Technology Trends for business leaders, the disruptive power of new technologies makes it ever more important to keep track of advances in domains such as IT, energy and materials. By following—and anticipating—a technology’s progression from scientific research to real-world applications, executives can better decide how their organizations should invest in developing or using technologies to create value.
To help execs keep up, we worked with the McKinsey Technology Council—some 100 internal and external experts—to identify and interpret 14 of today’s most significant technology trends. We looked at such tangible quantitative factors as investment, research and news coverage to gauge the momentum of each trend. And we conducted dozens of interviews and extensive research to learn which industries are apt to benefit most from specific technologies. As we’ll explain, the resulting study found that all 14 tech trends have the potential for disruptive impact—and that four “megatrends,” which we highlight below, are broadly relevant across many sectors.
Tech trends are reshaping every sector.
It’s apparent that all sectors are exposed to changes resulting from technological innovation and the diffusion of tech-enabled business practices. Looking at 20 sectors, our experts found that most sectors display a meaningful association with several of the technology trends we reviewed.
Artificial intelligence at scale.
Ongoing research means that capabilities such as machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing are progressing in sophistication and versatility. As a result, more and more companies can examine data in ways that help them streamline their activities, enhance products and services, and make well-informed decisions. The McKinsey survey highlights AI’s particular relevance to service operations and product development—business functions that are pivotal for many industries. In the IT sector, product developers might use AI models to create 3D visuals for software simulations. An electric utility could train AI models to dispatch repair crews so they can carry out proactive maintenance. Retailers might boost sales by using machine learning to crunch purchasing data and give shoppers personalized recommendations.
The latest connectivity protocols and technologies power networks with more data throughput, higher spectrum efficiency, wider geographic coverage, less latency and lower energy demands. These improvements will enhance user experiences and increase productivity in many industries. Healthcare providers, for example, will find that advanced connectivity lets them monitor the condition of chronic-disease patients at home using connected medical devices. Self-driving, connected vehicles are packed with features that depend on high-quality network access. Both advanced connectivity and applied AI exemplify trends that are closest to mainstream adoption because they are built on proven, mature technologies.
Companies are beginning to use technologies to transform products and services so they take less of a toll on the environment—or even help restore it. In the automotive sector, for example, electrification is accelerating, and McKinsey estimates there will be a sixfold increase in worldwide demand for electric vehicles from 2021 to 2030. Companies along the agriculture value chain are using digital solutions and innovative practices to produce and distribute food in a more sustainable manner. Sustainable consumption is one of several technology trends linked with environmental priorities. The others, which we call “future of clean energy” and “future of mobility,” also display rising levels of innovation, interest and investment. In fact, of the 14 trends we studied, the clean energy and mobility trends attracted the most investment.
As organizations amass, manage and analyze more data, they’re likely to encounter more reputational risk and broaden their exposure to new compliance requirements. In response, companies are starting to counter risks, fulfill mandates and reassure stakeholders with a growing suite of technologies designed to foster digital trust—that is, trust in products and experiences that leverage AI, digital technologies and data. At the forefront are businesses in industries that handle highly sensitive data, such as information technology and electronics, financial services, healthcare, and aerospace and defense. The movement toward digital trust also relates to a group of trends based on newer, less-proven digital tools, which will need to develop further before trends can realize their full potential in multiple sectors.
Combinations of trends can have powerful effects.
During the next few decades, as researchers and engineers bring technologies together in creative ways, the cumulative effect could be even more powerful than that of individual trends. Organizations already combine different technologies to create the metaverse and the many layers that make it up. We expect changes like these will accelerate and intensify in the years to come, much as they have since the start of the internet revolution some 30 years ago.
Now’s the time for executives to plan investments.
Technology trends will not only alter the competitive landscape for businesses, but also exert evermore powerful effects on society: reshaping markets, boosting productivity, spurring growth, and enhancing lives and livelihoods. The task for executives will be to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead. Leaders who understand which technologies have the most momentum—as quantified by research, funding and use-case development—can work out which trends they need to act on within the next several years.