It is that time of year again, when we take stock before we look ahead. Our 2013 predictions came true as we saw the shift towards cloud computing accelerate. With the economy getting back on track, there is plenty of scope to bring in innovation and business transformation. Here are the trends and technologies which we expect to gain momentum in 2014.
1. Corporate use of a wider range of devices and operating systems will accelerate with the end of Windows XP extended support
With April 2014 seeing the end of extended support for Windows XP, which still powers around 30% of all installed PCs, many organisations will be looking for replacement devices. Significant numbers will choose Android devices, Chromebooks, Macs and iPads – running cloud-based solutions like Google Apps –rather than Microsoft-based platforms.
2. Digital transformation will begin to reach business processes previously untouched by IT
A combination of low-cost Android devices and tools that allow custom cloud-based apps to be developed quickly and easily will allow organisations to transform the way staff work in areas that have traditionally not used IT. Tablets will increasingly replace paper for capturing data and allocating tasks to staff in areas such as catering, retail, maintenance, warehousing and inspection.
3. Enterprise social will become mainstream
Social tools have been making inroads into business for a while in an informal way. However, until recently, these tools lacked enterprise-strength control over what could be shared, where and with whom. Many of the larger organisations who would benefit from a more "social" approach to internal communications have, rightly, been wary of exploring what "enterprise social" could do for them while the security implications were unclear.
With the necessary controls now in place, companies are beginning to make sense of how to use tools like Google+ Communities and Google hangouts to improve the way staff interact. During 2014, we expect to see senior managers using enterprise social tools to establish more effective two-way dialogue between themselves and the rest of the organisation, allowing them to improve employee engagement and tap into the wealth of knowledge and insight that exists at all levels within a company.
We also expect to see teams who work in similar roles but who don't normally get a chance to interact – perhaps because they're based in different branches or country offices – coming together through enterprise social tools to provide peer-to-peer support and benefit from greater collaboration.
4. Companies will use location-aware apps to deliver better customer service to existing customers
While much of the talk so far about location-aware apps (or geofencing) has focused on targeting adverts at consumers, the coming year will see apps emerge that improve the way companies deliver services that customers are already using. For example, travellers would be able to automatically summon a taxi from their regular taxi firm as their train approaches the station or alert a valet parking service that they are returning, so their car can be fetched and ready for them when they arrive at the pick-up point.
5. Google Compute Engine will become a serious rival to Amazon Web Services
Until now, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has largely had the market for "hyper scalable" server-on-demand services to itself, but all that has changed with Google Compute Engine (GCE) moving out of beta and into general availability.
Both AWS and GCE provide highly scalable infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings that are typically used by social media platforms, by e-commerce, streaming TV and online gaming sites, and by research institutions that need to crunch vast quantities of scientific data. GCE is now clearly ready to handle even the most demanding business needs in these areas and we expect to see GCE's share of the market grow rapidly thanks to three advantages cited by industry experts and early adopters:
- performance – GCE can handle one million requests per second and already runs many of Google's own services, including YouTube.
- stability – benchmarking by end-users confirms GCE provides a consistent level of performance each and every time they use the service, while the GCE service level agreement offers 99.95% uptime.
- price – described as "very competitive" by industry experts, GCE's pricing is simple to understand and offered on a per-minute basis, so customers only pay for what they use.
6. Wearables and embedded devices will find their first business uses
The jury may still be out on whether consumers will embrace "wearables" like Google Glass and smart watches, but the next year will see innovative organisations putting both "wearables" and the growing range of extremely low-cost Android devices now available to use in a variety of business situations.
Expect to see high-end wearables, which allow images to be fed to others such as Google Glass, used to allow field staff such as paramedics or maintenance engineers to get remote advice from specialists.
More low-tech devices will be combined with "internal mapping" of specific buildings in applications that guide picking staff to the right location in a warehouse or visitors around a museum to a particular exhibit.
Finally, simple wearables will be combined with geofencing to track people and make sure they stay within a predefined area – for example, enabling care staff to see the movements of nursing home patients in real time and receive immediate notification if a patient unexpectedly leaves the site.