Ten Tech Trends That Will Change IT in 2013
By Samuel Greengard
Although information technology is synonymous with change, it's safe to say that the rate of change has never been faster. Over the last few years, cloud computing and mobility have gone mainstream, and social media and analytics have invaded all corners of the enterprise.
At the same time, organizations have had to address the massive growth of data, as well as growing security and business continuity threats. All of this has created new risks … and opportunities. "The combination of systems is enabling a higher level of technology enablement," observes David Nichols, America's transformational leader for consulting firm Ernst & Young.
To be sure, 2013 may serve as a pivot point for enterprises. The intersection of various technologies—combined with more advanced networks and computers—promises to deliver entirely new challenges and rewards.
Choosing where and how to invest is perhaps the biggest challenge, according to Stephen Minton, an analyst for IDC. "Despite a down economy, there are so many compelling drivers for IT spending at the moment," he points out. "Yet it's impossible to be everywhere at once."
Here are 10 of the IT trends (in no particular order) that promise to rock the enterprise as the calendar turns to the new year.
1. Big data goes mainstream.
It's difficult to go a day without hearing the buzz about big data. Many bristle at the term, but whatever description you use, there's a growing need to corral the mind-bending load of structured and unstructured data flying by.
Paul Daugherty, CTO at Accenture, predicts that 2013 will be the year that many companies plunge into big data in a big way. "We will see the underpinnings of core systems that serve as the foundation for big data projects," he says. The cloud and more sophisticated analytics algorithms promise to unlock big data in new and valuable ways.
However, simply embracing the concept doesn't automatically ensure success, notes M. Eric Johnson, director of the Center for Digital Technology at Dartmouth University. "While we will see some significant leaps in tools and capabilities, we will continue to see a good deal of disappointment," he says. "There is still a lot of naivety and inexperience, and a lot of companies are clueless about how to unlock the value that's tucked away in their data."
2. The digital enterprise emerges.
For years, businesses have juggled digital and analog systems. Paper has persisted, and getting data in and out of systems—and tapping into its full value—has been extraordinarily difficult. As a result, productivity gains have been incremental rather than groundbreaking.
While the last few years has produced IT systems that venture beyond process automation, a confluence of technologies and systems is now ushering in an era of digital acceleration. Clouds, mobile technology and social media increasingly make proprietary hardware and software platforms irrelevant.
"We are removing the physical limitations that have shackled organizations in the past," states Bill Briggs, global lead of Deloitte Digital and deputy chief technology officer for Deloitte Consulting. "There is an immense interrelationship among various digital technologies. They are profoundly reshaping business and creating enormous opportunities."
This new digital order means rethinking the fundamentals of business and re-examining everything: innovation, procurement, research and development, marketing, sales strategies, operations, cost structures and much more.
3. Social media gets sophisticated.
Social media has swept over the business world like a giant tsunami. But, so far, many of these tools have operated as islands, and many organizations have struggled to create a holistic social media strategy. This situation is likely to change in the coming year.
"Social is becoming a way to rethink business processes and interact in a more collaborative way," points out Accenture's Daugherty. Like mobility, social media breaks down linear processes and patterns, and creates real-time point-to-point communication and exchange.
Others, such as Prashant Malaviya, associate professor of marketing at Georgetown University, says that social media is rapidly moving into the center of the enterprise—both for internal and outside use. "Organizations are only beginning to discover that the combination of mobility, social and location-based services has the ability to transform the enterprise," he says.
4. Clouds are everywhere.
A confluence of factors—including a more mature Internet, high levels of adoption related to virtualization and better IT systems—has unleashed the power of cloud computing. Adoption rates are spiking as more and more organizations flock to private, hybrid and public clouds. In fact, more than 97 percent of major organizations surveyed by the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) report that they are already using clouds or plan to deploy them.
"The cloud means that you can act on a larger body of information and use it in a far more effective way to create a sum greater than the individual parts," says Accenture's Daugherty. "It also translates into greater agility and flexibility."
Nevertheless, many organizations are approaching clouds in a methodical and cautious manner. For instance, at Baptist Healthcare Systems, a chain of five acute-care hospitals based in Louisville, Ky., CIO Jackie Lucas says that the organization already uses a private cloud, but must weigh HIPAA and security issues involving patients.
5. IT stocks talent.
Despite a growing reliance on infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and software as a service (SaaS), organizations are loading up on IT talent and building centers of technology excellence to spur innovation. "In an environment where skill shortages exist, it's viewed as a way for organizations to gain a competitive advantage," Minton says.
For example, last September, General Motors said that it plans to hire as many as 1,500 workers to staff a new computer technology center near Detroit. Other major companies have made similar announcements in recent months.
"The demands on an IT department are changing rapidly," says Eli Rosner, vice president of global software engineering at NCR. "Mobility and social media are leading to very short cycle times. There's a need to deploy applications and tools into production environments rapidly."
As a result, there's growing demand for IT talent that can think in a strategic, business-focused way, rather than simply managing servers and storage devices.
6. IT means business.
After years of chatter about IT becoming more strategically focused, the dial has suddenly slid from desirable to mandatory. CIOs and other IT executives are beginning to recognize this fact, but initiating the necessary change isn't easy.
"We're at the point where you cannot separate business strategy from technology strategy," explains Deloitte's Briggs. In fact, business units are increasingly deploying their own systems and mobile apps, and IT departments must fully understand how these systems work—and integrate them into the overall fabric of the organization. Organizations that do not break down the silos and connect data pools are at a huge disadvantage.
"Siloed organizations cannot act in the highly agile manner that's necessary," Georgetown's Prashant warns. He says that organizations must create cross-functional teams and engage in practices that help IT and business executives become more fluent in each other's domain.
7. The post-PC era takes hold.
Mobility is no stranger to the enterprise. Over the last few years, mobile devices have profoundly changed the way workers interact with each other, as well as with business partners and customers. Now, as the use of these devices tilts into the majority, organizations must adapt even more.
"It's vital to deliver the full fidelity of services and offerings across mobile platforms," says David Reilly, managing director of Bank of America's Technology Infrastructure organization. Indeed, 2013 will be a year in which IT executives must focus on creating a consistent experience across devices and browsers.
It also means better tying together marketing, sales, support and other functions, and harnessing systems through improved analytics and big data. The end game is to make channels seamless and nearly invisible. "It's crucial to design IT systems around mobility and ensure that all services can be delivered through the mobile channel," says NCR's Rosner.
8. Consumerization rules.
By now, there's no IT executive alive who hasn't been forced to confront the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement and the consumerization of IT. Over the last few years, organizations have had no choice but to support smartphones, tablets and other employee devices.
What many IT executives have failed to notice is that consumerization is seeping into every aspect of IT, and is affecting everything from hardware infrastructure to how an enterprise designs employee- and customer-facing systems, tools and software.
"Consumerization is driving different behavior, as well as new thinking, within the enterprise IT arena," observes Accenture's Daugherty. This includes how organizations interact with employees and consumers, who are often more advanced on the technology curve and have higher expectations.
App stores may be the most common manifestation of this trend, but consumerization is also driving a more agile IT delivery framework that touches social media, cloud computing and mobile technologies.
9. Organizations get serious about cyber-security.
Cyber-threats have exploded over the last few years. The White House, major banks and others have come under attack from a motley crew of hackers, hactivists and thieves. Yet, despite all the turmoil, many organizations still haven't adopted stringent and necessary protections.
According to a recent Verizon Communications study, 79 percent of attacks were simply "targets of opportunity." Accenture's Daugherty says that organizations must adopt a more analytical approach to security and engage in a comprehensive assessment in order to understand their specific vulnerabilities. They also must use multiple layers of security and put a far greater emphasis on training and education.
Ernst & Young's Nichols says that organizations must examine security in a more holistic manner, including examining the cloud, partners and mobile systems. The good news, he says, is that tools are becoming more sophisticated, and the coming year may be as a turning point.
10. Analytics is for everyone.
The challenge for companies in the information age isn't collecting information; it's parsing all the data and assembling it into useful knowledge. But big data is only part of the story. Although analytics is already deeply etched into the psyche of most organizations, Nichols says that more powerful computers, more sophisticated algorithms and new sources of data—including mobile devices, geolocation data and social media—have ushered in a new era of analytics.
"We are quickly reaching a point of maturity where all the pieces are coming together to provide more sophisticated tools and new insights," Nichols says. He adds that this translates into everything from real-time and personalized promotions in marketing to a much greater use of predictive analytics for understanding when machines and other equipment require service or replacement.
Increasingly, analytics software is filtering into the line of business and allowing more agile and effective decision making. This trend will continue to accelerate in 2013. "We will see a different order of data analysis in order to make business decisions a lot quicker," Nichols says.