Each year we take a look into the NetStandard Crystal Ball and forecast the areas where small and medium business might want to focus their information technology investments in the coming year. We saw cloud services, mobility, and risk in 2011; we forecast increasing clouds, mobility, and security with moderating prices in 2012.
As business clients have embraced mobility and pared costs in 2011, businesses have in many cases tolerated higher levels of risk than in other years. In 2012, maturing technology, and increasing competition among providers are bringing affordable security to the mobile IT market, along with best-of-breed hybrid cloud solutions.
The four key questions that guide this forecast are:
The crystal ball correctly foretold last year that the news for 2011 would be the entry of many small and medium businesses to the cloud services market. By now, small and medium businesses are a very significant percentage of the customer base for cloud service providers, who are hastening to bring online more services and solutions for this important market. Whether it is with hosted e-mail, ERP or CRM systems, many small and medium businesses have subscribed to at least one cloud service and found out that the cloud can deliver the reliability they need at a lower cost. For these companies the question now is, “what’s next?”
The crystal ball correctly foretold last year that the news for 2011 would by the entry of many small and medium businesses to the cloud services market. By now, small and medium businesses are a very significant percentage of the customer base for cloud service providers, who are hastening to bring online more services and solutions for this important market. Whether it is with hosted e-mail, ERP or CRM systems, many small and medium businesses have subscribed to at least one cloud service and found out that the cloud can deliver the reliability they need at a lower cost. For these companies the question now is, “what’s next?”
As more and more SMB’s obtain services from the cloud, the most effective and efficient solutions are those that offer security, application and data integration. Solutions that are “suites” come “pre-integrated” so that as companies subscribe to more cloud services, those services work together to maximize productivity and value to businesses. Not only large enterprises, but also medium and small businesses have adopted integrated solutions that deliver complete Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) integrated with security, reporting, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and messaging systems including voice, e-mail and instant messaging. Companies employing these solutions have avoided the extensive capital and services investments required to purchase, build, test, and implement these solutions from scratch.
In 2012, we expect cloud providers to leverage improved technologies to integrate existing internal security systems with those offered with their cloud solutions. Previously, security integrations were difficult to implement, so that cloud services either contained risks many found unacceptable, or if secure, were costly, and in some cases, or for some verticals, might be both risky and costly. New solutions address many of these concerns in way that is going to make cloud services safer, more economical, and thus much more desirable to a broader range of businesses in 2012.
Over a longer-term, businesses will see the development of solutions that will allow them to leverage best-of-breed cloud and in-house solutions, all integrated, from multiple hosting and from internal software vendors. This solution is called a hybrid cloud and will be the model for the future. Hosting providers that don’t ascribe to this vision should be avoided because they will lock customers into a less than best-of-breed approach.
As businesses look to move more services into the cloud, they will need to make sure that their communications bandwidth remains adequate. The good news is that bandwidth costs will also continue to moderate throughout 2012 and beyond. In Kansas City, Google will begin activating a fiber network that promises to increase competition among local carriers, which will continue to drive bandwidth prices lower.
Businesses should also ensure bandwidth bottlenecks are proactively identified and addressed, so that inadequate network bandwidth is corrected before it has a chance to impact productivity. A network monitoring service can be employed to proactively predict current and future bandwidth needs. It functions like a traffic counter, much like the devices cities use to count the number of vehicles that pass a busy intersection during rush hour. If you learn that IT traffic at a particular time is close to overloading your system, you can address the problem before there is a crash. Many communications providers still require multiple week lead times to expand bandwidth, so the sooner a need can be identified, the better.
Smart phones and tablets are entering a golden age that promises greater mobility, and a better way to optimize communications with a business’s customers and employees. During 2012, businesses will expand how they leverage these devices to maximize communication with their customers and mobile employees to increase productivity, increase the convenience of (re)ordering inventory and products, perform customer service transactions and to communicate order status and other logistics information. A trip to your local Apple store shows how checkout stands have been completely replaced by mobile devices that empower store employees to execute point of sale transactions anywhere in the store when a transaction is completed. This type of customer service experience is worth replicating.
While there are a plethora of new devices on the market, many businesses have selected the iPhone, Droid, Windows and BlackBerry devices as their standard. BlackBerry still provides the best integrated security, but NetStandard has seen a mass exodus of users away from the BlackBerry during 2011 in favor of the Droid and iPhone platforms that offer a larger community of free consumer and business applications. The latter platforms can be secured either using application design and development techniques or using 3rd party tools designed to encrypt data, protect mobile devices from viruses and other malware and to deactivate devices that are lost or stolen.
Businesses should spend time in 2012 looking at how these devices will provide value to your business and to your customers. Reducing the time and the number of employees who need to be involved between when a customer decides to make a purchase, and when that sale is completed and paid, can increase sales, shorten the sales cycle, and reduce costs all at once. The investment levels typically required provides a low risk and high reward scenario in many instances, especially in scenarios where employees and customers leverage consumer devices. Consumer devices are not without concerns, though. Businesses should consider how they might mitigate the risks of a compromised consumer device, and how that compromised device might be used by thieves or hackers to negatively impact business transactions, steal, or misuse data.
During 2011, businesses really made a move to adopt social media as a marketing and communication technique to stay connected with their customers, market their solutions and recruit new employees, and many businesses continue to refine their approach to optimize their investments. 2012 will be a year of continued investment and growth in the use of social media in support of businesses.
During 2012 expect low cost services and solutions to continue to emerge that mitigate real business risks that previously were too expensive or difficult to implement, support and execute. In 2012, businesses should evaluate their risks and discuss what mitigations are available to ensure their businesses continue to operate and remain productive regardless of the risk. Some key areas to consider are
Each successive year, these solutions have become less expensive and more affordable.