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The enterprise products with disruptive potential for 2014

If you were a CIO trying to lead the business from the front and begin deeper transformation to digital/social engagement, what would be on your short list? I asked myself that question as I reviewed products based on some of the more interesting — or, in a few cases, only likely to be much-discussed — enterprise technologies of 2014 recently.

In my accompanying gallery, you can see a sampling of the products I examined, which made the mark if 1) they are breaking into the mainstream and/or 2) they are likely to have an outsize impact in their industry or otherwise unusually impressive growth rate, and 3) they reflect thepriorities and sensitibilites of modern enterprise IT. The last basically meaning a focus on cloud, analytics, mobile, security, and better solutions for long-standing business problems like digital billing or customer self-service, the latter which has long had many solutions, but most of them have been poor ones or unsuccessful.

To my great disappointment, I did not add ease-of-use to the criteria of IT sensibilities, because it still doesn’t seem to be a priority with enterprises today, despite rapidphases of IT consumerization we’ve gone through in recent years and good evidence that ROI is considerably higher with better user experiences. However, I am pleased to say that enterprise vendors have gotten some religion on this topic finally and the products I listed often had recent ease-of-use updates. In fact, I noticed in the history of many of these products that they didn’t hit their growth streak until they had releases that focused on making them simpler and friendlier to use.

Where you may quibble with a few of my choices is whether every one of these products are actually what we would call “disruptive,” meaning likely to upend the status quo. In this case, I put products from the most established vendors, like Salesforce1 or Oracle Customer Experience Cloud, on the list if they met the criteria above but were also likely to suck the air out of the room by their sheer dominant market presence; in essence disrupting their smaller competitors, usually startups.

Related: The “Big Five” IT trends of the next half decade

Areas of Innovation for Enterprise IT: Security, Cloud, Customer Engagement, Productivity, Collaboration, LOB, ERP, HCM, analytics, business intelligence, enterprise data, growth

If we look at the areas of IT innovation and growth in the image above, you’ll see some obvious segments where there is still a lot of competition, despite the industry being mature. Line of business (LOB) applications, for example, still represent a fierce battleground, and companies like Infor are typically seeking to grow in this space by addressing issues their top competitors aren’t.

Growth areas in enterprise IT

Innovation in productivity and collaboration applications have continued apace and I omitted most of them here, since I’ll cover them separately in a future exploration. However, despite growing enthusiasm, I find that workers often don’t do well with excessive novelty when it comes to their business applications. While there are many interesting new tools emerging all the time, most of them are likely to fade away as they fail to find an audience. Nevertheless, it’s one of the more exciting areas, especially as the innovation level at the top end of the product space is more limited.

Of course, IT security is one of the absolutely hottest and more important topics this year, as everything from Heartbleed to insider threats crystallized so clearly by the Snowden/NSA data leaks, is bringing data security, privacy, and governance into sharp relief.

Customer engagement, including marketing automation, has been a high growth segment recently and several products from this category made the list, including industry darling Hubspot.

Analytics and business intelligence services, especially ones based on so-called big data technologies like Hadoop are all the rage too, with several firms clearly about to break into the big time. Enterprise data products, from management to storage, have seen important new players as well.

But it is with cloud, especially in areas like enteprise identity or software/infrastructure-as-a-service — either using the cloud to deliver their service, or solutions to cloud-enable enterprise IT, or both — that was intrinsic to almost every offering I looked at. No one is making very much on-premises enterprise software any more, except for security solutions, hardware, and a few productivity apps.

So it’s becoming a cloud-first, mobile-first world, with social media and customer community also sprinkled around the edges of many of these products. It’s actually amazing how much — and in some cases how little — has changed in cloud over the last half-decade.

Overall, having all of these choices and all of this competition is actually healthy and good for customers, except when their favorite provider runs out of funding before they hit positive revenue or IPO. That’s the primary risk, other than security concerns, that buyers of the latest enterprise products face, namely that their XaaS provider goes out of business.

Pricing pressure continues to go downward for enterprise IT in general and cost-of-ownership is relatively low for cloud and falling as price wars continue. A good many customers, however, still prefer to “buy” their software and pay the maintenance fees, even if it’s in the cloud, rather that fork over the same full freight subscription fee year after year; one area of pricing that is actually a bright spot for enterprise software makers.

So this list doesn’t include the most cutting-edge enterprise IT innovations or most novel, and it’s not exhaustive. Instead it represents good product examples that many companies aren’t considering or looking at yet (with the likely exception of Salesforce1), but will very possibly face as all of the products listed have high growth rates, strong vendor market presence, or other evidence of imminent breakthrough to mainstream.

What other products are you looking at in these spaces? What spaces did I miss?

Gallery: Fourteen game-changing enterprise products for 2014

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Enterprise Web 2.0 Blog)