Ahh, the future. That mystical place filled with robots and flying cars… and hopefully your businesses. Things are moving incredibly fast when it comes to technology, as trends which never existed before (think BYOD and that thing called social media) are increasingly becoming just another part of every day life. Think about it: ten years ago Facebook didn’t exist — now there are legions of postings for social media strategists, managers and gurus populating jobs boards. You can log into work from the other side of the globe and give presentations from your smartphone. What will be possible in the future?
Financial services and consulting company Deloitte sheds some insight in its annual tech trends report, which seeks to do a bit of educated crystal ball gazing to figure out the key technologies which will experience significant adoption rates in the next 18-24 months. The topics are devised based on current research and conversations with industry experts, but they only get added to the list if there are at least three key companies already implementing the technology in their everyday business, so it’s not all totally science fiction.
The report highlights five ‘enablers’ and five ‘disruptors’, but we’ve selected a few key ones to expand on.
Mobile first strategies are good, but the mobile-only age is coming
While the traditional strategy was to sort out your business’ desktop web presence before you ventured in the realm of mobile, that’s quickly shifted into an increasing focus on becoming mobile-first, desktop second. Just take a look at the success of mobile apps like Twitter and Instagram (which didn’t have any significant functionality on the desktop web until recently), and you’ll see why Zuck is trying so hard to make sure Facebook becomes a true mobile company. But now there’s another stage: mobile only.
“Many business services will be only on mobile,” said Principal and Chief Technology Officer of Deloitte in the US Mark White, explaining how the term “mobile” can also go beyond just tablets and smartphones. Machine to machine solutions like sensors that connect and communicate with other computers are also gaining ground, as the Internet of Things becomes more populated.
If there’s something else beyond a phone and a tablet, chances are it could look like Google Glass. While it’s too early for a commercially unavailable product to have any serious impact on your business, it’s an interesting development towards the use of augmented reality in real-life situations and showcases the growing trend towards providing contextually relevant information to users.
You can target a smart device by location and provide rich, ambient information — so why aren’t more businesses taking advantage of that? As White points out, more users are expecting to see information in context (and access it via their mobile), and “people make better decisions when you present them with actual proximate data.”
Don’t just ‘do’ social media, do it by design
Many businesses have jumped on the social media bandwagon after seeing the success of some of the smarter adopters and reading delightful case studies on how it grew their brands. But months down the line, they realise their social media efforts are not having an impact, and they’re not getting that all-important return on investment (ROI). Even if businesses have a social strategy in place, it’s difficult to predict when (or if) they’ll see a quantifiable return on all the time they’ve poured into it. White suggests that there is a step-by-step plan to generating ROI:
- Define a business objective before you do anything. What are you looking to gain from social media? This is where many businesses make a mistake — they pick the platform before they know what they actually want to achieve.
- Identify the social network relevant to your objective. No, not the social networking site — the actual connections of groups of people who can help you reach your goal. Identify the influencers and sources of information that will help your plan succeed.
- Devise an incentive scheme to get the social network to help with your plan.
- Then decide what media or platform best serves this network of people
Think of design as a discipline
It’s no secret that user experience is important, and beautiful websites and apps with a lot of thought put into them are appreciated. White recommends that businesses stop designing from the perspective of the IT department or the sales team, and instead focus on what seems obvious — the user. Identify the persona of your users and keep prototyping until you have something that fits. For example, if you’re building a site for tweens, why would you use an icon like a floppy disk for the button they click to save their progress? They probably haven’t ever used one.
IPv6 is coming (really), and you need to be ready
Yes, in case you haven’t heard, the world is running out of IP addresses and you can escape the drama by making sure your site is IPv6 capable. All those gadgets that connect to the internet are leading to the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses — and the proliferation of devices and services that require an IP address is making it increasingly imperative to move over to the new version.
While Europe ran out of IPv4 addresses in September, Asia’s pool was depleted in May 2011 and the US is scheduled to hit its saturation point sometime next year, Africa’s Regional Registry for Internet Number Resources estimated in 2011 that the continent would still be good for another 3-4 years. Using a telephone metaphor, White says that “if you don’t take care of this, it’s like someone not being able to dial your number. You’ll need to be IPv6 capable in two to three years, so get started now.”
Really use your data to innovate
Yes, Big Data is very sexy right now, but it needs to be used properly. It’s important to “put big data to work for decision-making,” says White, explaining that businesses should mine the data for answers, but also take a step back and look at patterns that emerge to find new questions to ask.
He referenced former Starbucks’ CIO Stephen Gillett, who quoted the phrase “plan big, start small, fail fast, scale soon”, saying businesses should use the data they collect to lay a secure foundation for future efforts. He said that businesses can run multiple pilots to test the waters, but they should monitor them closely and kill off those which fail quickly, and have the data analytics in place before they start anything.
Realise the potential of gamification (no, it isn’t all about Angry Birds)
It’s been said before, but gamification is a serious trend. It’s being used to incentivise everything from fitness apps to call centre work to online stores, but many people still don’t realise the potential of the technique.
“It doesn’t look like a game — it’s not joysticks and shoot em ups and golden coins, it’s the mechanics of gaming built into enterprise systems,” explains White. We’ll be seeing more game-y elements like leaderboards and rewards built into unexpected things in the future.
You will be hacked. Find a way to deal with it
Just look at the news recently: the list of companies who’ve run foul of hackers includes everyone from Facebook to the New York Times, Apple and LinkedIn. No one is safe. If you’re not being hacked now, you will be some day. Some estimates suggest 94% of cyber breaches go unreported, but businesses are still cooped up behind so-called perimeter security, making it easy for hackers to do whatever they want once they’re inside the system.
White suggests setting up systems to protect against the increasing threat from sophisticated hackers, which allow vulnerabilities to be quickly isolated from the rest of the business’ information. Businesses will increasingly also need to go beyond just identifying threats, but actually investigate the hackers and their motives to ensure the solution to the hack isn’t just a temporary band-aid.