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2020 vision: The forecast gets cloudy

Will the cloud fail or flourish by the end of the decade? Experts weigh in.

Being a futurologist is far from easy. Speaking with authority about how the world will change can be complicated by unexpected twists and turns. And in the digital age, where change is the new normal, crystal ball gazing keeps getting harder and harder.

CIOs and other business leaders must now manage expectations around a host of technologies, from social media and big data to emerging areas such as the Internet of Things and robotics. Gartner predicts 25 billion connected 'things' will be in use by the end of the decade.

Despite the difficulties seeing into the future, one fact is clear: as the number of connected devices increases, so will the reliance on on-demand infrastructure. Allied Market Research suggests total spending on personal clouds will reach $89.9bn by 2020, representing an annual growth rate of 33 per cent between now and the end of the decade.

At the enterprise level, CIOs will have to make sure users are not just relying on personal clouds to store information, some of which might be sensitive and not for eyes outside the company. Researcher Forrester suggests about 19 per cent of the $230bn spent on servers and storage hardware will be directed to the cloud by 2020.

Business investment in the cloud will not just be confined to storage. Forrester says corporate spending on cloud-based services, applications and resources will reach $191bn in the next five years. CIOs will play a crucial role in this transition to on-demand IT, and must look for opportunities to create new services and business models.

Smart IT leaders are already making a move in this direction. Survey specialist Research and Markets says business use of the cloud is moving beyond computing and storage and into communications, content, and applications, a trend that will pick up pace through 2020.

Gartner expects 60 per cent of office applications to be provisioned from the cloud by the end of the decade, an impressive rise from the current proportion of 15 per cent. The analyst anticipates similarly impressive shifts in regards to other software-as-a-service areas, including human capital and customer relationship management

Though the future is always hard to predict, experts agree the cloud will become an established part of enterprise IT by 2020. Its influence will be felt across all sectors, as senior executives use the cloud to help their businesses thrive in a new era of connectivity and information.