The technology prediction game has always been fun to play at this time of year, but the problem is that as predictions get bolder, they have far less near-term business value. That’s because the most daring and most exciting predictions rarely come to pass.

If they did, we would already be riding around on hover boards (that truly hover) and fueling our flying DeLoreans via home fusion reactors.

Unlike scenes from Back to the Future, the truth is, technology advances incrementally, and eye-popping breakthroughs are rare. So with that in mind, we’re going to engage in some prognostications here, but these predictions are more down to earth. Here’s what we’re betting you can really expect in 2017:

As-a-service at your service

2016 was a good year in the (you name it)-as-a-service arena. Its advances, and its acceptance, will continue this year. This is a prime example of how a technology gains momentum like a snowball rolling downhill and getting bigger as it rolls.

A Computerworld survey showed that enterprises will invest more in as-a-service this year. A third of IT professionals polled said they will spend more on software-as-a-service. Approximately 25 percent predicted greater investments in platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service.

Three in 10 companies also say they expect cloud-based or as-a-service systems to have a truly disruptive – in a good way – effect on their businesses over the next several years.

Things will keep on connecting

The flowering of the Internet of Things that we saw in 2016 will continue to blossom. More applications are being adopted every day, particularly as sensor technology continues to improve, and, as Forrester notes, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning cloud services will increase in order to mine and make use of the data coming from IoT devices.

Cloud 2.0

The cloud is hot and showing no signs of cooling. Frank Gens, an IDC chief analyst, sees the industry at the dawn of a “Cloud 2.0” stage of mass enterprise adoption.

Gens anticipates that by next year, 60 percent of enterprise IT workloads will be based off premises, with 85 percent of enterprises committing to a “multi-cloud architecture” model. “Even for those enterprises already familiar with the cloud, it will be a new challenge to get ready for these significant changes in what clouds are, and are able to do,” Gens told Network World. “The market’s assumptions about (and use cases for) the cloud, as it becomes more distributed, trusted, intelligent, and industry specialized, will greatly expand.”

Driverless vehicles? Not just yet, but …

Watch for promising autonomous vehicle advances in 2017, but beware of the overwhelming hype. It’s such a fascinating lifestyle-and-workstyle-changing technology that we predict tech writers won’t be able to resist.

Bottom line: Don’t expect to be outfitting your fleet with driverless vehicles anytime soon. The network and other advances needed for that are still some years away.

Forward motion in 2017, however, will come in very practical areas. That means more and more sensors throughout the vehicle, more intelligence in the vehicle itself, sharing of telemetry and driving conditions with nearby vehicles, and greater IT integration and communications capabilities.

Autonomous assistance for human drivers will become more and more common this year. As these assists are proven to increase safety and efficiency and enhance the driving experience, the push toward the driverless car will accelerate. So will the push toward the necessary web of network interconnectivity that underpins autonomous travel.

Alexa, prioritize my emails

Remember how BYOD worked its way into the enterprise from the consumer side? Well, start preparing now for the push to incorporate Alexa- or Siri-style voice interfaces into your business.

These are hot consumer items, and despite the occasional six-year-old ordering a dollhouse and cookies, you’re already seeing people embrace these “virtual personal assistants,” as Gartner calls them. The more we come to depend on them, the more we will insist on them at work.

Gartner predicts that by 2019, 20 percent of all user interactions with smartphones will take place via voice interfaces. And Network World reports that tens of millions of dollars are being invested into conversational interface and chatbot startup companies, so the anticipation is there.

Will Knight, senior editor for artificial intelligence at MIT Technology Review, sees voice interfaces not only continuing to steadily improve, but as part of a “graceful future” in which there is less need to learn a new interface for every new device.

In the short term, businesses need to consider that voice interfaces will further condition people to expect instant responses to their queries. That has e-commerce and customer service implications, because if you can’t respond quickly and effectively to increasingly impatient customers, they’re likely to move on to another company that can.

A few final predictions …

In closing, as your practical prognosticator, here is an additional handful of realistic, take-‘em-to-the-bank revelations for this potential-packed new year.

  • Cybersecurity will continue to be a very hot topic, driven perhaps in part by the media spotlight on election-related Russian hacking. Computerworld’s survey showed that 47 percent of IT professionals plan to increase spending on security technology this year.
  • Mobile networks will keep getting faster, ensuring that mobile and remote employees are just as productive away from the office as they are in the office.
  • Leveraging data will grow as a priority. Computerworld’s survey showed 38 percent of IT pros plan to spend more this year on data analytics, encompassing big data, enterprise analytics, data mining, and business intelligence tools.

Which of these technology advancements do you think will impact your business the most? Let us know in the comments section below.