From his perch at the Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies, Tuck professor M. Eric Johnson has a good view of the future of technology. But when he stands on the shoulders of chief information officers from major companies around the world, which he gets to do (figuratively speaking, of course) at the CIO Roundtables that the center hosts a few times per year, he can see even more. From up there, Johnson says, five trends appear on the horizon. Here’s his list, along with what the trends mean for consumers and businesses.
The Consumerization of Information Technology
Information workers: Say goodbye to having two sets of computers and phones—one for your personal use and another for the office. They are being melded together by a phenomenon known as the consumerization of IT. Increasingly, people are ditching their corporate-issued BlackBerrys for their personal Android phone, or are shunning their ThinkPads for their iPads. And, in many instances, corporations’ IT departments are going along with it.
Historically, consumer technology wasn’t as good as what you could get at work. “That’s changing very quickly,” Johnson says. “Very inexpensive devices brought to market for the consumer, with better usability functions and social media, are more powerful than what you have at the office.” Some companies still limit consumer devices, citing security concerns, but others have given their employees a budget and told them to buy whatever computer they want. Look for more of the latter in the coming year.
In general, mobile technology is an old story—who doesn’t have a smartphone or a tablet these days? What’s new is their capabilities. Now, mobile devices have as much computing power as the laptops of 2009. Plus, the cloud has enabled these devices to do more with less space than ever before.
For corporations, the power of mobile computing has opened up new forms of interaction with their customers and employees. More and more companies, for example, are developing their own apps for different constituencies. Instead of a catalog, customers can browse a firm’s products through an app; instead of emailing technical bulletins to engineers, a construction company can put all the information on its internal app store.
As it stands today, most apps flow to users through the iTunes App Store or the Android Market. That will change with the more widespread adoption of HTML5, a computing language for the Internet that enables an app-like experience through web browsers. The advantages of this app-in-a-browser are at least two-fold: app developers won’t have to create multiple versions for the Apple and Android operating systems; and it will allow a more seamless experience for business transactions within a web page. “There’s a lot of reason to believe that apps as we know them could be overtaken by HTML5,” Johnson predicts. “I think it’s going to be huge this year.”
More nuance here. Johnson doesn’t expect any new social media platforms emerging in the near future. Instead, we’ll see social media popping up in more places. “Social will become a feature of almost everything,” Johnson says. One example: The divide between personal and corporate social media is being bridged by sites like Chatter, which incorporates a Facebook-like feel into the daily workflow.
Perhaps the bigger story in social media is the process by which the world explores its possibilities. For instance, transacting through Facebook is not an elegant experience today, but that may change. “For a branded company like Nike, that’s a big deal,” says Johnson. “They’re trying to decide where to be so that it’s easiest for customers to get their products.” They’d like to see a Facebook where a picture of Jay-Z in Nike gear is a seamless gateway to buying those products on Nike’s e-commerce site.
Cloud computing “went through a giant hype cycle last year, and now it’s becoming real, very fast,” Johnson says. What that means is that more and more consumers will be storing music, photos, and documents in cloud-based services such as Dropbox, iCloud, and the Amazon Cloud Drive.
For the business world, the cloud has first meant “virtualization,” or the creation of proprietary clouds of servers and computers that can be shared within an organization. What’s next is the public cloud, and Johnson says companies will move aggressively into that space this year.
The cloud has also changed the face of entrepreneurship. “No one is doing a startup that’s not in the cloud,” Johnson says. “The days of buying a server and configuring it—that’s over.”
As the name implies, the Big Data phenomenon is all about the unfathomable amount of information being generated and stored on the Internet. Sometimes this data is just out there, waiting to be collected. Other times, it’s owned and stored privately. In either case, its value for analysis, trend-spotting, communication, marketing, and more is just now being realized.
Why now? For one thing, the “Internet of things”—devices linked to web and collecting data—is growing bigger everyday. Second, the supercomputing it takes to sift through these rivers of bits is cheaper and more readily available.
The bottom line: Brace yourself for a world where computers tell you what you like and what to do—accurately. “Predictive analytics are often more reliable than our own judgment,” Johnson says. “When you’ve got the data and can grind away at it, machines can do much better than humans.”