2014: A Look at the Year Ahead

When we send out our first newsletter of the year every January, I like to put together some thoughts about what I see emerging as trends in the coming year. These can be both in business and personal computing, although the line between those has really started to blur over the years. More and more we see the trends being started by the consumer forced into the enterprise. In this industry, it has become very foolish to ignore these technologies.
I think 2014 will be the year of hybrid computing. I mean that in two ways. On one hand the devices users are working on are changing rapidly. The new needs of the user along with the capabilities of the platforms has given rise to a few new classes of hardware. The convertible laptop is a traditional laptop that can change into a tablet for more on-the-go requirements. I have a laptop that I can just pop the screen off and use alone as a tablet. More and more of these devices will be coming out in the next year and will truly find their way into all companies. Another new class of device is the phablet. As the name indicates, a phablet straddles the functionality of a phone and a tablet. With a size somewhere in the 5-7 inch range, phablets give users all the capabilities of a phone, in a size that is bigger and acceptable for daily work use with less compromise. Use of these hybrid devices will just continue to grow and get even more creative in the coming year.
The other hybrid platform I see growing is the cloud. Businesses have been really embracing the move to cloud computing for the last 3 or so years. It’s an extremely logical method of computing that allows a company to break free from the confines of managing all their systems in-house, and creates a more economically feasible approach. The one thing holding some companies back has been the concern over moving sensitive data or applications into the cloud. New tools and technologies are available that allow us to connect different network clouds together seamlessly. In other words, you could move mainstream data and platforms into a public cloud, and keep critical or sensitive data inside your company walls, or in a specialized data center. We can connect these together and the end users would be able to work the same way they always have. This hybrid cloud approach really addresses all the needs of a business and all of their concerns.

Speaking of concerns, 2014 will be a big year as far as regulations and information security. As of September, 2013, the HIPAA rules and requirements are all in full affect and companies in ALL industries are starting to see how they are affected. The time has come to really pay attention to the security of the data on your network. This is coupled with an incredible rash of high-profile data breaches in recent months. It’s estimated that the loss of confidence in Target after their recent loss of 70 million or so customer records caused their revenue during the holiday season to fall 30% below estimates. This is a large example of a large company, but the potential cost of a loss of faith from your customers following a data breach is staggering. Add to this the increasing cost of things like government fines (up to $1.5 million for a HIPAA breach), and you see you can’t afford to ignore this trend any longer!

Some other interesting things I am keeping on my radar in the year ahead are more long-term than near. However they are things I expect to really start generating more and more buzz. One example is what is known as the Internet of Everything or IoE. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, IoE was definitely all the buzz. Understanding what it is however, is kind of tricky. Today there are an estimated 10 billion devices connected to the internet. This is basically computers, and by extension users. With the IoE, everything is inter-connected. Somewhere in the range of hundreds of billions or trillions of end points. To understand the power of this, let me give you a few real-world examples.

On the simple side, let’s consider a typical work day morning. You have an 8:00 meeting at the office, which is about 30 minutes away from your house (with no traffic). Your alarm clock, which is connected to the internet knows this. It also knows there is really bad traffic on your route today, and it’s going to take you 45 minutes. Since your alarm clock knows your calendar, the traffic, and the route of your commute, it will adjust itself to wake you up 15 minutes earlier and get you to your appointment on time! Things like this are happening today. My home thermostat knows the weather outside and adjusts the settings accordingly. I could get an automated sprinkler system that monitors for rain in the forecast and prevents watering on rainy days. The power of being connected is unlimited.

How about something more serious. Say your doctor could equip you with wearable sensors to monitor your health and vital signs? Think about the medical implications of being able to be under the supervision of a doctor 24/7. The possibilities are limitless, as devices, processes, and people all become connected together.

One last trend I see emerging more in the consumer space, but like I said, consumers really drive what is happening in the enterprise today. The emergence of a new family of device known as wearable tech is starting to take shape. Wearable tech is exactly what it sounds like – technology you wear. We are seeing it in the marketplace today in the form of smart watches that connect to your phone and give you access to the same data your phone would. We are also seeing an explosion of fitness devices like the FitBit or Nike fuel bracelet. These monitor your activity and can upload data right to a website to help track your daily performance. Perhaps the best known example, though not mainstream yet, is Google Glass. Google Glass is a device you wear like a pair of glasses that has a screen which puts a non-intrusive display in your field of vision. This display can give you real-time, hands free access to data based on your location, the date and time, or any other criteria you can think of. These are literally just the tip of the iceberg however. Wearable tech is going to be huge – many experts think in 5 years it will completely outpace the smartphone market, and this is certainly a possibility.

As I always say, this is an incredibly exciting time to be in this industry. Things are literally changing faster than the speed of light and it’s so much fun to follow along. It’s also critical to keep an eye on trends and changes for your business. If you don’t innovate and keep up, you will fall behind very, very quickly.