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What are analysts and other pundits predicting for business technology in the coming year? We pick apart a selection of articles to see what's in store.
The four horsemen of the digital business apocalypse — Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud (SMAC) — have been galloping around for several years, and many companies have now launched with or transformed existing business models based on an integrated 'SMAC stack'.
But what comes next? At shows like the recent CES in Las Vegas, there was much talk of the Internet of Things (IoT) — particularly wearables, connected homes and connected cars — as well as 3D printing, robots (including drones) and virtual/augmented reality. Are these and other new technologies about to make their way into business? And what changes are afoot in the sectors that help to create and maintain digital businesses — hardware and software development, IT orchestration and cybersecurity?
To find out, we've tracked down a range of '2015 tech predictions' articles and categorised the prognoses into a number of broad categories, to allow us to generate a graphical picture of the pundits' view of the coming year in tech.
Top IT trends for 2015
We examined 11 articles, from 451 Research, Deloitte, Everest Group, Forrester, Gartner, IDC, Informatica, Newman Digital, Ovum, Unify and Virgin Media Business. The total number of 2015 predictions was 81, or an average of 7.4 per article. To enable us to plot the graph below, we assigned these predictions to these categories: Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, IoT, 3D printing, Robotics & drones, Virtual/augmented reality, Development, Orchestration and Security & privacy. Where a prediction touched on more than one category, we split the score accordingly (2 x 0.5, 3 x 0.33 and so on).
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Here's how the predictions panned out overall:
SMAC is still heavily represented, of course — indeed, mobile and analytics are the top two prediction categories. However, cloud and social are pushed further down the table by predictions relating to IT orchestration and security & privacy, with skills and the IoT also coming in ahead of social. Fashionable topics like 3D printing and robots/drones get a look-in, but no-one (in this sample, at least) is talking about virtual/augmented reality as a business trend for 2015*.
Here's a selection of the predictions from each of the categories:
• "Flexible working becomes the expectation. The businesses that gain the most will be the ones that have the tech that can match the aspirations and needs of their people, so there's a seamless cross-over from in-office to at-home performance." (Virgin Media Business)
• "Mobile devices and apps will continue to charge ahead in 2015, but not at the frenzied pace seen in recent years. Sales of smartphones and tablets will reach $484 billion, accounting for 40% of all IT spending growth (excluding telecom services), while Chinese vendors capture a significant share of the worldwide market. Wearables will see an explosion of innovation, although unit sales will underwhelm. And mobile app downloads will start to slow in 2015, but enterprise mobile app development will double." (IDC)
• "Computing everywhere. As mobile devices continue to proliferate, Gartner predicts an increased emphasis on serving the needs of the mobile user in diverse contexts and environments, as opposed to focusing on devices alone." (Gartner)
• "Beacons are coming. Retailers are rushing to deploy beacons in an effort to engage their customers via smartphones as those users walk through the store." (Newman Digital)
• "Big data becomes more usable. Next year, already-stretched CIOs and IT managers are going to come under much more pressure to not just collate data, but to use it. Big data is old news. What we actually need is big insight. If we understand the data we have and what it means, that's what will make a difference in unlocking new business opportunities." (Virgin Media Business)
• "Transform data into a product or service that drives new revenue. In 2015, CIOs will mix existing internal data that they already control with the vast and growing array of external, third-party data from sensors, social media, open or public data, and mobile device and location-based data to help create new data services, resulting in new sources of revenue." (Forrester)
• "Coexistence. The data management landscape is changing. Gone are the days when IT ruled data, metering it out to data scientists and analysts for reporting and analysis projects. The rise of self-service data-preparation tools from a crop of startups is putting data management directly into the hands of analysts. As 2015 progresses, the number of DIY offerings for importing, cleansing, mapping, combining and transforming datasets will grow." (451 Research)
• "Analytics: Focus will be on bread and butter. With millions of dollars invested in data analytics initiatives, 2015 will make enterprises reassess the opportunity cost and value of data. While tools such as Hadoop and NoSQL have greatly reduced the entry barriers to analytics, they have witnessed middling adoption. Enterprises still have a long way to go to embed analytics in their existing processes. Therefore, despite the Internet of Things and wearable devices taking off and generating more machine data for organizations to tap into, these new initiatives will not be an immediate priority for 2015. In 2015, enterprises will get their analytics act together to focus on existing processes, consolidation, rationalization, and targeted spending, with data management, governance, and security taking priority." (Everest Group)
• "Cut through organizational silos with service orchestration. Individual functions like marketing, manufacturing, and field service are becoming more intimately connected as digital technologies permeate operations in service of connected customers. In 2015, CIOs will increasingly help mediate customer engagement through business services orchestration, using a model Forrester calls 'continuous business services' - thin layers of technology and process, constantly changing to smooth the chaotically different cadences of business change. This services orchestration will digitally and operationally build upon existing technology, systems, and processes to meet customers' needs." (Forrester)
• "Convergence. One of the most hotly debated areas in IT is the evolution of integrated platforms. Hyper-convergence has exploded, and we will see the first signs of meaningful adoption in 2015. Enterprises are tempted by the promise of improved efficiencies from integrating compute, storage and networking, while vendors are attracted by the potential to differentiate product offerings in the face of commodification. The larger questions are whether either of these expectations can be realized and what the move to new product categories means for the IT marketplace. What we know for certain is that in 2015, vendors will have to change their approach to product delivery and their partner ecosystems, and customers will have to adjust their operations to gain the benefits of convergence." (451 Research)
• "Software-defined applications and infrastructure. Agile programming of everything from applications to basic infrastructure is essential to enable organizations to deliver the flexibility required to make the digital business work. Software-defined networking, storage, data centers and security are maturing. Cloud services are software-configurable through API calls, and applications, too, increasingly have rich APIs to access their function and content programmatically. To deal with the rapidly changing demands of digital business and scale systems up - or down - rapidly, computing has to move away from static to dynamic models. Rules, models and code that can dynamically assemble and configure all of the elements needed from the network through the application are needed." (Gartner)
Security & privacy
• "Millennials take on privacy. Sharing and privacy are set to go head-to-head in 2015, as Gen Y's open approach to sharing meets corporate privacy. While security remains vital, businesses must take a step back. They'll need to strike a balance between essential regulation and nurturing the opportunity tech provides. Those that get it right won't run the risk of twentysomethings tweeting confidential updates; instead, talent will be empowered to use tech to accelerate growth." (Virgin Media Business)
• "Run point on rising data security and privacy issues. With a data tsunami about to flood companies, data security and privacy concerns will rise dramatically in 2015. CIOs will lead the effort but will need to reach beyond tech management to ensure that it is a top enterprise business issue. Relatedly, privacy questions regarding ownership of data are attracting more attention. In 2015, CIOs will work with business peers to proactively manage data's security and privacy impacts on their firms' behaviors and brands. (Forrester)
• "Perimeter defence will be meaningless. Fortress building is becoming meaningless in the world of data security. Some of the largest scale breaches we've seen have happened from the inside. The lowest tech, easiest approach is to bribe or blackmail your way to that data, which means that every employee is a potential risk. In the face of increased breaches and a tough environment for consumer trust, next year organisations will need to look beyond the fortress walls and find a way to secure data at its source, and in motion. In order to do so they need to have a much better understanding of how and where their data moves than they currently do." (Informatica)
• "Embrace hybrid cloud architectures to drive simplicity and time-to-benefit. The BT [business technology] agenda focuses on systems for engaging with customers. As a result, in 2015, the overwhelming majority of CIOs will accelerate the standardization and simplification of systems of record, moving non-differentiating processes to commercial off-the-shelf solutions. Some of these systems will be internally delivered, but more will be provided by external suppliers. (Forrester)
• "Cloud services will remain a hotbed of activity in 2015 with $118 billion in spending on the greater cloud ecosystem. Adoption of cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) will grow briskly (36%) as market leader Amazon comes under attack from all directions as challengers attempt the "Amazoning of Amazon". Similarly, look for heightened competition among Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers as competitors engage in death-match battles to attract developers and their apps and Software as a Service (SaaS) players accelerate their adoption of PaaS and cloud marketplaces." (Gartner)
• "Computing for all. Many kids (and grown-up kids) got a computer kit for Christmas like the Kano, a beautifully packaged and marketed Raspberry Pi computer with speaker and keyboard from $99. It is a (partly) crowdfunded venture and is one of the devices that could help fuel the 'year of code' in the UK. The government has changed the national curriculum to cover computing not ICT, which means children as young as 5 are already learning to code in schools. The BBC is a core partner supporting with educational and entertainment programming to inspire a new generation." (Newman Digital)
Internet of Things
• "The Internet of Things really is things, not people. Deloitte predicts that in 2015, one billion wireless Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be shipped, a 60% increase on 2014. These will add to an installed base of approximately 3 billion devices. The IoT-specific hardware is likely to be worth around £6.4 billion, and the associated services enabled by the devices worth about £45 billion...While the press may focus on consumer applications, such as remote control thermostats, lights and appliances, Deloitte predicts that 60% of all wireless IoT devices will be bought, paid for and used by enterprises and industries. And over 90% of the revenue generated from the services will be enterprise, not consumer." (Deloitte)
• "Less email as people discover more efficient and effective ways of communicating. New generations of workers entering the workplace are discovering new ways to communicate and collaborate...that weren't available when their senior counterparts started working." (Unify)
• "Boost software engineering skills to improve brand experience. To build the software that drives customer interactions, connected products, and mobile services, CIOs will make customer experience the design point, with Agile development, modular platform architectures, and software-driven release and configuration management that support continuous delivery. In 2015, CIOs will increase their investment in the required skills and technologies, and a growing number of them will create separate software engineering groups with the profile, skills, and metrics of nimble commercial software firms." (Forrester)
• "3D printing is a revolution: just not the revolution you think. Deloitte predicts that in 2015 nearly 220,000 3D printers will be sold worldwide, with a value of just over £1 billion. But we won't end up with a factory in every home, at least not this year.The real 3D printing revolution is for enterprise, not for consumers. Deloitte estimates that the 3D printer enterprise market will account for just under 90% of the value of all 3D printers; over 95% of all printed objects by volume; and 99% by economic value." (Deloitte)
Robots & drones
• "Drones: high-profile and niche. Deloitte predicts a steady increase in the popularity of non-military drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) costing £125 or more, with the number in use globally reaching the one million mark for the first time in 2015. Over 300,000 units are expected to be sold in 2015, worth between £125m and £250m. Drones have been prominent in news bulletins recently, with attention focused on consumer usage. They blend the appeal of remote-controlled vehicles, high-definition photography and kite flying. But the bigger opportunity may be for businesses. We don't think this will be for deliveries to our homes - the cost per trip at an average £6 is prohibitively high - but rather for the many tasks that require some form of aerial observation." (Deloitte)
This is by no means an exhaustive survey, but hopefully it gives an impression of how analysts and other pundits see business technology trends playing out in 2015. Of course, many firms still need to retool around the familiar SMAC stack, but other priorities are now making themselves felt — including ways of orchestrating IT services, an evolving security and privacy landscape, accessing the skills to develop and manage today's IT services, and keeping tabs on emerging technologies like the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and robots and drones.
* This article was published before Microsoft's HoloLens announcement on 21 January. We can confidently predict that virtual/augmented reality will be on the pundits' prediction menu for 2016. For a prescient view on the subject, see the final paragraphs of Terry Relph-Knight's June 2014 article on OS convergence.