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PHOTO: Tim Foster

With every piece of advice doled out in the financial world comes the SEC-mandated disclaimer that past performance does not guarantee future results. While that’s a sound guiding principle for the investment world, the opposite is usually true in the tech world. Past performance is usually quite prescient, especially as it pertains to digital transformation.

So, as tech industry pundits engage in the ritual doling out of predictions for 2020, remember that, quite often, the best way to prepare for trends yet to come is to take stock of those that have already emerged and understand which among them have the most staying power. With that in mind, let’s look back at the digital transformation trends from 2019 that are truly here to stay.

Developers Get a Seat at the Strategic Table

Few trends took flight in 2019 quite like the empowerment of the developer. Businesses in the digital age will ultimately only go as far as their developers take them. Developers are the creative engine driving the modern digital enterprise. And they know it.

As a result, gone are the days of developers being denied a seat at the strategic table. Whether it’s in defining long-term product strategy or in dictating the development tools and technologies on which the organization standardizes, developers are growing increasingly influential.

Using that as a guidepost, we can anticipate a few things. First, user experience will become the foundational “capability” that drives future software releases and defines competitive advantage in the digital age. Developers understand better than anyone that having the best user experience is more important than having the flashiest capabilities, and they’ll push their organizations to prioritize it accordingly. Likewise, they’ll push to ensure that quality is front and center, especially as they exert greater influence over the tools and technologies used to achieve agility. That means we can expect organizations to work even harder to shift left and ensure continuous integration, continuous delivery and continuous testing throughout the development cycle, all in the name of quality.

Related Article: DevOps and the Culture of Inclusion

Mobile Experience as Barometer for Quality 

If 2019 showed us that empowered developers are pushing to make quality their organizations' foremost priority, it also showed us that mobile is set to become the measuring stick for the attainment of said quality. This isn’t about “mobile-first” per se. When you hear people talk about mobile-first, they’re generally talking about a mindset, the need to think first about mobile apps when building out product roadmaps and allocating development resources. And indeed, many organizations have already adopted such a mindset. But even as mobile apps became top of mind for digital organizations, web apps still usually remained the lens through which they viewed quality.

That started to change in 2019. In many ways, organizations have come to expect that their web apps will work as intended (though, given the continued proliferation of browsers and operating systems, it would be a mistake to take even that for granted). As such, when it comes time to gauge the extent to which they’re delivering a high-quality digital experience to their users (side note: it should never “come time” to gauge such a thing; you should be gauging it at all times), organizations are looking first at the performance of their mobile apps. As well they should. The world has gone mobile, and it’s incumbent upon product, engineering and marketing teams alike to ensure quality goes mobile as well.

Related Article: Why Mobile Customer Experience Is Still Lagging

IT's Must-Have: Visibility

In just about every customer conversation I had this year, the need for more or better visibility came up in some form or fashion. Whether the topic was data protection, security, analytics, automated testing, performance monitoring or pretty much any other area of concern for IT practitioners in the digital era, visibility was part of the discussion. The common denominator in each case is a desire for real-time insight into what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how to predict and proactively mitigate risk. In other words, teams want to stop focusing so much of their energy on the pure execution of a given task and instead focus on observing and learning from the data each execution generates.

That means, for example, that organizations don’t just want to make sure their data is backed up. They want to prevent the next outage from even happening. They don’t just want to pull a report detailing how their customers behaved last quarter. They want to proactively predict how they’re likely to behave next quarter. They don’t just want to execute a test suite and see which tests passed and which ones failed. They want to leverage their test data to understand precisely why certain tests failed and how to proactively remediate against them failing again in the future. And on and on. If 2019 is any indication, the future of IT isn’t about execution. It’s about visibility.

Related Article: OK Boomer: IT Culture Undergoes Big Changes

AI as Augmentation, Not Replacement

If you’re going to talk about current and future trends these days, you’re almost contractually obligated to talk about artificial intelligence (AI). AI will undoubtedly reshape the business and IT landscape in ways we can’t even predict (though, naturally, we’ll try!). But if 2019 informs the discussion at all, it’s likely that the near-term future of AI is still one of augmentation, where intelligent software aids but does not yet replace human practitioners and/or traditional rules-driven software. Most of the AI-related discussions I had this year were focused on this concept of augmentation, and regardless of the use case, you can largely expect that to continue in 2020.

Related Article: AI Is More Than Machine Automation: It's About Human Augmentation

Don’t Ignore Past Performance

As you start to think about what 2020 might hold, it can be tempting to try to predict the unknown. But in many cases, you don’t have to. 2019 provided a year’s worth of learnings. Take careful stock of what they mean for your business. After all, when it comes to digital transformation, past performance is a pretty darn good indicator of future results.