Looking in the Rear View Mirror

For the past four years, my esteemed colleague Jeff Fried has posted a blog on his technology predictions for the following year. In that blog, he always started with a review of his predictions from the previous year, in a sort of scorecard of his ESP abilities. Now that we are in March (where did the time go?) I wanted to look back to see how Jeff did before too much more time goes by. If you want to read his predictions blog from last year, here it is.


Jeff’s 2018 Predictions Did it happen?
1 Hyper-Personalization takes hold Y
2 ML becomes essential to search Y
3 Open Architecture for search gains traction Y
4 Voice activated search will come inside the firewall N
5 Blockchain-based search engines will appear Y
6 Microsoft will splinter their search offerings N
7 1/2 the intranet-in-a-box products will die N
8 Azure versus AWS versus Google Cloud – Azure will gain five points N
9 Dynamics will gain five points on Salesforce N
10 Big data will give way to smart data Push

Let’s take a closer look at these.

Prediction 1: Hyper-Personalization takes hold

This list starts out with a winner. I can’t recall a single conversation with a customer or prospect from the past year where personalization wasn’t discussed in some way. Jeff’s term of hyper-personalization called for user behavior and characteristics showing up in production environments in 2018. He qualified this as beyond simple preferences and user grouping. He was right here. We had several customer deployments last year that did exactly this, blending user behavior with granular user characteristics to deliver personalized result sets. And the good news? It really works and should be a cornerstone of any search initiative going forward.


Prediction 2: ML becomes essential to search

So far, we’re two for two. The specific prediction on ML and search was that it would be effective enough and ubiquitous enough that nearly every new search application will leverage it. Want a simple way to validate this? Go back and read a release announcement of any search product from any vendor in this space, and you’ll easily find reference to ML capabilities or AI integrations. These capabilities are out of the proving grounds and are delivering real value.


Prediction 3: Open Architecture for search gains traction

Wow. Three for three! I’ve got one disclaimer here, and it’s that I gave this one to Jeff despite some difficulty in identifying his prediction of “two or more” other vendors will take an open architecture approach. Why did I do this? It’s simple, because of the move of the biggest vendor in the space, Microsoft, in this direction. We’re all still learning about Microsoft Search, what it means, and when Microsoft will deliver things. However, two things are very clear to me:

  1. Microsoft has embraced that in order to account for all enterprise data, they must allow for data stored outside of their systems.
  2. Microsoft is committed to APIs across the Microsoft Search stack. So, integration with others and APIs?

To me, that’s open architecture from the biggest vendor around, and enough to put a Yes on Jeff’s prediction.


Prediction 4: Voice Activated search will come inside the firewall

Well, the streak had to end somewhere. Jeff was specific on what he expected here, “I predict that we’ll see a big change this year, and that voice-activated search will be adopted in production applications serving employees within at least 100 organizations.” We’re simply not there yet, and we’re seeing a level of push back on voice, in that employees aren’t embracing talking to their computers. Perhaps its because open office layouts are bad, as evidenced by the dozens of articles popping up calling this out. One of my favorite ones is here. The keyboard offers a level of privacy that voice search will need to figure out how to match, should it want to catch on to the level Jeff predicted. My thought is that there is a time and place for voice, and with the right use case, it works. But, it’s not something we’ll see everywhere just yet.


Prediction 5: Blockchain-based search engines will appear

Ok, back in the win column. Jeff predicted a viable blockchain based engine in 2018. We could debate on what is meant by “viable”, but the technology is out there. Take some time to read a bit on Nebulas here, which the referenced article calls, “The Google of Blockchain”. Ok, so we have a blockchain-based search engine.


Prediction 6: Microsoft will splinter their search offerings

Well, this one is tough. The reality here was basically 180 degrees the other way. Jeff’s thoughts in this area were: “2018 will likely see either a rationalization of these offerings or a splintering into independent offerings without the pretense of coordination. Although I am a fan of Microsoft and of Microsoft search, I predict that these offerings will diverge rather than converge. We’ll end 2018 with distinct but overlapping offerings, and with more rather than fewer search experiences.” Unfortunately for him, that’s not what they did at all. Albeit, Microsoft Search is still moving from conception to reality, but the clear goal is a convergence of all search experiences of the Microsoft 365 platform. It’s the right call from Microsoft, and one I am glad that Jeff got wrong.


Prediction 7:  ½ the intranet in a box products will die

Jeff raised this flag a few years in a row. He carried this over from 2017, when the prediction didn’t come true, and unfortunately, it didn’t come through last year either. The referenced numbers were as follows: “Clearbox published a report covering six of these intranet-in-a-box products in January 2016; the 2nd edition came out in November 2016 and covered 26; the 3rd edition came out in December 2017 including 42!” Clearbox recently released the report for 2019, and the number of products is up to 56! Jeff did hedge a little last year, and added a qualifier around “healthy sales”, which he defined as acquiring 12 new customers a year. That’s a hard data point to drive down, but I think I’m safe in saying that this segment of the market continues as viable. To me, this makes sense. It shows that organizations are looking for more turn-key approaches to their business issues, and the intranet is a huge issue for many businesses. Vendors who can solve complex issues in clean and elegant ways will likely always find an audience.


Prediction 8: Azure versus AWS versus Google Cloud – Azure will gain five points

Jeff carried this prediction over from 2017, where he predicted a 10-point gain for Microsoft vs an actual  two point gain. For 2018, he lowered the prediction to a five point gain, which was closer, but not close enough. Microsoft picked up two and a half points over the last four quarters ending Q3 2018. The pattern is showing that the big continue to get bigger, but Amazon continues to keep their market dominance. Microsoft did add more market share than Amazon and Google, and I see that trend likely continuing. It won’t be in big chunks though, it will be in the hard fought trenches a point at a time.


Prediction 9: Dynamics will gain five points on Salesforce

If I’ve learned one thing from this blog, it’s that five points of market share may sound small, but it’s a massive undertaking. It would be a huge accomplishment in an emerging market, and almost unheard of in a market with entrenched quality competitors. This just happens to be the case in the CRM market. Salesforce is entrenched, and they’re good. Microsoft is serious, and they’re good as well. However, Microsoft taking five points would mean essentially doubling their entire CRM business in one year. Is the news bad? Not at all.  Dynamics is a real competitor and is gaining momentum. The competition that is being brought to Salesforce will be good for the market. Again, gains here will be slow and steady for a while.


Prediction 10: Big data will give way to smart data

Jeff’s last prediction was a bit nebulous, but he boiled it down like this: “To make a crisp prediction, I’ll state it this way: by the end of 2018, the concept of “smart data” will be understood and gaining mindshare among serious practitioners.” It’s unfortunate that he boiled it down like that, because the prediction got mired in the naming of the concept rather than the idea of the concept. Because of this, I’m going to put this down as a “push”. What Jeff coined as “Smart Data” is becoming a core concept of search applications. He summarized it as “The orientation with ‘Smart Data’ is to find the subset of your data that actually applies to a given problem and make that data understandable by smart humans. This certainly means bridging across siloed data within companies.” That’s a clear description of many of the use cases we are deploying with our customers right now. The name “smart data” hasn’t caught on, but the concept for sure has.

So, 4-5-1. Not as good as his 70% 2017 score, but still respectable. Predictions are a hard game, and even harder when talking technology.