In my travels, I chat with different customers across industries and geographies – from manufacturing companies in Europe to retailers in Asia to hoteliers in Latin America. As we approach the end of 2013, some key themes emerged from my conversations that are instructional to both what customers’ emerging needs are and where the technology industry is going. So, with the New Year upon us, what trends should your business anticipate? Here are a few that will play a role in defining the year to come:
Internet of Things Made Real. We’re all familiar with the challenge of big data – how the volume, velocity and variety of data is overwhelming. Studies confirm the conclusion many of you have reached on your own: There’s more data crossing the internet every second than existed on the internet in total 20 years ago. And, now, as customers deploy more sensors and devices in every part of their business, the data explosion is just beginning. This concept, called the “Internet of Things,” is a hot topic among my customer conversations. Many businesses are uncovering efficiencies based on how connected devices drive decisions with more precision in their organizations. A great example of this is leading German hospital Siloah St. Trudpert Klinikum, which built a system to integrate operating room devices, machines and data sources to improve patient care. However, equally important is ensuring businesses are analyzing the right data sets, absorbing some data in real-time and leaving other data at the device or allowing machine-to-machine communication. This strategy – understanding what data needs to be absorbed vs. ignored – is where “Internet of Things” becomes real. It will be a big deal in 2014.
“Reverse BYOD.” Most of us have seen firsthand how a mobile workplace can blur the line between our personal and professional lives. Today’s road warrior isn’t tethered to a PC in a traditional office setting. They move between multiple devices throughout their workdays with the expectation that they’ll be able to access their settings, data and applications. Forrester estimates that nearly 80 percent of workers spend at least some portion of their time working out of the office and 29 percent of the global workforce can be characterized as “anywhere, anytime” information workers. We used to call this trend “bring your own device” or “BYOD.” But now we’re seeing the reverse. In my conversations with customers, business-ready, secure devices are getting so good that organizations are centrally deploying mobility solutions that are equally effective at work and play. One example of this is Delta Airlines, which rolled out 19,000 Nokia Lumia 820 handsets to its flight attendants and equipped 11,000 pilots with Surface devices to replace electronic flight bags. Delta expects to save $11 million per year with these rollouts. It’s an exciting time to go mobile in 2014.
The Maturation of Enterprise Social. Two years ago, customers would tell me that they were worried about social technologies in the workplace because there was too much risk and they didn’t see the reward. However, today I have a conversation on enterprise social in almost every meeting. Business differentiation for many customers comes from the ability to quickly respond to changing customer sentiment in a meaningful way. This requires enabling employees at all levels of the organization to have an accurate pulse on the business with tools that allow deeper connections with each other and customers. Most of us are already engaged in some form of social networking either through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. But what happens when businesses successfully use employee and customer networks to gain business insights that differentiate from competitors? A lot. An example is Red Robin, a national gourmet-hamburger eatery, which deployed Yammer as a way to speed up menu feedback from customers via the customer-facing servers, back to corp HQ quickly. Flattening internal communication like this can save money, make companies more responsive, and course correct quickly. Some companies even note large improvement in morale when communication is open and widespread. . Social networking is deeply ingrained into the fabric of this generation’s interactions. Companies that are able to embrace this trend in 2014 will increase their ability to drive meaningful business results.
Creating New Business Models with the Cloud. The conversation around cloud computing has moved from “if” to “when.” Initially driven by the need to reduce costs, many enterprises saw cloud computing as a way to move non-critical workloads such as messaging and storage to a more cost-efficient, cloud-based model. However, the larger benefit comes from customers who identify and grow new revenue models enabled by the cloud. The cloud provides a unique and sustainable way to enable business value, innovation and competitive differentiation – all of which are critical in a global marketplace that demands more mobility, flexibility, agility and better quality across the enterprise. A great example of this is Atea, a leading Nordic and Baltic supplier of IT infrastructure, which used Windows Azure to take advantage of a new business opportunity with minimal upfront investment.
Creating memorable moments for customers. Beyond these emerging trends that are shaping and defining the technology and business landscapes, businesses want to know how they can best harness this information, this data and their technologies to better engage with their customers and nurture long term relationships. With consumers being far more enlightened, informed, connected these days with instant access to information and social channels, businesses need to step up their level of service and support to match the growing needs of the empowered customer. Successful businesses, like Pandora, are able to use technology to create memorable moments for customers, a philosophy that extends from the retailers that sell its product to the consumer who buys it.
For those companies that are willing to lean into tomorrow’s key trends, success will lie somewhere between their ability to embrace disruption while leveraging new technologies to realize better business outcomes. I’m optimistic about 2014 and excited to see how Microsoft customers will continue adopting these technology trends for business success.