The "Big Five" IT trends of the next half decade: Mobile, social, cloud, consumerization, and big data

The "Big Five" IT trends of the next half decade: Mobile, social, cloud, consumerization, and big data

Summary: In today's ever more technology-centric world, the stodgy IT department isn't considered the home of innovation and business leadership. Yet that might have to change as some of the biggest advances in the history of technology make their way into the front lines of service delivery. Here's an exploration of the top five IT trends in the next half decade, including some of the latest industry data, and what the major opportunities and challenges are.

TOPICS: Mobility, CXO

"Much or most of these topics are in back burner mode in many companies just now seeing the glimmerings of recovery from the downturn. Much has been written lately about the speed at which technology is reshaping the business landscape today. Except that's not quite phrasing it correctly. It's more like it's leaving the traditional business world behind. There are a number of root causes: The blistering pace of external innovation, the divergent path the consumer world has taken from enterprise IT, and the throughput limitations of top-down adoption.

As a result, there's a rapidly expanding gap between what the technology world is executing on and what the enterprise can deliver. Many now think this gap may actually become untenable, and they may be right. Yet recent large surveys of CIOs continues to show an almost exclusively evolutionary and internal focus. Many feel that a technology emphasis is wrong right now, and they're certainly right, if it's not integrated with top priority business objectives. However, these days it's technology advancements and new digital markets that are often the key to an organization's future.

At the end of the day, businesses must be able to effectively serve the markets they cater to, and doing so means using the same channels and techniques as their trading partners and customers. Organizations must adapt to the evolving marketplace to succeed. Fortunately, I do believe there are approaches that can yet be adopted to address this increasingly significant challenge.

A tectonic technology shift

One only need look at what's on the mind of CIOs these days (60% believe they should be directly driving growth and productivity) versus what they're well known for delivering on. Or perhaps more problematically, what their IT organizations are able to deliver on. Never in my two decades of experience in the IT world have I seen such a disparity between where the world is heading as a whole and the technology approach that many companies are using to run their businesses.

The issues are legion: There are at least five major "generational scale" changes to the computing landscape happening at about the same time: Delivery platforms are shifting (mobility, cloud, social), communication and collaboration channels are being reinvented (Web, mobile, social), the consumer world of technology is driving innovation, and data is opening up and exploding out of the proliferating apps, devices, and sensors that organizations are deploying or are connecting to (but alas, are often not engaging with.) And as you might expect, much or most of these topics are in back burner mode in many companies just now seeing the glimmerings of recovery from the downturn.

The Big Shifts in Information Technology - Cloud, Social, Mobile, Consumerization, Big Data

Moreover, workers are now demanding many of these innovations and expecting their organizations to provide something close in capability to what they can get nearly for free (or actually for free) on their own devices and networks. Managers and executives, albeit mostly on the business side, are typically pushing for 1) service delivery on next-generation mobile devices like the iPad, 2) much easier to use IT solutions, and 3) access to better, more collaborative and useful intranet capabilities.

"Easy", highly mobile, and "social" are the mantras of this new generation of IT. So to is the rapid (read: instant) acquisition and delivery of business solutions. There is a growing realization amongst workers and management that technology, though increasingly complex in itself, can be wielded far more rapidly and efficiently than their currently parochial capabilities are providing.

But this is not a blame game. IT is not necessarily at fault, or at least only indirectly. Instead, it seems to be the entire structure and process through which organizations absorb and metabolize technology. It's centralized. It's controlled. It's top-down. There are exceptions, but in most organizations, technology decisions are made at high levels and then pushed across the organization. This transmission process is slow and unpredictable. It's also often not supported on the ground where reality reaches the business.

Unfortunately, the slow-pace of IT adoption, hindered by traditional project management practices, endless customization processes, IT backlogs, security concerns, and a dozen other drags on delivery performance, is only part of the problem. The fact that the technology world is largely no longer driven by the enterprise world (as it used to be for decades) is another major reason that technology and business is having a harder time these days aligning.

A few examples will suffice: The endless and seemingly real-time flow of useful and highly innovative new mobile and Web apps for managing travel, money, news, communication, productivity, and countless other key functions is only an inadequate trickle in the enterprise today. The ability to quickly connect, communicate, and collaborate via social conversations, photos, audio, video, and more with anyone in the world is much more limited currently in most businesses. Finding and acquiring new software is just the click of a button in an app store in the consumer world, but an arduous, manual, and failure prone process in most organizations now. User experiences are changing: The aging and slow-to-evolve graphical user interface is being uprooted by touch based interfaces in new consumer apps that work much better in many physical situations. In contrast, the same overhaul is happening an order of magnitude more slowly for business apps.

Where does technology and IT go from here?

If we project these trends forward, what will the outcome be? Is there going to be a final fork in the road for consumer and enterprise technology, with each side looking at each other through a diverging pair of windows, with minimal crossover between the two? Or will the two worlds continue to blur together, as technology cross-pollinates from the growing wall of innovation coming from the Web and consumer technology world? Given the virality and pervasiveness of consumer technology, the latter is by far the most likely scenario.

So what are the key IT trends of the next half decade? How will organizations adapt to them? In a conversation I had recently with the Editor-in-Chief of CIO Magazine, Maryfran Johnson, we discussed what I dubbed the "Big Five", the biggest technology influences of the next half decade. This includes next-gen mobility, social media (or more specifically social business), cloud computing, consumerization, and big data. We agreed that these five -- of all current tech trends -- are at top of the list for what most organizations need to be planning for in their current strategies and roadmaps as they update and modernize, as well as (hopefully) out-innovate their competitors.

Below I will explore the approaches that might break the logjam that's preventing much of the business world from becoming as current with the technology advances as they should. But first lets take a look at each of these technology trends with an eye towards the most up-to-date statement of the advantages they can provide. I'll also provide a key new insight on overcoming the challenges of adopting them more effectively and successfully.

1) Next-Gen Mobile - Smart Devices and Tablets

It's obvious to the casual observer these days that smart mobile devices based on iOS, Android, and even Blackberry OS/QNX are seeing widespread use. But comparing projected worldwide sales of tablets and PCs tells an even more dramatic story. Using the latest sales projections from Gartner on tablets and current PC shipment estimates from IDC, we can see that by 2015 the tablet market will be 479 million units and the PC market will be only just ahead at 535 million units. This means tablets alone are going to have effective parity with PCs in just 3 years. Other data I've seen tells a similar story.

So, while it's still early days yet, it's also quite clear that enterprises must start treating tablets as equal citizens in their IT strategies. So why won't they? For several reasons:

Challenges to smart device adoption

  • Smart devices have a poor enterprise ecosystem today. Enterprise software vendors and IT departments have organized around older platforms such as Windows and LAMP. Their infrastructure, skills, and relationships are largely built around an older generation of IT. In the meantime, iOS and Android have a lot to learn and to build up to begin to match this world, though they are starting to make progress in this regard.
  • Many of the inherent advantages of smart mobile are anathema to structured IT. From app stores to HTML 5, the large and easy to access application universes of next-gen mobile immediately triggers a security lockdown response (right reaction, wrong response) from IT. I've even seen IT departments desire to remove app stores from smart mobile devices entirely. The solution is probably policy-based screening of apps, but that's a solution a ways away.

Key adoption insight

A likely approach that will scale is to do as JP Rangaswami advocates, and "design for loss of control." This doesn't mean letting go of essential control such as robust security enforcement, but it does mean providing a framework for users to bring their own mobile devices to work in a safe manner, including use of apps with business data under certain prescribed conditions. This unleashes choice and innovation and vitally, splits the work of adoption and rollout with users that want to use their favorite mobile devices/app to solve a business problem.

2) Social Media - Social Business and Enterprise 2.0

While mobile phones technically have a broader reach than any communications device, social media has already surpassed that workhorse of the modern enterprise, e-mail. Increasingly, the world is using social networks and other social media-based services to stay in touch, communicate, and collaborate. Now key aspects of the CRM process are being overhauled to reflect a fundamentally social world and expecting to see stellar growth in the next year. As Salesforce's Marc Benioff was very clear in his dramatic keynote at Dreamforce last month, leading organizations are becoming social enterprises.

There now seems to be hard data to confirm this view: McKinsey and Company is reporting that the revenue growth of social businesses is 24% higher than less social firms and data from Frost and Sullivan backs that up across various KPIs. The message is that companies are going to -- and have every reason to -- be using social media as a primary channel in the very near future, if they aren't already. It's time to get strategic.

Challenges to social media adoption

  • Social media is not an IT competency. Simply put, the human interaction portion of social computing is generally not IT's strong suit. It tends to be treated as just another application to roll out instead of being integrated meaningfully into the flow of work.
  • The more significant value propositions of social requires business transformation. Maintaining a Facebook page and Twitter account is relatively straightforward and necessary, but it usually won't generate significant growth, revenue, or profits by itself either. The more profound and higher order aspects of social media including peer production of product development, customer care, and marketing require deeper rethinking of business processes.

Key adoption insight

There are a growing number of established social media adoption strategies, but probably one of the most effective is to engage by example. Both leadership inside the company as well as top representatives to the outside world must engage in social channels to show how they'd like change to happen.

Related: Reconciling the enterprise IT portfolio with social media

3) Cloud computing

Of all the technology trends on this list, cloud computing is one of the more interesting and in my opinion, now least controversial. While there are far more reasons to adopt cloud technologies than just cost reduction, according to Mike Vizard perceptions of performance issues and lack of visibility into the stack remain one of the top issues for large enterprises. Yet, among the large enterprise CTO and CIOs I speak with, cloud computing is being adopted steadily for non-mission critical applications and some are now even beginning to downsize their data centers. Business agility, vendor choice, and access to next-generation architectures are all benefits of employing the latest cloud computing architectures, which are often radically advanced compared to their traditional enterprise brethren.

Challenges to cloud computing adoption

  • Concerns of control. When jobs depend on IT being up and working, then you can be sure there will be reluctance to adopt the cloud. There's also little question that not going the cloud route will mean short-term job security, but at what ultimate cost? Never mind that many CIOs and heads of IT just feel they can't yet trust the cloud, despite many cloud providers being more reliable than internal infrastructure (Google recently reported four nines across its Gmail and Google Apps services.)
  • Reliability and performance perceptions. Widespread outages by Amazon and Microsoft in the past has set back cloud adoption a minor amount, yet uptime is still extraordinary good by most enterprise standards. More of an issue is moving the enormous datasets that enterprises now posses into and out of the cloud quickly enough. Backhaul and other methods will need to improve substantially to address this satisfactorily for large enterprises.

Key adoption insight

Until cloud computing workloads can be seamlessly transferred back and forth between a company's private cloud and public/hybrid cloud, adoption will be held back and favored largely for greenfield development. Technologies are now emerging to make this possible, however, and for now, companies should invest in cloud standards (to the extent they exist today) to build private clouds in order to be in position to start selectively transferring services out on a trial basis (and being able to bring them back in safely as needed.)

Related: Fixing IT in the cloud computing era.

4) Consumerization of IT

I've previously made the point that the source of innovation for technology is coming largely from the consumer world, which also sets the pace. Yet that's just one aspect of consumerization, which some like myself and Ray Wang are calling "CoIT" for short. Consumerization also very much has to do with its usage model, which eschews enterprise complexity for extreme usability and radically low barriers to participation. Enterprises which don't steadily consumerize their application portfolios are in for even lower levels of adoption and usage than they already have as workers continue to route around them for easier and more productive solutions. Another decentralized and scalable solution is, as with next-gen mobile, to help workers help themselves to third party apps that are deemed safe and secure.

Challenges to applying consumerization to IT

  • Vendors provide the UX. Usability and low barriers to participation won't exist until 3rd party vendors, which provide a large percentage of IT (often on lengthy upgrade intervals), get the message and overhaul their apps.
  • Consumer technology often isn't enterprise ready. At one point, neither was open source, but eventually an industry that provided value-added services emerged. The same pattern is likely to happen with popular consumer apps.

Key adoption insight

Consumerization seems especially pernicious to IT departments because it happens all the time, without their involvement. Stats vary on "shadow IT", which is in the lower double digits, but much of it is for consumer apps. IT departments can begin programs in partnership with other large companies (to distribute the work) to certify SaaS, cloud, and mobile apps and train workers on data safety, backup, and integrity for example. Longer term, companies will imbue their IT service design, solution acquisition, and delivery with user experience and design approaches and fresh ideas from the consumer world. This will drive more worker productivity, less user support, and higher innovation in IT solutions.

5) Big data

Businesses are drowning in data more than ever before, yet have surprisingly little access to it. In turn, business cycles are growing shorter and shorter, making it necessary to "see" the stream of new and existing business data and process it quickly enough to make critical decisions. The term "big data" was coined to describe new technologies and techniques that can handle an order of magnitude or two more data than enterprises are today, something existing RDBMS technology can't do it in a scalable manner or cost-effectively.

Big data offers the promise of better ROI on valuable enterprise datasets while being able to tackle entirely new business problems that were previously impossible to solve with existing techniques. While most companies are still addressing their big data needs with data warehousing, according to Loraine Lawson, one need only scan the impressive McKinsey report on Big Data to see the major opportunities it offers on the business side.

Related: The enterprise opportunity of Big Data: Closing the "clue gap"

Challenges to adopting big data

  • Big data requires many new skills. There are a host of advanced technologies and new platforms to learn to be effective with big data, and the IT departments I've spoken with are concerned about the skills they must acquire or foster internally to take advantage of them.
  • Meaningful use of big data requires considerable cross-functional buy-in. Big data requires tapping into silos, warehouses, and external systems using new techniques. SOA has similar challenges because it had to coordinate and align so many parts of the business. While some big data will be single function, many of the more intriguing possibilities requires a lot of cooperation across the business and with external vendors, not at easy task.

Key adoption insight

Big data requires a mindset change as much as a technology update. This means making open data a priority for the enterprise as well as an operational velocity that hasn't been a priority before. Big data enables solving new business problems in windows that weren't possible before. It also means infrastructure, ops, and development must be part of the same team and used to working together. This means organizational refinements must be made to tap into the greater potential.

How IT can evolve to meet the Big Five

I'm beginning to see that in order to stay relevant, and not become the PBX department, IT departments must be prepared to take a "Big Leap" to meet the Big Five. What this Big Leap looks like will be different for every organization, and their are multiple directions that can be taken. As I wrote on Twitter recently, the deeply transformational nature of most of the Big Five means IT must either start leading the business models and evolution of the organization, or become a commoditized utility while the business figures out the moves on their own. This almost certainly means open supply chains and enabling strategic IT abundance via designed loss of control coupled with emergent and agile approaches to IT. Now that I've explored the Big Five, I'll take a look at the Big Leap soon and see what the options are for IT -- such as "The Next Generation Enterprise Platform" that Michael Fauscette recently posited -- to not only remain relevant in the 21st century, but become the driver of business.

Can IT become the driver of business or will the function be absorbed by lines of business as their leaders become digital natives?

Topics: Mobility, CXO

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • All about budget

    Great article, the only thing missing is that you forgot to mention that these startups pushing new technologies has budgets that far exceeds the budget of any corporate IT department thanks to their investors. If business want IT departments to stay relevant and provide all the cool stuff that you've mentioned, they will have to relook the budget to make this possible.

    From the 5 techs you mentioned, I think cloud will have the biggest impact on business.
    • It depends on the company

      @nicopretorius I would note that large global companies have yearly IT budgets in hundreds of millions, so it can vary. I'd also say that cloud will indeed be very impactful, but so will the others. It really depends on the specific organization. Thanks greatly for commenting.
  • The CIO mindset gap!

    Very well written article! <br><br>Enterprise IT needs to change radically and integrate the social media and related technologies into its roadmap. I think the major gap here is in the mindset. The social engineering and business mindset that is needed to understand the fundamental shift in how social media technology will be used in the future and how to use these technoogies within the enterprise - for business- will be the biggest challenge. I wonder how many CIOs and IT departments are upto this challenge. <br><br>More likely, in next 5 years we will see young enterprises and startups grow into large firms with radically different IT footprint and that's when a new generation of IT leaders will emerge who will have grown with the new perspective and can drive the new enterprise IT. <br><br>It's a pleasure to read such engaging articles. I had tweeted few days back about this same challenge. <br><br>Cheers,<br>-Sandeep<br><br>Sandeep Suryavanshi
    Twitter: @ssuryava
  • Correction

    Very interesting article. There's an error in this paragraph though:

    "Using the latest sales projections from Gartner on tablets and current PC shipment estimates from IDC, we can see that by 2015 the tablet market will be 479 million units and the PC market will be only just ahead at 535 million units."

    The Gartner figures in the linked article are badly formatted, but the correct tablet sales projection for 2015 is 326 million, not 479. Even so, that's not far off current PC sales, so still represents staggering growth.

    (Also, since one set of projections is for sales and the other for shipments, comparing like for like would likely bring the two numbers a little closer again.)
    • Thanks

      @tobypowell Will investigate and make sure they're right. Thanks for the catch!
      • XKCD perfectly discussed that particular stat


  • Social networks on Hand Held Devices

    Hand Held Devices are emerging in this decade, these may influence the learning environment.
    therefore there is a need that we should plan our teaching learning technologies accordingly. it is not time to address mobile and social networks separately. these two and other also like educational games and simulations will be available at your palm , mean hand held device.
    We may plan for five years span instead of having planning for decades of 2050 vision.
    and its all due to rapid changes in the technology.
  • Entrepreneurs, Get Ready!!!

    These big shifts creates new market niches for new entrepreneurs who can exploit/use their non-classical oriented mindset to serve the enterprise world.

    Obviously the cloud is the biggest thing out there, especially with the homomorphic encryption breakthrough, let see ...
  • Watch out CIO and Enterprise organizations

    I feel, enterprise-based IT sets would cease to exist in near future. Users would adopt the technology based on their ROI from third party vendors / service providers. Hence, watch out for Social Media, Big data and smart devices !
    Hirendra Sinhji Rana
  • Cloud Computing and Hardware prices

    There is lot of talk about the cloud computing. But will large ERP Software move in cloud or look for in memory processing. With hardware becoming cheaper and bigger by the day it is touch to convince the big ERP players to move into cloud computing.
    • Labor is the biggest IT cost however

      @sivaselva So economies of scale are key to cloud economies. A cloud provider will have significant cheaper costs because of higher scale. The real issue, as I indicated, was performance. Limitations such as physics (the speed of light) and poor backhaul in large countries such as the U.S. will prevent a lot of applications from being cloud-enabled for the time being.


      Dion Hinchcliffe
      • RE: The

        @dionhinchcliffe Please checkout out cloud platform that we have recently launched to help manage photos, videos, music and docs. The platform supports a single user and all the way up to 100+ users on the same account. We are planning our mobile apps to be released in the near future and hope to attract developers that will release apps for the users home screen. Just go to to sign up for the 10gb freemium account to try it out.
      • Re: Labor is the biggest IT cost however

        @dionhinchcliffe Labor the biggest IT cost? Maybe with peanut selling company X, with 10 stores. Go bigger, and labor cost is _maybe_ 10 to 15% of the budget. Sometimes even less.

        Also, large global companies may have IT budgets going into hundreds of millions, but if you compare the scope, that budget is maybe 5% of their annual planning, and maybe even barely enough to cover the existing costs.

        There's a clear downshift in the way businesses across the world are looking at IT services. Perot knew that, and he got out early. Go ask Dell how good is Perot Systems doing today.

        While I liked your article, I can't but disagree with you when it comes to labor being the biggest IT cost. It's the other way around, all over. Companies caught in the miracle of centralizing apps/services, going for global services from global suppliers, have discovered how quality goes down, and costs go up.

        Global =! cheaper.
        George C.
  • The Big Five - it seems the Big One is Cloud

    It seems to me at this time that many CIOs and senior IT executives have not quite caught on to just how big a disintermediation play Cloud really is. If your organization hasn't got an investment-based, a service-based budget that demonstrates value relative to outsourcers, then you may be in trouble.

    IT can move to act as stewards of the IT investment. It starts with an understanding of what services you provide, and their cost.
    • Senior IT execs are from a different generation or risk averse

      @CaryKing A lot of them know about this but are unwilling to take the risks in moving forward knowing that the rate of failure in IT is always high for major transformations. And some senior IT execs are from a different era and genuinely dismiss the advances as unimportant. Either way, orgs will move forward, it's just how fast and whether it's too little, too late.
      • From a different era

        We should not easily dismiss those "from a different era". Cloud is not new and innovative, as much as marketers want to sell is as such. We saw it in the mid-90's, just with a different name. And we saw the failures of those who rushed to adopt. We also saw the success of careful adopters, who have been using "the cloud" for that many years. Often these gray execs have a lot of experience to sift "hot and good" from "just hot".

        When the corporate culture cannot tolerate IT failure, those who have seen the failure become much more cautions. And those who have seen fads may want to wait awhile to let a technology mature and prove longevity.

        The desire for longevity, however, is one I think may / should fade away. Technology is moving too fast, and we are in a generation of throw-away technology (think about current life-span of a cell phone!). Rather than looking for greatest longevity, perhaps IT should be designing for change. Position itself to take advantage of new technologies rapidly while minimizing risk. At the same time corporations must define and allow some failure points, recognizing these as the price of innovation (and, of course, factored into ROI analysis).
  • Excellent post on Big 5 IT Trends

    IT has a choice of compromising their business's competitive edge through resistance, or making a priority of getting on top of technologies that will provide an advantage. The fact that employees are using consumer applications that could be beneficial to Enterprise is a great advantage: an employee-driven move to technology adoption has a much higher chance of success. High-quality consumer apps are designed to scale magnitudes higher than needed for most enterprises, and one can look to e-commerce applications for security models that translate well to Enterprise. An effective approach to adoption is to partner with outside technology firms with a plan for internal training and maintenance hand-off. Every IT department needs at least one "technophile" who will assist in technology transfer and adoption.
  • Cloud, Mobile,

    Great article. There is a gap and corp. IT is not helping. When a CEO or SVP comes to work and has the iPad 2 and the latest smartphone in theirs' hands and IT says, "sorry can't support it", then there is a problem. The world at large wants mobile and they are doing social, so the enterprise has to get with it. If corp IT doesn't like change, they will like irrelevance less.
    • Not so easy as all that

      You verbalized the real problem quite well, possibly without even realizing it.

      There may be (almost certainly are) a myriad of technical and policy reason that prevent the IT staff from supporting that CEO or SVP's iPad. It is typically not that they don't want to support iPads, nor that they don't want to "help".

      Sadly, the opinion you express is exactly what the IT department is given. "You people need to get with it". But that "get with it" does not come with added budget to meet the security policies, or added training / test devices to meet the added support. Nor does it come with any re-prioritization of priorities or demands on an already tapped staff. And it certainly does not come with a waiver of meeting the mandates of security, support, et. all that the IT department must function within.

      When technologists say "can't", they quite often mean just that. "Unable to do so". Too often then not, when a person hears this answer, they walk away saying the technologist "does not want to" or "doesn't know what he/she is doing".

      What we need is teamwork. That teamwork is not one way "they need to get with it", but two way "we all have a common problem, and we all have valuable input". Corporations that bridge this gap go gangbusters with technological improvements that drive business. Corporations that cannot bridge this gap, that allow the arms-length finger-pointing instead, will continue to struggle with emerging technologies. Just as they have struggled in the past.

      In short, it is not a team effort to obtain an desired result (we need mobility or we need to support BYOD), it is dictation of a direction that may or may not be the best path for the company (support my iPad now).
  • RE: The

    Great article that summarizes opportunities for the next generation enterprise. The pace of adoption will largely depend on maturity and associated risk/benefits especially for larger enterprises, but the can't see anything that can reverse this course.

    Anil Mehra