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Reflecting on 9 technology industry predictions

Dec 22, 2023

In the rush to make predictions about 2024, too often opportunities are missed to learn from forecasts made for the 12 months that just wrapped up. In January 2023, we put forth the following nine predictions for the tech industry, so before tackling the trends ahead, let’s take time to review and assess how things played out in 2023.

Technology industry trends for 2023

1. Fewer, bigger and better when it comes to venture capital funding placements

The declining public market in 2022 left larger investors looking for returns from other sources. This led to venture capital funds being able to raise a great deal of money.

The economic uncertainty, however, left venture capitalists skittish to place bets. We will see venture capital firms make fewer technology placements in 2023. But, needing to put their surplus to work, they’ll make larger placements focused on mature to maturing technologies.

Reflection: Through Q3, this has proven mostly true. The economic uncertainty, along with increased interest rates drastically cooled PE and VC activity. Indeed, the number of total deals dropped farther than the total amounts placed, thus showing more concentrated placements. Overall, however, there was substantially less money placed than we had anticipated.

2. Crest, fall and crest again in venture debt

2021 and 2022 saw big-name financial institutions dip their big toes in venture debt funding. The peer pressure of private lenders wading into the warm economic waters and usurping some of the traditional financial institutions’ commercial lending leadership was the motivation.

As the economic waters have turned a little colder, financial institutions’ intolerance for risk has sent many, including Citi, shivering back to the cabana.

However, founders — having enjoyed the nondilutive benefits of venture debt — will continue to seek out venture debt structures and private lenders who will happily fill the void as the waters return to warmer temperatures in late 2023.

Reflection: This one came more true than anyone wanted. The Silicon Valley Bank collapse was shocking to the ecosystem. While depositors were made whole, many spent 60 hours sweating millions. Banks were rattled and venture lending has decreased to a trickle. Those who can get debt are getting it at brutally high rates. Some PE firms have venture debt funds, however the “rise again” portion of my prediction will be much, much slower than I had hoped.

3. The dog days of mergers

Uncertain economic conditions and investor trepidation have notably decreased valuations, and there has been a subsequent decrease in founder exits. Driven to grow nonetheless, firms will still seek mergers. Strategic acquisitions will look attractive as ways to build equity. Even mergers of near equals that are still accretive to growth and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization may occur. Look for strategic mergers and acquisitions as opposed to buyouts in Q3 and Q4.

Reflection: This prediction, unfortunately for some firms, did not materialize to the extent we believed it would. The aforementioned  SVB collapse, high interest rates, depressed valuation and limited capital flow stymied some desired strategic M&A. Some companies are still trying to get off the ground but are low on fuel. Others, even strong ones like Veev, ultimately ran out of runway.

4. Unrealistic expectations for virtual reality

Early 2022 heard increasingly loud grumblings from within Meta Platforms Inc. management that the coming metaverse party was overhyped. Whether through a self-fulfilling prophecy or just being too early to the party, the grumblers were proven right.

Lacking a clear path to monetization, the efforts sputtered. The grumblers’ reward for their accurate prognostication was 11,000 employees laid off.

Many B2C product and services companies will scale back heavily on virtual reality ventures, with only the gaming ventures continuing at full speed.

Reflection: This one was a partial miss. While efforts and investments in VR certainly pulled back in many industries (retail at the top of the list), manufacturing has strongly embraced the concept of digital twins, and the medical world is making breakthroughs in both training and procedural application.

5. Shifts in virtual payment

A staple in payment systems since the early 80s, the magnetic stripe did away with carbon copy impression machines and enabled the ATM revolution. In the last decade, it has even made cash a bit outdated.

But its day has come. New technologies enabling and embracing virtual cards, wallets, payments and transfers will continue to see strong growth and large institutional investment.

Reflection: This one was a bit of a layup. Tap-to-pay was an obvious gateway to waving a smartwatch over the terminal and walking out with a coffee. The recently spotted Venmo sign for tips on an airport shuttle bus drives home the point.

6. Blockchain claims its name

Many outside and within the technology space have long conflated cryptocurrency and blockchain. There is even a cryptocurrency company named Blockchain. The cryptocurrency winter, culminating in the FTX storm, has obviously shaken the cryptocurrency industry and, along with it, investments in blockchain-based Web3 application development.

Now is the time for blockchain technology to stand on its own merit and be understood, seen and applied for its many strengths.

It has been trusted to convey billions in value. It will now be trusted to convey much more, including identities — think voting applications or transcript transmission — as well as authenticity and compliance.

Cryptocurrency will rise again. But after 2023, blockchain will no longer be synonymous with it.

Reflection: This one is coming true on the main stage and behind the scenes. NFTs appear to have had their moment in the limelight while, quietly, blockchain use in supply chain security is going mainstream as manufacturers and retailers attempt to thwart counterfeiting. Crypto is bouncing back and in the news while, without fanfare, medical providers and pharmacies are using blockchain-enabled applications for compliant patient data management and pharmaceutical safety.

7. Changing ranks in the war for talent

Tech layoffs at the largest firms (including Salesforce, Google, Amazon and Meta) will continue into mid-2023. Together, these firms have produced the bulk of the world’s cloud experience, be that in engineering, sales, product development or customer experience. These layoffs will bring more cloud talent to the labor pool than has ever been available.

Growing startup tech companies, stalwart industries going through digital modernizations and public-sector entities in government and education are all starved for talent. Laid-off employees can find positions with these organizations, although the working environment may be different from what they’re used to.

Reflection: This one, thankfully for thousands of people, rang true. Heavy layoffs continued in 2023, with over 185,000 lost jobs by December 1, according to Crunchbase layoff tracker. Many saw this and looked to take advantage of the available talent glut. AP reported that postings for tech jobs by government entities increased by 48%. Private sector players also took advantage, with Hilton Hotels increasing postings by 27%. Most workers recovered quickly, either staying in technology or pivoting to new industries. The Bureau of Labor reported the average time to land a new job after a layoff dropped from 9.8 weeks in January to 8.3 weeks at the end of March.

8. Outsourcing expands its reach

Outsourcing continued to rise in 2021 and 2022, and 2023 will see that trend accelerate notably.

There have always been known advantages to outsourcing in some situations, such as process simplification, on-demand expertise, labor costs optimization and core focus enablement. But recently, issues with attracting and retaining talent, increased salary demands, the baby boomer retirement bubble and decreasing university enrollment have continued to encourage outsourcing.

Another important factor is the uncertainty of the next 18 months. Companies will be looking for the ability to flex capacity up and down rapidly without incurring the costs of hiring, training and terminating.

This confluence of forces will drive both demand and rates up for outsourcing. The need and true value of offering will prevail, and growth will be rapid.

Reflection: Indeed, this confluence of factors has only accelerated. Outsourcing has evolved. IT and call center outsourcing, both on- and off-shore continues. Today, however, many more firms are outsourcing high-level business functions, such as accounting and financial planning, CXO and human capital management. A reported 68% of U.S. companies outsource some functions and market.us estimates the total global outsourcing annual spend grew by more than $20 billion in 2023.

9. Regulatory will be irregular

The governmental focus on technology has been consistent. However, the policies and actions of regulatory bodies have ebbed and flowed with the eco-political pressures of the times. Looking ahead, 2023-2024 will see new pressures from different agencies and entities, crossing sociopolitical, economic and gubernatorial lines.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is prosecuting influencers for cryptocurrency and stock promotion just as they would with registered investment advisors. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is investigating the former CEO of the smoking crater that is FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, who was arrested on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, securities laws violations and other financial crimes.

For social media, the Federal Trade Commission is pressing personal privacy enforcement, and the Federal Communications Commission is considering banning TikTok. Additionally, the Supreme Court has three arguments on the current docket regarding the protections that have enabled the social media giants to become so influential.

The next 23 months will see frenetic regulatory activity. Anticipate strict enforcement of current policies and increasing fines for violations. Regarding policy reform, moderate advancement will be made on individual privacy protection.     

Reflection: Granted this one was also a bit of a layup, but halfway through this two-year prediction, it is certainly playing out albeit in an odd, intercontinental way. While U.S. regulatory effort and focus have played into privacy concerns, it has been made straight-up chaotic with the generative AI eruption. The fines have come as predicted; however, they are coming hard and fast from across the pond. As an example, Meta was dinged a record $1.3 billion for EU privacy violations. Even the manufacturers weren’t immune with Intel getting hit for $400 million in an old EU antitrust case.

As for our 2024 predictions, look for technology trends to watch in January. 

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Author(s)

Kevin Smith
Principal
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