforming app design and delivery

As discerning cyber citizens, our expectations of instant service and ‘life on demand’ are growing relentlessly. The arrival of Android Instant Apps signposts a future of much faster and effective app performance through ‘streaming’.

Amazon Echo and Google Home are starting to take new, voice-enabled app interfaces mainstream and untethered from mobile devices.

Against this exciting backdrop, there is also rapid pace of development in the fields of AI and machine learning, which is driving collaboration and transforming app design and delivery.

From Amazon Echo to Google Home, high profile voice-activated technologies and virtual assistants are becoming more commonplace. Their arrival has certainly struck a chord with tech and novelty-hungry consumers who have a desire to optimise their lives. Voice-recognition is an attractive and convenient interface. As such, nearly a third of consumers across Europe and South Africa have already used voice commands on their mobile devices.

So where to next?

Industry experts are clear on the direction, scale and potential of AI, which they believe is set to underpin a new generation of cognitive apps. These will not only provide users with highly personalised, real-time service, but offer predictive and preventative capabilities. Combining multiple sensors with real-time data analytics, they are set to provide insight and even foresight to optimise our decision-making capabilities.

In the health and wellbeing sector, emerging innovations indicate a huge transformation in the provision of healthcare, with cognitive apps set to be key in improving patient outcomes and achieving cost savings. For consumers, such tools will depend on allowing companies continuous access to a raft of much more personal data, such as biometrics, as well as contextual information (e.g. location).

There will come a point in time when apps become better at making decisions than people

In the financial sector, interest in more personalised, predictive services is rising when it comes to personal finance. Gen Y consumers, in particular, are keen to engage with services that predict future financial situations, based on professional performance and spending for example. Banks are also considering how AI can help them tackle security threats and fraud.

Advances in wearables or embeddables will make these types of technologies considerably more user-friendly and intuitive, but users will face new considerations in terms of intimacy with certain organisations, as well as increased levels of risk regarding data privacy.

In the longer term, there will come a point in time when apps become better at making decisions than people. For this to become reality, critical advances will have to be achieved in areas such as collaborative AI, where virtual assistants and underlying apps can talk to each other and organise an outcome. Apps will also need to be able to self-regulate, write their own programmes and develop their own software without human input.

Such advances bring into focus the concerns of high profile commentators, such as Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates, who warn of the potential dangers of AI. However, if we assume that combined public and private sector efforts around the globe ensure the progress of AI is in line with humanity’s best interests, this presents the prospect for a new generation of apps.

Current advancements point towards a future where smart applications will see beyond the present and provide detailed advice on how users can change their behaviour to optimise outcomes in the decades to come. However, such possibilities will be highly dependent on the access to rich new data sets promised by the IoT and a combination of different approaches to machine learning.

There is already a growing pressure on organisations and developers to stay relevant with demands changing at pace and security concerns rising. The balance of power is shifting away from businesses, creating enormous opportunities for those capable of delivering apps with speed, flexibility and security.

Apps will continue to drive business prosperity and will increasingly harness the cloud and sit at the heart of complex ecosystems. Therefore, companies must ensure they design, develop and deploy apps with greater rigour to protect sensitive data and meet regulation.

Cognitive technologies and new networks will decentralise applications and force both businesses and the next generation of consumers to rethink the way they interact in the future.

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