By Steve Browell, Chief Technology Officer, Intrinsic
Back in January I outlined my predictions on the hottest technological changes that I expected to see in 2014. With the year well advanced, I will be re-examining how these technologies have developed, and what new challenges and opportunities have emerged.
1. Bring-your-own-Wearables (BYOW)
I predicted that 2014 would be the year that employees began to bring their own wearable technology to work. While the pace of adoption has been slower than expected, manufacturers have made great strides in turning wearable technology from an enterprise security liability into a genuine business asset.
In January I optimistically said that adoption of wearables would increase as organisations realise the benefits to their employees’ productivity. While this has yet to materialise, manufacturers have been working hard to turn the hype into more concrete reality. Google, unsurprisingly, has been in the vanguard. At the company’s annual I/O conference, Google unveiled smart watches from its partners Samsung, LG and Motorola, all running Android Wear software. Though these still represent the first generation of wearable tech, they provide good answers to sceptics’ biggest issue: what exactly are they for?
The latest wearables now demonstrate a range of functionality, meaning they will be of real use to the world of work. Aside from notifications and email, wearables now have the potential to replace staff ID cards, enabling employees to access premises or to clock into work. Google Now, the personal assistant for wearables, also features contextual information for business travellers such as flight information, electronic boarding passes, weather updates and local hotels.
Other developments have added momentum to the wearables bandwagon. In July, Amazon launched its Wearable Technology store in the UK, while researchers are continuing to develop and refine technologies that will feature in the next generation of devices, such as printable, flexible zinc batteries.
The question enterprises must face is whether they ignore the technology or use it to empower their workforce. I predict that the next big developments will be focused on security, which is already being addressed – by Samsung with its KNOX technology, for example.
2. Hybrid cloud gets real
Perhaps I wasn’t ambitious enough in my second prediction, that 2014 would be the year when hybrid cloud gets real. Given adoption trends over the last 18 months, it was not a very risky call to make. I was right, however, to highlight the growth in cloud brokerage technologies, with companies such as Dell launching their own cloud brokering services. The story of hybrid cloud for the rest of the year - and beyond - will be the rise in adoption of open-source technologies for hybrid cloud. This will enable vendors and brokers to offer a full variety of cloud configurations and eliminate vendor lock-in.
Another key driver for the adoption of cloud brokers is that enterprises are increasingly moving to Platform as a Service (PaaS), service-oriented architectures and other projects that require their own configuration. Cloud brokerage firms are helping businesses find the right mix of services for their particular needs, so this is a trend set to develop.
3. Shadow IT
Unfortunately, whilst we’re seeing some instances of IT departments collaborating with the wider organisation, the practice is not widespread. Still, this is such a profound and important shift in the relationship between the IT department and the board that it was never going to happen overnight. Recent research from Forrester shows that IT is still seen as the gatekeeper of technology rather than as true innovators who can improve the bottom line. The result is that business managers continue to turn to third party technology vendors for assistance – giving a boost to so-called “shadow IT”.
The perennial challenge facing the IT department is to gain acceptance and recognition from the board that they can provide real business value, rather than standing in the way of progress. One way for them to do this is to embrace shadow IT and recognise why users find these tools valuable. I believe that through 2014 and into 2015 we will see IT departments coming closer into sync with the wider business as they find a way to accommodate the technology that employees find most useful for their jobs.
4. Unified Communications
I predicted Unified Communications (UC) would become a necessity for organisations seeking to become more agile in 2014. While the move towards UC has been of the big tech trends of the year, we are now starting to see deployments in smaller organisations. This is the year when UC stopped being an expensive (albeit useful) status symbol for the world’s biggest enterprises: now, mid-market companies are appreciating the enhanced productivity and collaboration brought by Unified Communications. This is being driven by new cloud-based providers which enable businesses to do away with servers and centralised IT, without the prohibitive capex of traditional on-premises UC systems.
Meanwhile, employees are demanding UC on their mobiles – both work and personal – which does come at a cost. Business decision makers are taking note, as qualified by recent research on the state of UC. For example, upgrading wireless LANs, mobile device and application management tools. Businesses will naturally choose to extend UC to its mobile workers only when they can justify the return on investment. Nevertheless, this is the year that Unified Communications has become an indispensable tool for business; in 2015 I see UC becoming the norm for all large to mid-sized enterprises.
5. Consumer Apps in the Enterprise
A common complaint of workers is that their companies spend massive amounts of money on apps for customers, but next to nothing on apps for their employees. It’s no wonder, then, that consumer applications such as DropBox, Skype and Evernote have become so prevalent in the workplace, as I noted at the beginning of the year. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to notice: so did Tim Cook. The Apple CEO, who says that he runs around 80 per cent of the world’s biggest tech company on his iPad alone, has launched a tie-up with former bitter rivals IBM that aims to help businesses build mobile business apps. This partnership makes so much sense: few vendors understand business needs like IBM, while Apple has built its empire on simplicity and user experience. We’re yet to see the first fruits of the new Apple-IBM service, but it points to a future where businesses take enterprise apps far more seriously, and start to give their employees the same great functionality that their customers already enjoy.