Predicting what will happen next year is a mugs’ game. It’s like trying to pot a moving ball in snooker or pool. It’s too full of variables and if you could do it properly you wouldn’t be writing about technology but sitting somewhere by a pool drinking lurid cocktails and being rude to people while serfs cool you with a fan made of dollar notes. Also, it’s a risible parlour game, a media cliché designed to fill the yawning Christmas Copy Chasm. So let’s do it again…
One thing that bittersweet experience from decades at the coal face of the technology media sector has told me is that the notion that technology as ‘fast moving’ is a myth. Or part-myth, anyway.
What happens is that technologies, like dancers of yore, take on a slow-slow-quick-quick-slow cadence. You see the big trend coming from some way off, it moves into full view, takes a sharp turn before reaching the mainstream then eventually when everybody has stopped talking about it, it’s everywhere.
The analyst firm Gartner might have been responsible for many evils (Magic Quadrant, huh), but its Hype Cycle is spot on, describing the graceful arcs of sentiment that cover everything from inflated expectation to abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter-here nadir of pessimism. When predicting the near future it’s better to stay cautious and look at persistent trends where real money is being spent by buyers while dismissing for now what appear to be faddish trends that are fodder for the media.
So, to begin with, a few predictions of what won’t happen next year…
3D printing, the current darling of technocrats, is a way over-hyped category, as we (that’s the royal ‘we’) have contended here before. Outside of high-end equipment, these machines are good only for rapid prototyping and they’re inconsistent, difficult to operate and overpriced. You might find the odd bureau service appear in print shops next year but once people have had their first go with units bought at retail, 3D’s reputation will head inexorably south. Like the Furby, a revival is likely but only several years down the line.
Second is Google Glass and smart wristwatches. These things are too pricey, too lacking in apps, too far short of the mark in usability. The only thing they do for now is identify the user as a first-class prat. It’s a classic ‘skip the first generation’ technology. That said, fitness devices such digital wristbands will continue to sell, quite often to gullible, vain, Western egocentric types fascinated by their own sleep patterns.
Another aspect I find unconvincing is the notion that social businesses will beat up traditional firms. The concept of gamification when used with reference to rewarding hyper-productive workers is classic PowerPoint slide-ware. In the real world, the modern rewiring of the human brain steers most of us towards fiscal remuneration. Many years ago, AMD founder Jerry Sanders said it, and it remains true: your salary is your report card in life. Of course, terrific customer service and collaboration are tremendous things but that has been true for decades and most companies still fail on both counts. Tools like Yammer and Jive provide the necessary underpinning but this is fundamentally a cultural phenomenon that has to be led by people, not binary code.
Onto more positive thoughts and even if the jury remains locked in talks over gamification then ‘Twitterfication’ might be more in tune with 2014. Now that so many of us communicate in short bursts, there have been strong signs that the trend is entering the workforce. Look at the success of Tibco’s Tibbr (covered here and here by us this year) or Salesforce.com’s Chatter. A lack of standards to connect value chains using disparate systems remains an inhibitor but, at least within companies, using micro messages to approve POs, call ad hoc meetings and the like makes a ton of sense.
I also expect the fermenting witches’ brew that is the cloud storage and collaboration sector (covered here, here, here and, phew, here) to shake out a little because a central document repository to create a shared space and avoid versioning hell is logical. Having multiple repositories, however, will itself bring in a fresh versioning hell. Companies will need to decide where they stand and become ‘Box shops’ or ‘Dropbox shops’ or ‘Sharepoint shops’ or whatever. The Do Your Own Thing attitude that has done as much harm as good in IT infrastructure and information management cannot hold for much longer.
Which brings us to Bring Your Own Device and necessary controls. Smart enterprises are already getting a grip on this phenomenon by deploying mobile device management and associated tools that provide, effectively, passport controls and quarantine procedures for systems that have been used off the corporate network. A leader in this pack is Good Technology, which, unsurprisingly, is knocking on the door of an IPO next year.
Web video has been a sleeper success story over the past few years and we are reaching a point where companies that don’t use lots of video (looks nervously around) have begun to look rather old-fashioned. Once again, Ooyala, a pioneer here, is another candidate for an eventual float.
Given what we are often told were the ‘shocking’ Edward Snowden revelations (not that shocking, perhaps?), smarter approaches to encryption are likely to be attractive. Of course nobody knows what the spooks are capable of or how governments will regulate but it seems a fair bet that companies like CiperCloud (covered here and here) will benefit from the current environment as organisations seek to keep sensitive information away from prying electronic eyes.
I also foresee a big year for new-era service desks and the likes of Zendesk (covered here) and ServiceNow (covered here) should rejoice as more companies shuffle off the old world of Remedy and Peregrine systems.
Finally, you won’t get rich betting the continuing success of cloud services over on-premise alternatives but it’s highly likely that 2014 will see the cloud go deeper and higher in the enterprise as ERP systems, database services and more are removed from internal server rooms. Workday and NetSuite stand to become almost as emblematic of the trend to cloud as the original poster child, Salesforce.com.
By the way, if you’ve found this piece interesting (or even if you haven’t) you might want to read IDG Connect’s guide (registration required) to 20 privately-held companies we found interesting in 2013 meetings. Most should flourish next year.
Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect
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