[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on external trends impacting small and medium size businesses in 2020. Other articles in this series:

Ecological trends
Social trends
Technological trends
Political trends


It feels as though the future has arrived. The TSA is testing face-recognition software to replace driver’s licenses. Recreational space travel is upon us. Cars drive themselves. We are at a unique point in history, where powerful technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, automation and robotics are being unleashed on humanity with a gravity we have not seen in our life time. Strategists must consider the adoption of new technologies as they plan ahead. Below is a review of technological trends that will impact business in 2020 and beyond.

Cybersecurity, privacy and protection

Cybersecurity has emerged as a number-one external threat for chief executives. In 2020, the emergence of 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) will only magnify the problem, which is expected to cost the U.S. economy $6 trillion per year. [i] There is evidence that private companies are still underinvesting in cyber-security. Half of cyberattacks are launched against small companies that only comprise 13 percent of cyber-protection spending. [ii] Entering the new year, companies are focused on employee training and fending off phishing and ransomware attacks.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has upped the ante for technology companies that must comply with complex privacy and data protection laws as well as defend against breaches and cyberattacks. [iii] Expansion of the principals of GDPR are expected throughout the world. As companies archive users’ personal data, various vulnerabilities have become more acute. For example, cryptocurrencies are non-compliant with privacy laws.

Read 5 Tactics For Effective Cybersecurity Management to learn more about protecting your business.

Automation and robotics

We are entering a new world of automation where machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies must coexist with the activities of humans. [iv] Utilization of “digital twins” allows for better evaluation of data from IoT devices and other technologies.

Manufacturers are utilizing robotics, automation and wearables to improve productivity, reduce cycle time and save on transportation costs. Read more about the use of technology in manufacturing here.

Automation is beginning to make its mark in service industries. Within a year, the first robotic pharmacist is expected to start dispensing medicine. Machines are replacing humans in tasks such as window cleaning and inventory management. [v] Consumables like those offered by AlterEgo (a mind-reading wearable) are hitting the market. Domino’s and DoorDash are testing robot delivery and drones. [vi]

In September, AI-enabled technologies managed more American equity portfolios than humans did ($4.3 trillion) and controlled 60% of the trading activity on Wall Street for the first time. Automation offers lower costs for institutional traders and takes the emotion out of trading. Yet detractors worry that there could be less liquidity as prices fall and that computer-generated trading could promote more violent swings in trading.

Cloud computing and SaaS

While adoption of software as a service (SaaS) has been escalating for several years, we are entering a new age of cloud computing. Subscription models have become ubiquitous for everything from streaming content to accounting services. “Everything as a service” is touted by providers like Citrix as SaaS technologies have largely replaced “on-premise” applications and big cloud vendors have creeped into corporate data centers. [vii] Ironically, those trying to manage their own networks have been the ones subject to many private company hacks – thus the adoption of “hybrid clouds” that offer security, flexibility and scalability.


As the Internet took hold, it needed enabling technologies such as Internet browsers and email to unleash its power. We seem to be at a similar tipping point with blockchain. Gartner defines blockchain as “a type of distributed ledger, an expanding, chronologically ordered list of cryptographically signed, irrevocable transactional records shared by all participants in a network.” [viii]

While conventional applications in financial systems are already being utilized, other uses for blockchain are only now emerging. Blockchain technologies will act as an ecosystem for all types of transactions. For example, foodborne illnesses can be traced back to their source instantly, and fraud more easily detected.

Drones in space

The usage of commercial drones is taking a big leap forward. Commercial drones registered with the FAA are projected to triple by 2022. [ix] The surge is sparking demand for remote pilots, technicians, coders, analysis and AI experts. The FAA is moving toward remote identification, which will provide a fingerprint for every device and combat illicit behavior. Among their top usages are agriculture and safety related applications (e.g., power plants, oil and gas).

New competition is emerging to fly solar powered drones, offering greater utility than existing satellite technology. Airbus, Boeing and others are developing stratospheric drones that are solar powered and fly for months. With over 40 such programs in development, high altitude aircraft such as balloons and air ships will potentially have a myriad of military and commercial applications. [x] Concerns about their safety will be overcome, sparking use of drones in home delivery.

Meanwhile, Virgin, Blue Origin, SpaceX and others continue their space race. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic just went public, and plans are in place for commercial operations to begin in 2020. The first flights to break the “boundaries of space” are expected in the next twenty-four months.

Stores of the future

The promise of fully automated retail stores is finally here. Seven years after Jeff Bezos launched his ambitious plan to reform retail, Amazon Go and similar labor-free markets are poised to expand. [xi] Amazon is utilizing self-scanning systems and artificial intelligence to build the stores of the future. Amazon’s expansion has been constrained by what the company refers to as a “highly differentiated idea.”

Autonomous vehicles

Every year, 40,000 people die in automobile accidents in the U.S. [xii] Tesla CEO Elon Musk has shifted the company’s value creation strategy from producing the first electric car at scale – achieved in the Model 3 – to making fully autonomous vehicles. The Model 3 is receiving updates every few weeks, making self-driving features “more human” (I just bought one, and it is a sick car).

Proponents point out that computers don’t get angry, drunk, tired or distracted by arguments with their spouse. Tesla has a huge lead. Tesla owners have already driven 1.6 billion miles with autopilot. GM, Mercedes-Benz, Google and Uber are in a race to deliver similar technologies.

Artificial intelligence

AI will be perhaps the most expensive technology in history, and will provide tremendous advantage to those who can afford it. “AI as a service” will emerge as a way for companies to tap into its power. [xiii] While Amazon, Google and Microsoft have offerings, they require significant custom engineering. In 2020, new mass-market solutions will emerge.

An emerging application of AI will be in security. Technologies such as autonomous automobiles and hyper-automation will create vulnerabilities within our systems. [xiv] AI will be used to enhance security defense, especially as a counter-measure to AI-initiated attacks.

Perhaps the most practical application of AI that we will see in the short-term is self-service bots that will support customers in a myriad of applications. Bots will promote entire new service offerings that will not require human interaction.


While 2019 marked the unveiling of 5G networks, U.S. infrastructure and hardware was not ready for primetime. As the first 5G cell phones hit the market, data plans become available and cities become 5G-ready, the computing power of 5G will be unleashed and drive a swath of technologies including remote surgeries and autonomous vehicles.

Quantum computing

Quantum computing appears to be moving from theory to reality. Researchers at Google have built a machine that solved problems (which would take the most powerful computers 10,000 years to complete) in a matter of minutes. [xv] Like 5G and AI, nation states such as China and the U.S. are investing to unlock the power of quantum computing, which could help build powerful algorithms that can be used in cyber protections and the like. Volkswagen has used quantum computers to test traffic flow optimization and develop EV batteries. [xvi]

Perhaps more than at any time in the course of history, management teams must integrate technology into every decision and solution. How can technology change the trajectory of our products and services? How will technology alter the customer experience? How can it improve the workplace?

2020 is going to be a year of accelerated change. I can hardly wait.


[i] Cybersecurity and data privacy trends in 2020 by Paul Azorin, ITProPortal
[ii] 11 Eye Opening Cyber Security Statistics, CPO Magazine
[iii] 10 Technology Trends that Can Impact Your Business in 2020, Mobile App Daily
[iv] Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020
[v] The biggest business trends in 2020, MailGuard
[vi] 10 Technology Trends that Can Impact Your Business in 2020, Mobile App Daily
[vii] Not-to-miss Technology Trends for 2020, AMEinfo
[viii] Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020
[ix] The Kiplinger Letter, Vol 96, No. 31
[x] Drone Ambitions Soar to the Stratosphere by Mike Cherney, WSJ, Aug 26, 2019
[xi] The Zillion Dollar Convenience Store by Stone and Day, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 22, 2019
[xii] You Gotta Smash a Few Cars to Make an Autonomous Vehicle by Zachary Mider, Bloomberg Businessweek, October 14, 2019
[xiii] The 7 Biggest Technology Trends in 2020 Everyone Must Get Ready For Now by Bernard Marr, Forbes
[xiv] Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020
[xv] Supreme Achievement, The Economist, September 28, 2019
[xvi] 10 Technology Trends that Can Impact Your Business in 2020, Mobile App Daily[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]