Knowing your way around established technology isn't enough anymore. You also have to look beyond today's solutions and be ready for what lies ahead.
The pace of change in the technology sector seems to accelerate at an ever-increasing rate. Here are 10 ways to keep up with new and upcoming technologies.
1: Watch the consumer space
Most of the recent innovation is happening in the consumer space, particularly around what could broadly be called mobile (smartphones, tablets, consumer-oriented cloud services, connected cars, gaming, etc.). It's no longer appropriate to ignore consumer technologies as not "enterprise grade." Everything from the iPhone to personal cloud storage got its start in the consumer space and then migrated to the enterprise. Ignore the consumer space at your peril.
2: Find a technophile
While some might call them "nerds" or "geeks," every organization or social circle has a technophile or two who are always up on the latest tech trends. IT is the traditional home for these types, but increasingly, marketing and product development are home to people who religiously follow technology and are more than happy to provide their perspective on what's happening.
3: Read Engadget
Engadget.com is one of the best sources for all things consumer tech, and it even covers the occasional enterprise development. The amount of news it produces can be overwhelming; I generally use a news aggregator like Feedly.com to skim headlines or occasionally check the headlines at the site. If Engadget is too much, The Wall Street Journal provides a less exhaustive overview of consumer and enterprise technology.
4: Call an expert
Not sure of the impact of all this rapid change on your company? Call an expert who can provide an overview of what's going on in the space and suggest how it might affect your organization. But be wary of "experts" who also have something to sell you -- their recommendations often include writing a large check made out to them.
5: Get your hands dirty
If you really want to experience future technologies, there's nothing like building something with them. If you're interested in evolving mobile platforms, you could build your own "Hello World" mobile app or set up free trial accounts on the myriad cloud services. The web is rife with tutorials that let you get into the most intimate details of these technologies with a couple of afternoons' investment of time.
6: Play a game
If your children have a modern gaming system, play a game or two and see the connectivity, media distribution, and social networking options provided by the system. Gaming often pushes computing platforms to their limits, and current game consoles are becoming generalized media and communication devices as well.
7: Go to a big box store
I do most of my shopping online, but I still try to visit a big box retailer like Best Buy on occasion. There's nothing like seeing and touching the actual product, and you can also get a sense of which manufacturers are generating consumer interest and whose products are in a dusty corner of the store.
8: Have a personal R&D budget
While it's likely not possible to buy every cool new device that hits the market, set aside a pool of funds to acquire an occasional consumer electronic device that represents a broader industry trend. Wearables are hot at the moment, and many of the fitness trackers and entry-level smartwatches are fairly affordable and well worth the $100 or so merely to keep informed on what's going on in wearables.
9: Read the occasional "big brain" book or article
Beyond the next one to three years, much of where technology will go is pure speculation; however, it's worth paying attention to some of the futurists who spend their time considering the outer limits of technology. While many of the predictions around quantum and organic computing, artificial intelligence, and other futuristic trends seem more like science fiction than science, it's worth considering the distant future as well as the more immediate term.
10: Get outside your department or industry
I'm often amazed at how some industries will be years ahead of others on certain technologies. At large companies, even single divisions may be pushing the technological envelope while others remain firmly planted in 1994. Try to identify the organizations or industries in your area that are deploying newer technologies and spend some time with friends or peers discussing what technologies they're deploying today and what they're watching for deployment tomorrow.
- The future of IT: A strategic guide (ZDNet special feature)
- Executive's guide to strategic tech planning: 2015 and beyond (free ebook)
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of emerging tech? Share your advice with fellow TechRepublic members.