The enterprise technologies to watch in 2015

It's impressive how much the enterprise technology landscape has changed in just a year. While some priorities remain unchanged, important new players have emerged that business and IT leaders must consider in their plans this year.
Written by Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

Dion Hinchliffe updates his watch list annually. You'll find the latest edition here: The enterprise technologies to watch in 2017.

As business and IT leaders prepare for their next budget cycle this year, more emerging and not-yet-adopted technologies must be considered as candidates than ever before. Yet despite the seemingly endless flow of new applications, devices, and services, it's always important to sort the latest digital innovations into the strategic and tactical, into what is merely incremental, and the can't-miss digital trains leaving the station that could create all new markets, new channels, and vital future growth opportunities for the business.

My round-up last year of the most significant emerging enterprise technologies included all the usual candidates, plus a few important advances that weren't widely known but had great potential to benefit the enterprise. The latter category included so-called global solutions networks and the quantified enterprise, both topics that I have reconciled into other categories this year. The list also included many advances which have actually been around for a while, but for various reasons organizations have waited or just experimented with, but needed to finally put on the front-burner last year.

This year's list, as you might expect with the heady pace of digital product innovation today, is more crowded than last year's. I've also added a new column to the chart, titled 'Horizons', that shows what might be just beyond this year's must-consider enterprise technologies. This will help planners understand what was evaluated, and what was omitted as not quite ready for near-term inclusion in active IT and digital business roadmaps.


An examination of the list of technologies below should also give business and IT leaders a good reason to pause and reflect. Even this list, which has been pared down to just the digital capabilities which have the potential for the most significant business impact in the coming 12-18 months, is too much for most IT organizations to tackle in their present form.

Since I believe a strong case can be made for almost all of these topics, the growth in this year's list clearly suggests that we need much higher bandwidth mechanisms in our organizations to absorb, adapt to, and or transform with the increasingly high-leverage technologies are businesses are facing.

Underscores A Need for Better Models of IT

As I've suggested recently, this list shows how it's likely IT's last chance to lead real digital change. It's also become clear that all new processes and methods are required to tackle the sheer scope and inevitable nuances of acquiring and delivering on such a cornucopia of key new technologies in short time periods. Achieving success here likely requires new IT models designed for the task such as bi-modal/tri-modal IT and the enablement of decentralized networks of empowered digital change agents.

Like last year's list, this year's list contains several well-known but challenging to fully-adopt underdogs that have been with us for a while now (open APIs, social business, 3D printing.) It also contains a raft of notable new technologies that have matured to the point that they are seriously worth consideration, and/or require companies to build a strong initial foundation via active experimentation and skills development in order to be ready for more meaningful deployments within several years.

The new technologies on the list include a few that aren't well-known but I believe represent either key advances likely to grow in strategic importance (machine learning, data science), or new developments that offer very significant benefits tactically with relatively little effort to realize (containers, instant app composition, machine-to-machine systems.)

There are also a few long-standing categories which have re-emerged recently as leading areas of technology focus for most organizations (cybersecurity and team collaboration) with new approaches, or have actually developed into parallel tracks with different levels of impact, often with a clear separation of efforts within many companies (hybrid cloud and commercial public cloud, for example.) I've also consolidated some of last year's items as well, as explained above.

21 enterprise technologies to watch for 2015

Here's how this year's crop of must-consider enterprise technologies shapes up overall:

  • Mobile payments. Nothing put mobile payments on the map like the arrival and rapid growth of Apple Pay. This has the potential to affect not only retailers, but e-commerce providers, because of Apple's prevalence with the digerati and the popularity of their latest devices equipped with their new secure, yet low-friction payment method. Apple isn't the only consideration though, and with quadruple digit growth of the technology expected this year, virtually all companies that accept consumer payments must have a mobile strategy this year to avoid lost sales opportunities, as consumers potentially switch to points-of-sale which accept their preferred forms of digital payment.

  • Wearable IT. As with mobile payments, Apple set the stage and the pace for wearable devices this year with the arrival of the Apple Watch, which is also likely the wearable device most likely to be adopted by hard-to-ignore business executives. Wearables are a fast growth market, with the number of wearables shipping to more than double this year. Workers in the field and business travelers are the ones most likely to benefit initially by having an easy to way to manage travel, log hours, find each other, and so on, though there are many potential benefits to wearables in general.

  • Containers. The near-explosive rise of Docker has been one of the big stories in technology over the last year, but the company's tools are just one way of realizing the power and flexibility of containers, which allow existing data centers to deliver far more IT services, in a more manageable and convenient way. Developers especially like the ease-of-use of containers however, and so does the operations team, making it a useful, widely-accepted packaging and run-time model that will cut time and costs from getting IT to the business. Expect more advances in containers to come, but the maturity is there for the vast majority of organizations to adopt.

  • On-demand everything, X-as-a-Service (XaaS), Software-defined-X. IT of every shape and form -- from network switches to application virtualization -- continues to be turned into a service and/or be realized entirely by software (as opposed to fixed in hardware.) The growth of software-defined networking alone is expected to be 8x within the next 3 years. The easy software composability of things formerly fixed in hardware, combined with the ability to deliver capabilities with high degrees of economies of scale via the services model is remaking both how companies consumer as well as provide what they do. There are numerous implications for improving cybersecurity as well, as software-defined capabilities have far greater flexibility to adapt to changing operating conditions and risks.

  • Immersive virtual reality. The success of Oculus Rift, at least from an awareness standpoint, its famed multi-billion dollar acquisition by Facebook, and the looming introduction of next-generation models of virtual reality like Magic Leap show the broader advances of the technologies. But virtual worlds like Second Life came and largely went several generations of technology ago. What's difference now? The truly immersive nature of the new headsets combined with useful business applications. The hotel chain Marriott, for example, already uses Oculus Rift in booths called 'teleporters' so that guests can try out what visiting a new resort might be like. The market growth for VR headsets is set for impressive growth. Even so it was tough whether to say this was just suitable for an organization's tech lab, but I've seen enough VR headsets appear in organizations to say it's ready for the preparation stages for cutting-edge uses.

  • Machine-to-machine (M2M). As everything becomes a smart device, as well as being connected to the network, it opens up vast new possibilities for machines to create valuable solutions by automatically finding and interacting with each other. The canonical example is a smart refrigerator that can query its smart contents and their amount remaining levels, providing a dashboard you can view on your smart phone. The business possibilities are endless, from eliminating human inventory processes to enabling autonomous cars to coordinate and optimize traffic. The growth numbers of the M2M space are some of the largest in any category, as a major component of the Internet of Things.

  • New types of cybersecurity. Security technologies are nothing new, but the board-level focus on it is. As I recently noted, virtually the only technology topic that IT and business executives are fully aligned on is security. In the post-Snowden era, insider threats are understood to be perhaps the primary vector, but threats can come from just about any direction, often those unexpected. Organizations upped their budgets on security by 41% on average last year, and CIOs I've spoken with are asking for even more this year. New technologies include more granular control of mobile endpoints, data loss prevention, and new forms of biometric security, to name just a few.

  • Team collaboration. The advent and rise of Slack last year really underscored how much improvement there could still be to workforce collaboration. This has led to a stream of new collaboration tools seeking to chase the clear market demand for better, simpler, more effective ways of working together. Expect to see a lot of new mobile-enhanced, app-integrated collaboration tools in the workplace next year.

  • Hybrid cloud. Enterprise customers are feeling the imperative of the cloud but don't want to give up too much control, local performance, or overall ability 'take back' their IT if they need to. This has led to the less-than-ideal but highly pragmatic middle ground of the hybrid cloud, a clearly necessary interim step for many organizations to go full public eventually if warranted. The data shows that businesses are ready to move to the hybrid model, with 50% growth expected this year, versus 25% and 35% for public and private cloud respectively.

  • Integrated customer experience/CRM. Top performing companies have well integrated customer experiences across their digital touchpoints. The data about this has been unequivocal for a couple of years but it's taken a long time for companies to both get the message and to coordinate their various internal digital efforts to achieve it, especially as the rules keep changing, with new digital channels and touchpoints emerging almost constantly. What's more, the latest data from PwC shows that CEOs will make it a top 3 priority this year, especially when it comes to mobile user experience.

  • Commercial public cloud. 2015 will almost certainly herald the move to "cloud first" when it comes to most new corporate efforts, and in virtually all new products by software companies. With the year-over-year growth of the already-massive $57B public cloud market of 23% through 2018, it's safe to say that while most companies are not yet largely running their operations on major cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft, or Rackspace, they'll be laying the foundation for doing so this year.

  • Digital learning, MOOCs, global solutions networks. Perhaps the most significant aspect of technology change is the requirement for everyone to learn more and faster. I've kept learning technologies as a key item to watch this year again because I believe it's profoundly connected to how we'll adapt successfully to today's pervasive digital era. While MOOCs are now a major phenomenon, they aren't yet so in the enterprise, but surprisingly, are now expected to be in 28% of companies within two years. I've consolidated intra-organizational digital learning and collaboration (aka global solutions networks) into this category, where it was separate last year.

  • Collaborative/sharing economy. As Jeremiah Owyang would tell you, the numbers remain impressive for this truly game-changing way of using the shared resources of our global network to orchestrate mutual value exchange. Most companies must carefully consider whether to enter this space in 2015, as by some estimates this model of commerce will represent fully half of the economy by 2025.

  • Machine learning and AI. For even the casual industry observer, it's obvious that more and more low-level knowledge work will be automated by algorithms that are either classified as situated machine learning or by applications that can be truly represented as free-thinking, creative artificial intelligence. Google and Microsoft have both entered the fray with cloud variants just recently as well. Either way, machine learning is being added to our existing enterprise applications and that pure-play enterprise growth is expected to be over 50% yearly for the next decade.

  • Social business. As I've explored recently, social business is enterprise-scale collaboration (as opposed to team) and a top approach to network leadership. After years of tough going as organizations learned the ropes, it's beginning to mature in more and more large organizations. Social business remains on the executive priority list for 2015 in many companies I have spoken with recently.

  • Big data and data science. Little has changed about big data in its fullest conception, and remains the number one priority on both the IT and business side, though often with the description of business intelligence or analytics.

  • Open APIs. The rise of the API economy and the need for pervasive integration of all IT systems, internal and cloud, combined with the business opportunity it creates has kept APIs on the enterprise priority list for several years now. However, businesses have often been slow to full embrace them until quite recently, yet the number of APIs continues to grow exponentially. A great example of how APIs can spur high-scale innovation and R&D with development partners is Citibank's recent -- and highly successful -- mobile hackathon on top of their new APIs. Harvard has recently touted leading corporate examples of APIs in generating much of the revenue of large digital native firms such as eBay and Travelocity.

  • Internet of Things. I examined business the imperative for the Internet of Things last year, and it's clear that organizations should largely double down in 2015, with growth numbers nearly off the charts in many industries.

  • Mobile business apps. Mobility plus customer engagement is the top technology priority of CEOs this year. You can bet this category should be near or at the top of the priority list of CIOs, as most organizations have just scratched the surface on the complex and tough issue of delivering robust business functions across a wide array of mobile devices to their customers.

  • 3D printing. With 67% of all manufacturer now using 3D printing in some form, the technology is about to reshape supply chains and even how good are produced and sold, as designs can increasingly be purchased online and the resulting products made right at the point of use. The latest data shows that growth in 3D printing has barely started yet but is poised for rapid growth in two years, but enterprises in affected industries have to get ahead of the curve and rapidly start planning to reshape supply chains and distribution models this year as the 3D printing growth spikes hits in the next several years.

  • Instant app composition. Years ago I used to analyze the mashup industry, which petered out where no strong model was found for the user creation of needed apps and integrations. That recently changed with the advance of powerful services like IFTTT, Workflow, and Hooks that make it easy to connect APIs, events, and data from your favorite services across the Web into a new custom solution. An enterprise version of these services, Zapier, has integrations for hundreds of services that anyone can set up in minutes, and are highly customizable. This is a major tactical advance that can dramatically speed up IT, improve system integration, make it far more decentralized, as even end-users can easily establish critical connections between far-flung systems in the cloud.

Although the list expanded by a third from last year, there were also many technology advances that were evaluated but considered too far from meaningful, impactful use in the enterprise to be considered in 2015 planning. This are listed in the Horizon column in the figure above and includes everything from mind/machine interfaces and cryptocurrency like Bitcoin to nano-devices and bioprinting.

However, there's little doubt we'll see many of these emerge from the lab, consumer trials and early adoption, and get ready for serious use in our organizations. They will eventually form what is likely to be the basis of the 4th computing platform. Acting on all of this will almost certainly require making some of the largest changes to IT adoption practices to date, ones that forward-looking CIOs will increasingly prioritize in their planning this year.

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