The New Year is an obvious time for consideration of what's to come, and the first days of 2014 have already offered some interesting glimpses into what technology and business trends IT and business leaders should be aware of. Here's my take on the five technologies and trends to watch in 2014.
The thing about "Things"
If you've followed the news out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you know that the Internet of Things is a hot topic. Products range from phone-controlled Wi-Fi enabled toys to a connected gadget called "Mother" that purports to do anything from reminding you to drink more water to nagging you when you visit the fridge too often. This market has been developing for a few years, and it still lacks maturity or a compelling business application. But it's a certainty that a proliferation of connected devices will be entering your enterprise, from products your company makes that "phone home" to report diagnostic data or get software updates, to office chairs that track their location and monitor employee productivity and conference room usage. It's worth considering now how you'll accommodate this army of devices, each potentially providing valuable data — and another security hole in your infrastructure.
Security is a burning topic as we enter 2014. Between high-profile data thefts like the Target breach, nefarious government-sponsored hackers, and US-driven spying at the hands of the NSA, even the least tech-savvy denizens of the C-suite are asking questions about IT security. It may be tempting to capitalize on this unrest to grab a bigger security budget, but you'll build long-term credibility if you can rationally and thoughtfully articulate how these external factors affect your company. Whatever the impact to your company, you'll need a compelling response to questions from "Are we the next Target?" to "Is the NSA bugging my iPhone?"
Enterprise Apples and Androids
If 2013 proved anything, it's that Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)-style programs are here to stay. With BlackBerry effectively out of the smartphone game, devices like the iPhone have become the standard mobile device for entities ranging from governments and banks to small businesses. If you're still resisting BYOD programs and insisting that employees use ancient devices with all features beyond email and calling locked down, you should know that there's increasing evidence that this is compelling current and potential employees to look elsewhere. While this may seem shallow on the part of those employees, our smartphones are no longer business tools — they're extensions of our personality. If you're terrified of managing "unwashed masses" of consumer devices, consider moving security to the application layer rather than insisting it be on the device itself.
You are Facebook
A major emerging trend is that enterprise users are becoming highly critical of usability and design in enterprise applications. Many consumer-focused web and mobile applications are literally works of art, and the thoughtful and beautiful interfaces that are analogous to a Monet are in stark contrast to the crude stick figure that represents the state of most enterprise applications. While it may be unfair to compare your ERP system's interface and usability to Facebook, rest assured that your users are doing it. Combine this with the prevalence of cloud-based services, and users are simply forgoing company IT tools if there's a more effective, preferred, or merely better-looking alternative available. Consider how many times you're heard quips like, "Oh, just send that to my gmail/DropBox/Box.com since my company email only allows 2MB attachments."
IT can't drive 55
Another major shift that will accelerate in 2014 is the
perception of the time required to deploy new IT capabilities. Just as users
are becoming increasingly aware of design and usability as they're exposed to
consumer technology, they're also exposed to the extremely rapid iteration
cycles in this space and expecting similar performance from enterprise IT.
While the old excuse of "We're way more complex than that consumer stuff"
used to work, it's becoming less effective as companies release something like
new smartphone hardware and totally revamped operating systems on annual or faster
The silver lining to this increased expectation of speed is that users are more tolerant of new release bugs, as long as they're assured they will be quickly fixed. Many also prefer targeted tools that perform a limited number of tasks well, rather than monolithic "do it all" applications, allowing you to break a business problem into digestible chunks. If you haven't already done so, start considering how you'll speed the reaction times of your IT department on fronts from dev ops to customer service.
Like much of the past decade, technology change has been at the core of several business innovations. Whether you're a CIO or tech leader or an executive with only a tangential relationship to IT, it's worth being aware of these trends and discussing how they might affect your organization and boost its performance in 2014 and beyond.
Are you keeping an eye on other trends and innovations that are likely to affect your business? Share your concerns with fellow TechRepublic members.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.