While social media remains one of the single largest demographic changes of our time, over the last year or so the field has been accompanied by an entire generation of new technology advancements that are starting to reshaping the industry. In 2012, we’ll see many of these tech changes — some merely evolutionary, others more revolutionary — becoming firmly entrenched in the way our organizations will need to deal with the social world. In general, what holds true for social media also holds true for social business.
Certainly, some organizations will struggle with adoption of the latest trends, typically those already having challenges metabolizing the more significant ramifications of social media up until now. However, the firms that can successfully assess how best to incorporate the latest strategic technology advancements will largely fare much better than others. As I examined last year, digital technology has consistently shown itself to be a powerful lever is separating the leaders from the also-rans. Over the recent holidays, I spent time looking at the the latest crop of technology entrants that I believe will need to be on the somewhere on roadmap of a large percentage of organizations implementing social business strategies within the next year.
I should note that the number of disruptive shifts in the technology landscape is at a generational high at the moment. In my recent exploration of the broader trends, I made the case the that social, next-gen mobile, cloud, consumerization, and big data are the essential macro trends that are broadly transforming the way that organizations apply technology to the way they deliver results to their business in the immediate future. Many of these trends have implications beyond technology and are consequently driving deeper changes in business models, strategy, operations, processes, and interaction between workers, customers, and the broader marketplace.
However, technology itself is in fact a key part of the co-evolution of the broader societal, cultural, and economic changes that are happening at present. More specifically, businesses are increasingly impacted, even defined, by what the current and near-future technology landscape makes possible. Don’t understand how social media creates the operating channels of the future between all parts of a business? Then those opportunities are not available to you. Uncertain how new mobile platforms provides a potent new means to improve the delivery of information and services to your business constituents? Then you won’t be able to meet their needs. And so on.
Getting ahead of the juggernaut of technology change today and guiding an organization through it is deeply challenging at the moment. While the CIOs, CMOs, and increasingly COOs and CEOs, are on the front lines of many of these changes, the rest of the organization is no longer waiting. In many cases, the lines of business are moving ahead on their own. This is having the effect of making deliberate strategic moves at the top level more difficult due to a rapidly shifting business foundation. In fact, in my discussions with senior executives of large companies over the last year, one truth stands out: Their organizations are increasingly seizing local initiative to apply the latest technological advances to improve their part of the business. Central planning and strategy around technological changes is now often in a reactive stance. A very typical example: A new Compuware survey on consumerization found that 64% of CIOs reported that mobility pilots were proceeding with little or no involvement from IT. This is a sea change in how technology is adopted in organizations and it has serious implications given how tightly interrelated many of the latest advances are.
From my research, however, I don’t believe the trend towards decentralized technology adoption is of major concern for the most part, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Organizations can no longer wait for a few central actors to determine their business future. There’s simply too much at stake and too much unmet technology demand in organizations today. To get there, I’ve held up the concept of CoIT as a natural new functional model that will enable organizations to drive technology adoption in far more effective ways. But on a more immediate and actionable tactical level — and in order to be a leader and not a laggard in your industry — the big question is what then should organizations begin jointly enabling in terms of the biggest technology movers this year?
From this perspective, I’ve assembled below a list of the emerging technologies with the most potential, or sometimes technologies that have been around and are just now getting lift. While your mileage will vary in terms of whether these technologies will all apply to your organization, chances are good that a significant percentage of these will significantly impact your social business efforts from a technology planning, strategy, and implementation perspective. When possible, I’ve tried to explain the exact tie in with social business, but for most of these, they should be fairly obvious.
Top Emerging Technologies with Social Business Impact in 2012
- Smart mobility. While the rise of iOS and Android as a primary end-user platform won’t be a surprise to nearly anyone, it’s amazing how the adoption of tablet computing has shaken out, given that Apple has not been a strong player in the enterprise traditionally. Jason Hiner at TechRepublic recently wrote a great breakdown of what’s happened in this space, including that up to 96% of enterprise tablet activations were iPads last year. But the tablet form factor is just the first wave of mobile, namely that of the fundamental platform shift. Social business efforts must make platform an equal citizen, and in many, if not most, cases go mobile first. Oncoming rapidly however are technologies such as near-field communications or NFC, which will make location-context, payments, gamification, etc. much easier, more physical, immediate, and tactile. In terms of social media, NFC is going to make check-ins on location-based social networks like FourSquare even simpler, enable single-gesture product comparisons in stores, and even make friending each other less of a hassle by simply tapping smart devices together. 2012 will likely be a breakout year, with an estimated 100 million devices getting NFC capabilities, including perhaps the iPhone 5. On the leading edge, immersive user experiences such as Google Goggles and WordLens are proving that sensor-based context and augmented reality can be functionally useful. I’ll write more about this in more detail soon, but the spatial reality that can be represented within new mobile devices allows informational displays and visualizing of information, including our social media user experiences (best example: Localscope), that can dramatically improve how we consume and participate. Apple’s Siri, and host of similar services on Android, are also making verbal user experience viable in a mainstream way for the first time. While I expect this to be mostly experimental in 2012, it has real potential and should be a research area in smart mobility for industries that can get significant lift from it, such as those with field personnel and frequent travelers. I also predict that voice will be an increasingly important way to capture participation in social business apps and environments in the near future.
- Big data. Big data made a correspondingly big splash in 2011. Last year I provided a detailed breakdown of how this ‘new’ field will provide organizations with major advantages, particularly in terms of coping with the vast streams of information that social media are unleashing within, across, and outside our organizations. 2012 will be a year of learning and capability development for most organizations but the short list of technologies is clear: NoSQL, Hadoop (which just reached version 1.0 as a finished product and is one of the most influential big data tools), supervised and unsupervised machine learning such as Mahout , and insight engines, which are tools which will enable us to autonomously tease vital epiphanies from our mountains of digital knowledge. For social business, big data is leading directly to social business intelligence services which will enable organizations to spot trends, identify opportunities, and operationalize social media in general.
- Cloud. The cloud has always been standard fare for social media, given that the vast majority of the entire ecosystem runs on cloud services such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and so on. Even many enterprise social networking offerings are cloud hosted or have cloud hosting options. Even so, organizations are just now starting to consider cloud strategically. Software-as-a-service is already here for many companies, but the next major step is public cloud, which means moving existing infrastructure out into the cloud environment instead of just using what’s already there. This is a big move for many companies, but cost and operational agility is going to start becoming something organizations can’t ignore any longer, even as governance, regulatory issues, and transparency of cloud providers remains a hot issue. Want to guess what one of the top initial candidates for moving to public cloud are? That’s right: Enterprise 2.0 (aka internal social business) services, which are generally not perceived as core mission critical IT, and hence safer to move out to the cloud.
- Shifts in digital distribution. User experiences, mobile, social, and otherwise, are increasingly coming from a new place: App stores. In their most disruptive form, these are consumer app stores that workers use to acquire software that they then put enterprise data into, including social applications. The usage numbers are staggering and demonstrate how fast the shift to these new digital distribution channels has been: Apple and Google have likely crossed a cumulative 20 billion app downloads this month. I examined throughout 2011 how app stores are changing how users acquire IT and self-service, and it’s increasingly leading to enterprise app stores, which are defanged and less rich but safer versions of consumer app stores. 2012 will be a year enterprises put them on their roadmap and kick the tires, and Jive’s new social app store will be closely watched as a barometer of how social business and app stores intersect. The trend to watch: Policy-based app selection instead of non-scalable hand-picking of app catalogs.
- The rise of the next Web. The trusty classical Web that has given rise to the social Web is undergoing some major changes of its own. HTML 5 is here and it almost makes the Web competitive with the current crop of proprietary mobile platforms (read: iOS, Android, Blackberry OS) by adding much of what is missing from the browser (and not native mobile apps) such as location, local storage, video and audio streaming, high-capability touch user experience, and more. Those building or acquiring social applications will generally have to deliver them in HTML5 going forward to reach the widest number of users with the richest form of functionality. The Internet of Things will also become more real in 2012 as businesses increasingly Internet-enable their products and users actually desire this. The new and immediately sold-out Nest thermostat from iPod fathers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers shows how this trend is becoming consumer-ready, and it will also enable all our Internet things to be social. Businesses will increasingly look at making their products Internet-addressable and socially connected, such as with Toyota’s Friend social network for their vehicles. More tactically, social gestures such as Liking, +1′ing, social sharing, and all the other flavors of being social will start appearing in just about every known traditional application, service, and product. This should include your own organization’s Web presence, intranet, and business applications. Less tactically, social standards were initially examined by the W3C in 2011, which Dachis Group helped support, and we should see some very interesting things emerge from this. However, the biggest social business impact is that there is a major shoe to drop when standards start crystallizing in terms of making our social platforms and service portfolio compatible (if indeed, they should be made so, depending on how things turn out.)
Of course, this is just a start on what organizations should be closely tracking for , but it’s a solid one I believe. I would love to hear you take on the emerging technologies that will have substantial social business impact, either from a planning or implementation point of view below.