As a futurologist I tend to get a lot of requests at this time of year for predictions for the year ahead – and I generally politely turn them down, especially since 1300 years ago Mayan futurologists predicted that 2012 would be somewhat apocalyptic (a prediction that I’m hoping will be wrong).
Some wit once said that next year will be the same as this year, just more expensive! However, 2012 isn’t just another year and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to tell me that there will be an Olympics happening in and around London and that it will also be the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. These are of course big, exciting and potentially disruptive events that need to be planned for (hopefully by now you ARE all ready – if not, it may be worth taking a look at our blogs over the past year). However, those are the only absolutes in a world that seems to be changing faster than ever.
William Gibson once said: “the future is already here, it just isn’t very evenly distributed yet”. In the spirit of that, my way of prediction – more “now-ology” than “futurology” – is to extrapolate out some of things that are already happening that are likely to be bigger (but not necessarily more expensive) in 2012 than in 2011.
The first is “big data” – a well used phrase in trend buzzword bingo. There is no denying that there is rather a lot of data out there at the moment. IBM has estimated that every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (I’ve no idea how many noughts that is) and that 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years! As smart phone users grow exponentially worldwide, the data trails that they leave behind them widens. User’s appetites for blogging, micro blogging and media sharing are showing no sign of slowing down. In addition, manufacturers have embedded 30 million sensors into their products, creating an internet of things. This creates a world of even BIGGER data.
The trouble is actually putting that meaningless ocean of unstructured bytes to work for us. In the past the answer was to create massive databases, CRM systems and knowledge management tools – but they rely on structure and get unwieldy to maintain. In a world of chaos, the good news is that there is an increasingly sophisticated breed of intelligent systems technologies evolving that are now capable of not just spotting patterns in unstructured data spaces but learning, aggregating and structuring them in a way that we can start to use them meaningfully in business strategy. The challenge then for businesses is to use this data to adapt and innovate – since businesses are generally built to last rather than change. This inevitably leads to the next word in 2012 trend buzzword bingo: “agility” – being able to adapt fast to rapidly changing circumstances.
“Cloud” was 2011’s buzzword – but link this to “agility” and you start to get a trend towards putting more than just technology into the cloud in order to move faster. Need an expert skill suddenly? – source it from the human cloud. Already services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, oDesk and LiveOps can get you experts from a global resource pool for tasks ranging from creating PowerPoint presentations and developing software to providing technical help. Need to expand the office? – don’t build a new one, rethink what offices are for and allow employees to utilise different spaces like the home or the “coffice” (a place with good coffee and good Wi-Fi, where you can write blogs like this) to work more productively. Need access to new technology without the capital outlay? – Ally cloud with the next buzzword: “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device to work).
BYOD is a trend linked to several factors: we generally have better and cooler tech at home than we do at work, we are behaving more like consumers at work and we are getting used to accessing services from the cloud rather than relying on any specific piece of hardware. It is inevitable that this one is attractive from both a cost cutting and user experience perspective but problematic from a security and control one. IT departments are being forced away from being the department of “no” to being the department of “maybe”, with this one. The danger of saying a flat “no” is that employees are likely to do it anyway and not tell the IT department – meaning that all semblance of control is lost. However, managing multiple devices and platforms in a secure manner is not an easy one from either a technical or policy standpoint. Gartner claim this trend is an unstoppable tsunami; next year will be the year that the IT department is forced to respond in one way or another to a dirty great wave threatening to engulf them.