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Future IT trends: Experts pick out their top tips

Spotting tech trends is notoriously difficult but a group of experts have put forward their best predictions for important growth areas for IT.

Having a strong idea of the next innovation to affect the business can make the difference between a good and a great CIO.

So, what's next on the agenda for business technology? TechRepublic asks five experts to try and predict the future of IT inside and outside the enterprise.

1. Enhanced experiences with augmented reality

Denis McCauley, director of global technology research at the Economist Intelligence Unit, spends time researching future trends in IT and augmented reality - where computer-generated data is used to enhance live, real-world environments - is one of the areas that receives most attention.

McCauley says augmented examples might include additional information, such as facts and figures, being added to sporting broadcasts. "What you have there is something that is not totally virtual but which uses computer-generated data to enhance the viewing experience," he says.

Businesses and vendors are expected to invest in new areas, with Juniper Research suggesting that mobile augmented reality revenues will approach $1.5bn by 2015. McCauley says some CIOs believe augmented reality could have an application in specific areas of business, such as customer service and staff training.

"Customer service reps could have multiple screens overlaid with increasing amounts of information," says McCauley. "And gaming, which isn't used that much in organisations yet, could be used as a tool to augment training and brainstorming activities."

2. Make the most of mobile technology

Gary Barr, former IT director at retail giant Wm Morrisons, says predicting the next area of development is tricky but believes there is still much to gain from recent areas of innovation, particularly in portable devices and collaborative tools.

"There's an awful lot of maturity to take place before mobility technology and social media can be considered enterprise-standard tools," he says.

"People inside and outside the workplace are now able to benefit from some incredible portable technology, but as CIOs we haven't necessarily sorted out how such collaborative tools will operate in the context of the workplace."

Barr says it can sometimes take a while for innovations to bed down and become accepted as a new way of conducting business. As a reference, he points to the dot-com revolution at the turn of the millennium. Barr says it has taken the best part of a decade for the mega brands of that period, such as Amazon and eBay, to emerge.

"It's taken 10 years for ecommerce to mature from a hyped area of innovation to a strong business model," he says. "A similar thing will need to happen in mobile and social technology before the business is really able to use such developments to its advantage."

3. Bring technology trends together

Toby Clarke, IT director at insurance specialist Abbey Protection Group, says it is difficult not to focus on currently hyped areas of technological development when you attempt to think of the future of enterprise IT. He refers to the potential growth of bring your own devices and cloud computing, and also cites augmented reality.

But the real innovation, he says, will come from bringing hyped technologies together. "It's all about being ahead of what's happening," says Clarke, who says there is great potential to make more of the business and customer data that organisations continue to collect.

"There's so much data and we need to pull it together," says Clarke. He refers to the growth of location-based services and the potential for, say, people to be reminded of the need to purchase flowers from a trusted supplier to mark an anniversary. He expects similar levels of personalisation in business too, but such innovations will not be straightforward.

"I struggle to see at the minute how all these data repositories can be linked," he says. "The reality is that there must be something that my business, and all CIOs, can do in terms of big data. But a lot of creative work will be required."

4. Be intelligent with big data

Francois Zimmerman, CTO at storage specialist HDS, is another IT leader who believes much more can be made from innovation in existing technology trends. And once again, he believes strong progress can occur in data use.

"It's a case of reality versus marketing hype," he says. "Business intelligence, so far, has been all about fashionable terms such as big data and vendors have been rushing to repackage their existing tools as new, analytical systems."

His advice to CIOs is not to look for a single, off-the-shelf product to solve all their concerns. Zimmerman says future initiatives in analytics will be more sector-specific and help firms process information in real time.

"CIOs will have to think in a case-oriented manner and work backwards from the required business outcome to the implementation of technology," he says. "The future of information will be all about analytics aligned with business processes."

5. Expect big benefits from biotech

Mark Bramwell, head of IT at The Wellcome Trust, knows that the way technology evolves can mean some digital trends emerge unexpectedly.

"What's next in IT? That's the $64,000 question," says Bramwell. But he thinks biotechnology is one area of growth that could have implications for the technology industry.

Consultancy Ernst & Young reports global spending on biotech research and development rose by nine per cent in 2011 despite tough economic conditions. Investment is particularly strong in North America, where 62 per cent of public US biotech companies increased their R&D spending last year.

Advances in genome research are such that medical teams are set to make huge demands on existing information storage mechanisms. "IT needs to help enable medical research," says Bramwell, who cites robot-assisted surgery as another potential growth area for technology.

About

Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.

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