10 Top Technology Trends in Business in 2013
Technology trends in business are important for middle market companies. The technologies in question represent tools with the potential to help a business in various ways. That can include accelerating growth, addressing changes in the way customers do business, competitive advantages, improved efficiency, or additional strategic capabilities.
Here are ten technology trends in business that have particular relevance for middle market companies and that will have important implications in coming years.
Cloud computing allows companies to use servers, storage, and network capabilities hosted by a vendor and provided under a self-service model. A corporation can expand or contract its use of resources as special projects, seasonality, and changing business conditions demand. Mid-market companies can more easily expand IT infrastructure as necessary. IT departments, however, must build expertise in managing vendor relationships. Now is the time to build those capabilities and determine how much infrastructure could be put into a cloud and what portion has special needs that should keep it on premises.
Consumers and business users are rapidly moving away from traditional PCs - the drop in sales continues to accelerate - and toward smartphones and tablets. Support for mobile devices is something that will become mandatory for middle market companies that must adapt to how customers will do business.
Consumerization of IT
Related to mobile is the consumerization of IT, in which companies try to appease employees who want access to the same technology they use in their private lives. Middle market companies will eventually have to embrace this trend if they want to continue to attract the talent they need. However, doing so takes time and needs to start now. Any company that wants to embrace consumer technology will need to navigate legal, technical, design, and security issues.
In Iron Man 2, the gauntlets the main character wore were manufactured with a 3D printer. The technology is still young, and yet companies easily create prototypes, changing how design processes work. With more durable materials and improved hardware and software, it will become possible to manufacture products at least in part with 3D printers. A growing number of consumers have begun to purchase and use the devices. This technology has the potential to radically change entire supply chains and even distribution, if customers download files and print out products themselves rather than going to a store or waiting for a shipment.
Digital and Physical Convergence
Up until now, people have assumed that the digital and physical worlds were separate: for example, bricks-and-mortar stores versus e-commerce. But those divides are crumbling. Not only are computers and, therefore, software increasingly included in all manners of products, with programming determining functions, but business processes cannot be held to one or the other. Customers want to use physical or virtual resources at their convenience. Paper-based product literature must have links to additional online resources. A product purchased from an e-commerce portal should be returnable through a store. The more quickly a middle market company can accomplish this, the more readily it can compete with slower similar-sized rivals and large companies that have a more difficult time making significant changes in how they operate.
Geographic and geospatial information systems have been around for decades, but only recently have organizations begun to realize their power. Because location is a common attribute of many types of information - demographics, operations, environment, supply chain, marketing, strategic - GIS allows the correlation of them all to gain new strategic insights. It represents a powerful set of tools and techniques and between the power of current hardware and specialized cloud services, and it is available to middle market companies. Using GIS, however, requires expertise in data, statistics, modeling, and geographic modeling, a combination that would require consultants or new hires.
Potentially important, big data is one of those technology trends in business that is probably best addressed by a middle market company from a distance. The promise of insight from vast amounts of data is enticing, but it takes significant resources - financial and human - to make big data work.
This, not big data, is where middle market companies should focus their energy. Such businesses have important data in terms of transactions, operations, and customer relations and are likely to offer more immediate and important realizations than big data. Small data is more than running reports; it's learning to integrate data analysis into decision making. Anyway, it's not as though big data will disappear while a company masters small data.
Internet of Things
The easy way to think of this is as everything being connected to the Internet: cameras, refrigerators, factory industrial controllers, smartphones, cars, remote sensors â€” you name it, you'll find it on the Internet. With so many devices connected online, there is a mammoth amount of data that can inform a company about business processes, customer usage of products, manufacturing systems, and supply chain operation. But for a middle market company to make use of the Internet of Things, management will need all the discipline of big data and then some. Consider greatly whittling down the incoming Tower of Babel to a coherent stream of something that will mesh well with a business strategy.
When IBM's Watson system won Jeopardy, on view was a combination of real-time general speech recognition and a stunning ability to freely associate libraries full of information to find connections among them and right answers. It might not be human thought, but for limited practical purposes it was a close second. That is what makes machine intelligence a top technology trend in business. Through cloud computing, such capabilities will become available to middle market companies. Whether putting them to use in medical diagnostics, as will happen with Watson, intelligent interactive voice response, or e-commerce fraud detection, machine intelligence will allow middle market companies to control headcount through automation previously impossible and to add new capabilities that humans could not provide.
All of these trends have the potential to upset how business is done, which means that middle market companies need to examine them and see which might best fit their strategies. Find a few that could offer the biggest boost and are within reach today and begin exploration. Even if the early choices aren't the best ones, you will still be further ahead than if you waited to see what others did first.
Erik Sherman is an NCMM contributor and author whose work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, the Financial Times, Chief Executive, Inc., and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch. Sherman has extensive experience in corporate communications consulting and is the author or co-author of 10 books. Follow him on Twitter. Circle him on Google+