Forrester's Top 15 Emerging Technologies To Watch: Now To 2018

The pace of technology-fueled business innovation is accelerating, and enterprise architects can take a leading role by helping their firms identify opportunities for shrewd investment. In our 2012 global state of EA online survey, we asked again what the most disruptive technologies would be; here’s what we found:

The results shouldn’t surprise anybody; however, if you are only looking at these, you are likely to get smacked in the face when you blink -- things are changing that fast. In the near future, new platforms built on today’s hot technologies will create more disruption. For example, by 2016 there will be 760 million tablets in use and almost one-third will be sold to business. Forrester currently has a rich body of research on mobility and other hot technologies, such as Forrester’s mobile eBusiness playbook and the CIO’s mobile engagement playbook. But by 2018, mobile will be the norm, so then what?

To answer this question, we extended the horizon of our annual The Top Emerging Technologies to Watch report out to 2018 and investigate beyond the “big four”: cloud, mobile, social, and data. We went a level deeper in our research by examining how today’s hot technology create platforms for future disruption. For example, you won’t find mobile in our list; instead mobile is built into emerging technologies such as next-generation devices and UIs, advanced collaboration and communication, systems of engagement, and cloud application frameworks.

This year we organized our findings into four groups based on where we thought the biggest impact would be: 1) end user computing; 2) sensors and remote computing; 3) process data management; and 4) infrastructure and application platforms. I intend to blog a few more details and examples for each group in the coming weeks, but for now here are our top 15 emerging technologies to watch from now until 2018.

End user computing technologies. These technologies will expand client computing capabilities, improve collaboration, and provide much more personalized mobile experiences:

Sensors and remote computing technologies. These technologies enable more information collection and processing outside of data centers, extending the boundary of businesses’ digital realms:


Process data management technologies. These emerging technologies add intelligence and adaptability to process management and enable more value from more data, more quickly and more cheaply.

Infrastructure and application platforms. A wide range of innovations is happening at the infrastructure layer to create much more capable infrastructure and application platforms:

Many clients I speak to admit to getting blindsided by emerging technology opportunities or failing to avoid disruptive threats. They further admit that getting caught unaware hurts. Use this list as a basis for your investigation and technology watchlist.

Stay tuned for our emerging technology playbook; it will tell you how to best recognize the emerging technology capabilities that are right for you and make great decisions that help your firm navigate digital disruption.


What about 3D printing?

A few folks have asked so I thought I'd address.

At lot of "top emerging tech" lists include it. Understanding why we didn't requires you think about who we wrote the report for - enterprise architects and technology strategy professionals in large IT shops. We didn't think that 3D printing was something that should be at the top of IT's list to watch.

If we were writing this report for business strategy pro's on the business side, especially focusing on the industries where 3D printing will have the biggest impact, then we definitely would have included it.

Does anybody have a reason why IT should be watching 3D printing? I'm open, and we will be updating this list periodically.

Why IT Cares About 3-D Printing

A few thoughts on why IT should care about 3-D printing:

1. 3-D printing is driven by CAD-like data files that many organizations don't currently use -> new data types, new data models, new content types to search and organize, etc.

2. 3-D items must be designed or imaged, requiring new cameras, CAD tools, etc.

3. 3-D printers are new devices that need to be connected to networks and secured (unless all of the printing will be done by 3rd parties).

There is a lot of energy now about democratizing technology, yielding the "why does IT need to be involved in X." I think we need to embrace the skills and expertise of IT when it comes to getting value from new tech/innovation but that IT should be seen more as a coach/advisor and less of a gatekeeper.

All good points

And we may cover them in the future.

Internet of things

To complete the previous comment and more widely What about Internet of things ?

The Internet Of Things is too broad and squishy

Like cloud and big data. We covered the technologies that will enable the IOT - see M2M, Smart Products and even In-location Positioning

Interesting ideas here Brian.

Interesting ideas here Brian. Along these lines, I just wanted to bring to your attention some emerging research that I think you'll find both interesting and useful, and that is relevant to a number of categories that you delineate here.

It's called the "The Theory of Crowd Capital" and it provides a theory explaining the "how" and "why" of phenomena such as crowdsourcing and citizen science, and very well applies to sensors (among other aspects) too. We'd love to hear your view.

You can download it here:


Thanks, will take a look



Great summary and spot on, as always, Brian. But we cannot overlook another significant trend that is or must be building. Security has always been a concern, but increasingly this is becoming a major topic with both public and private leaders. The CIO will see new and different technologies aimed at detection and protection from cyber threats. If I am wrong, we are all doomed.

Security implementations of advanced analytics

Hi - yes we discussed whether to be more specific in calling out security emerging techs, but we think that the most interesting applications will come from cognitive computing on top of new databases like triple stores and associative indexing. We did identify quantum cryptography, but think it will be beyond the 5 year horizon before it will be ready for prime time....maybe next year we will include it.

Great post Brian. We are

Great post Brian. We are seeing the same trend in our searches, especially when it comes to Big data analysts and Business developers.

GEorge Genel
GSI Search International, LLC

Time for Software Defined Robots?

Interesting commentary on emerging technologies. The one that drew my attention was "Smart Process Applications and Semantics". Is it time now for Software Defined Robots a.k.a Agents? This technology has been talked about for a while, but I think we are on the cusp of realizing them. The emergence of applications like SIRI, API's and ubiquitous availability of connectivity through SmartPhones allow us to imagine a future where I might tell my Software Defined Robot (agent) to actually find a Hotel and make reservations based on my preferences?

Who and how

Hi Brian,
Great post, thank you! To complete it, I'd love to see:
1) the companies who are involved with these new trends including the incumbents who will have to adapt and the new comers.
2) What it means for both groups, the IT and the Business strategists.