Six Top Tech Trends to Watch in 2014

 
 
By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2013-12-18
 
 
 
tech trends for 2014

Digital technology and always-on connectivity have created new and impressive opportunities for the enterprise. But behind the façade of browser interfaces, mobile apps and cloud-based data that's accessible anywhere and anytime across the organization, there's one simple truth: IT is becoming far more complex.

Businesses, educational institutions and government agencies are discovering that they must approach IT in new and radically different ways. Here are six information technology trends that will sweep through the enterprise over the next year:

The app-centric enterprise emerges.

Consumerization, bring your own device (BYOD), personal clouds and mobility have created an entirely different IT and computing environment. Today, the focus is less on a traditional client-server computing model that requires monolithic enterprise applications and more on narrow, highly targeted functionality through apps, which are increasingly delivered via an enterprise app store.

"The explosion of mobile devices has increased the number of tech-savvy employees over the past five years, all of whom are pushing to consumerize the way that IT departments operate," observes James Gordon, vice president of information technology at Needham Bank in Massachusetts. "Employees want to be able to download the apps they need, and they don't want to have to ask for download permissions or access rights in order to get their job done."

This translates into a greater need to monitor how apps and data are used on the network and to block unwanted software that poses a security risk.

It also requires business and IT leaders to "fundamentally rethink how they deliver applications and services," says Tiffani Bova, a Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst. "It's not about devices, but, rather, what you can do on the devices."

PwC technology industry sector lead Tom Archer adds that business and IT decision-makers must examine how best to adopt an app-centric framework, but they also must understand how the enterprise can fully tap the environment. "It changes engagement models, economic models and operating models," Archer explains. "It alters workflows and creates different cost and pricing paradigms."  

The shift from personal devices to personal clouds accelerates.

Cloud computing is changing the face of the enterprise in profound ways. One of the most significant but overlooked areas involves personal clouds. Employees are turning to applications such as Salesforce, DropBox and Evernote in droves—in some cases leading organizations down the path of shadow IT. Personal clouds are also ushering in a more mobile-centric approach that allows users to rely on a spate of devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers.

Gartner predicts that in 2014 the personal cloud will replace the PC at the center of users' digital lives. "Personal clouds offer a much more flexible and productive way to manage applications and data," says Bova.

She notes that the trend is fueling further consumerization of IT and creating a more application-centric computing environment. It's also leading to a more OS-agnostic approach to IT and creating "new and different delivery models, pricing structures, usage patterns and application design requirements," Bova adds.

Big data and analytics get real.

There has been no shortage of hype about big data and analytics. However, the technology is now advancing at a rapid pace and, thanks in part to clouds, better ways to extract data and next-gen analytics tools such as IBM's Watson, organizations are able to transform a growing mountain of data (including unstructured data) into knowledge.

"With 80 to 90 percent of data today existing in an unstructured state, big data tools are essential for distinguishing the 'signal from the noise,'" says Menka Uttamchandani, vice president for business intelligence at Denihan Hospitality Group, which operates 14 boutique hotels in the United States. Although BI has been around for years, she says that organizations are now learning how to plug in the right tools and build better partnerships, cultivate the necessary internal skill sets and create an analytics-friendly culture that takes appropriate risks.

Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting and an IEEE blogger, says that real-time capabilities are emerging. "There is now the opportunity to look at vast amounts of data in real time and use the data to understand the supply chain, logistics, customer behavior, patient outcomes and many other things in a way that wasn't possible in the recent past," he says. "Big data is creating a new lease on life for many traditional processes."

The Internet of things connects to business.

The growing number of connected devices and machines is radically changing the business and IT landscape. Cisco Systems' Internet Business Solutions Group predicts that the number of Internet-connected devices will hit 25 billion by 2015 and reach 50 billion by 2020. The firm also forecasts that 99 percent of physical objects will eventually become part of a network.

"Literally any sensor—physical or virtual—can be transformed into the source of data," says Dejan Milojicic, 2014 IEEE Computer Society president and senior research manager at HP Labs. "And all that data, once collected, can be analyzed, so the opportunities are infinite."

John Devlin, a practice director at ABI Research, says that businesses must begin to understand market opportunities for the Internet of things, a.k.a. the Internet of Everything. Big data and the cloud are integral components.

"The underlying technologies for the Internet of things already exist," Devlin says."A large part of the puzzle is understanding how to fit all the pieces together in an appropriate manner." That includes understanding which systems and tools work best, and building in secure access and authentication, he points out.

Séverin Kezeu, CEO of SK Solutions, a Dubai-based manufacturer of anti-collision and safety systems for aerospace, construction and oil and gas drilling, says that the Internet of things provides a way to dive deeper into big data and analytics, including historic, real-time and predictive systems. SK Solutions has already built connected capabilities into its ERP system through an SAP Internet of things solution. The system is used to deliver relevant and actionable insights, as well as better decisions.

"This can be an iterative process for many companies as they uncover unexpected insights and connections from new streams of data," Kezeu says.

Emerging standards take hold in software-defined everything.

The virtualization of networking, storage solutions and data centers has revolutionized the way businesses operate, manage content and connect with third parties. However, "The explosion of software-defined solutions has grown so rapidly that there are few standards that mandate how data is stored, shared and managed between vendors and businesses," states Needham Bank's Gordon. Software-defined everything (SDx) takes direct aim at that challenge.

The term, as defined by Gartner, strives for "improved standards for infrastructure programmability and data center interoperability driven by automation inherent to cloud computing." But decoupling the hardware that executes the data transactions from the software layer that orchestrates them isn't an easy task—and not only for technical reasons.

Currently, SDx incorporates various initiatives, such as OpenStack, OpenFlow, the Open Compute Project and Open Rack. However, Gartner notes that other sticking points exist: "Vendors that dominate a sector of the infrastructure may only reluctantly want to abide by standards that have the potential to lower margins and open broader competitive opportunities—even when the consumer will benefit by simplicity, cost reduction and consolidation efficiency."

There are also the realities of operating a business. For example, Gordon says that public clouds are not compliant with the regulations he faces at Needham Bank.

Nevertheless, "Software-defined everything is moving beyond technology as organization apply the concept to business models, including people, structure and data," PwC's Archer says. "We are likely to see quite a bit of movement in the space in 2014."

Enterprise social collaboration grows and becomes more holistic.

Although it's nearly impossible to find an organization that hasn't been touched by social media, business and IT leaders continue to underutilize these tools internally. A recent McKinsey & Co. survey found that 80 percent of executives believe collaboration is critical to growth, but only 25 percent describe their organization as "effective" at collaboration.

"The value of social tools extends far beyond marketing and listening," Archer points out. "Employee collaboration is a natural next step as organizations look to increase the speed at which data moves."

In fact, emerging social collaboration tools largely deliver on the lost promise of 1990s-era knowledge management systems. Mobility, clouds, unified messaging and always-on Internet have made real-time communication possible, as well as making it easy to find experts within an enterprise. Archer says that these systems, when used effectively, serve as platforms for a wide array of interactions.

Ted Rubin, an independent consultant and co-author of Return on Relationship (Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2013), points out that some organizations are increasingly connecting internal and external systems—sometimes through APIs. Using this approach, "It's possible to introduce an extremely high level of communication and transparency," he points out.