2011 has been a remarkable year, what with the extraordinary weather patterns, more than the usual worldwide political turmoil, and national apprehension over the delicate state of our economy. During times like these, people tend to increase their need to communicate, to give and get information, to reach out to their friends, family, community, and the world. It's all about information flow. As 2012 draws near, my predications for technology are all about communication and the information stream. Technology in 2012 and beyond will significantly shift and enhance the exchange of information for people and for enterprise organizations.
1. Corporations adopt social networking as a primary communication tool.
No longer just for the younger crowd, the impact of social media will continue to increase. The act of social networking and its corresponding sites is comparable to the introduction of email in the business environment a decade or so ago. Prior to email -- the phone was king (and the type of phone and access lines - but I don't want to date myself that much). It is a serious mistake to underestimate the power of social networks (whether it is Tumblr, Chatter, Yammer, Twitter, and IMs - though some might regard IM's as "old school"). It is truly amazing just how quickly a ground swell can be raised over a social event. Just look at how rapidly the November 5th, Bank Transfer Day was organized - or the mounting support for the Occupy Wall Street movements. Far beyond keeping in touch with family and friends, social networks have been influential in organizing popular social and music events, exposing on-the-scene political riots, and helping release people who have been incarcerated overseas. Social networks have tremendous power and influence - far more than most people realize (and probably want to accept either). The "traditional" workplace has quickly changed - more people are working from home or remotely and want and even need this contact. This does not mean the real-time interaction of the bricks-and-mortar work place environment have been lost, just changed.
Business executives, employees and home users keep in contact through Facebook or other social sites, blurring the line between work and social boundaries. In many cases, these social networking sites are being used to share insights, news, results, and other information that would normally be on a bulletin board or mass e-mail. Many companies today are actively pursuing social networking collaboration technologies to further their communication reach at much reduced costs. In some cases, you may receive a discount by "Liking" a business.
The use of Microsoft's Lync or Office 365 will enable users to have both business and personal contacts in one IM interface. Business and IT leaders will have to learn to use these to accelerate the business-decision process and maintain relevance with workers. Customers will expect immediate answers to questions, and employees can accomplish more through these communications. Social networking will become one of the main, if not THE primary means of communications in many corporate environments.
2. Death of the laptop?
No, the laptop will not disappear next year or even the year after - but the decline of the ubiquitous laptop, especially in the business environment, will accelerate in 2012. The laptop will never truly disappear, but for many business users, a tablet will more than suffice. After all, the majority of the work done on business laptops is accessing and reading email, using business applications and playing Angry birds (not by all, of course) and not necessarily in this order. Laptop usage will diminish as the capabilities and accepted presence of Apple's iPad, Amazon's Fire and other such devices increase. This will hold true for other "smart" devices. Today you can control many household appliances and services through your smart device - even going as far as locking your car. You can use your smart device as a virtual wallet, it can serve as your boarding pass for aircraft - who knows, and maybe the smart device may spell the end of our wallets as well!
3. The "To the Cloud" movement continues.
"To the Cloud" - That is going to be THE mantra this year and will certainly be more pervasive and louder in the years to come. The cloud has become synonymous with almost any service/server that is no longer maintained on-premise in your organization. The advantage of Cloud solutions are many - reduced infrastructure costs, ease of growth and providing a consistent experience for local and remote users. The advantage is that this is done as an alternative to hosting and maintaining your own servers and application software. In cloud computing, businesses pay for only the resources that they consume. Businesses that host services and applications in the cloud improve overall computer utilization rates, as servers are running at or near full capacity from clients connecting remotely.
4. The need for Virtualization skills will grow exponentially.
Virtualization means moving multiple physical servers to a virtual machine environment. Virtualization vendors such as Citrix, VMware, and Microsoft are making it possible for companies to improve the efficiency and availability of IT resources and applications. Virtualization is being adopted by companies of all sizes as a means to reduce costs through consolidation of servers and lower cooling requirements. Application Virtualization has become very popular with businesses. Having the skill set to deploy applications that connect securely through a browser is critical for companies that have numerous offices.
This is one area that is going to be very interesting to watch in 2012 - especially due to the dynamics among Cisco, Microsoft, and VMware. There is no doubt that the demand for skills in this arena will grow exponentially.
5. The days of owning software are numbered.
You don't need to look too hard to see that SaaS (Software as a Service) is the wave of the future. Just look at the model used by Blizzard and other game companies. You buy the game and then pay a monthly fee for the privilege of playing the game online as well. Now, carry this forward to the major software vendors. They must be dreaming of the revenue stream when customers no longer just buy the software, but pay a monthly access fee. From their perspective, it would help reduce software piracy, no longer could you sell your old software; and did I mention the revenue stream? There may be an advantage from a user perspective - they may be able to use this model for a short term project. Instead of not buying a software package - they may be able to rent it for a period of time. Now look at the cloud and Office 365 - with Office Web Applications, aren't you in effect "renting" access to the software (and other services as well) for a period of time?
6. Real bandwidth to the household.
A New York Times report ranked the United States 26th in the world when it comes to internet access speed. According to a report from Pando networks, the US had an average of 4.93 Mbps speed to the household. In contrast, South Korea (#1) has an average of 17.62, Romania (#2) has an average of 15.27 Mbps and Bulgaria (#3) had an average of 12.89 Mbps. As an example - Finland passed a law that entitles every person to a 1 Mbps connection (supposed to rise to 100 Mbps by 2015). The US is also increasing bandwidth available. This must be addressed if the US is to continue to compete. In fact, the average peak connection speed in the United States increased 95 percent from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2011. Internet speed and broadband availability will increase significantly next year.
7. The rise of streaming media.
What, pray tell, do you mean by streaming? Netflix had the right idea in streaming movies to the home. Now think about for this for other items as well. Streaming of TV to smart devices - you can watch your favorite show on the commute home. In those areas where cable is either not available (or does not provide the content at a cost that is acceptable), satellite TV and radio have made huge inroads. Gone are the days of the monster dishes that could have been an escapee from a bad Sci-Fi movie. Now we have small dishes, similar to ones found throughout the world. The satellite is streaming the content to our TVs, computers, and other devices (including refrigerators). Now let us add cell phone (well, let us be honest and just call them smart phones). The number of new landlines is diminishing as the number of smart devices is increasing. Why have a landline and answering machine when you can have a smart phone, voice mail, and Skype with you all the time? So long as there is wireless access, we can use our smart devices and computers (even at 35,000 feet).