I spent a good portion of 2016 attending conferences ranging from CES to SuperComputing. While at those and other events, I wandered the exhibit halls and sat in on lab and training sessions. I keep going back to events like these because I enjoy learning about new technology and new products. I also hope that I might spot a technology I can use to help my clients. This year I couldn’t escape learning about machine learning and cloud computing at any event I attended. It felt like every company wanted to talk about the cloud or AI machines or both!
Today, both are evolving and creating opportunities all the way up the stack, and that’s exciting for the enterprise. It also means change is in the air.
I’ve been thinking about what trends I should keep an eye out for this year. This week I’d like to share a few of them.
We’ve spent the last few years getting comfortable with the cloud. It took a lot of education. A lot of nudging. We invested in new applications and kept our fingers crossed. Maybe we went so far as to reduce our reliance on hosting and equipment and began to streamline our operations in the cloud. I believe that in 2017 we’ll hear less about “cloud adoption” and more about “cloud first” strategies. Also, at what point do we drop the cloud from cloud computing?
This past year I worked with a company that was considering a major email and calendaring upgrade. The new solution would require a substantial investment in new hardware and software licenses. In the meantime, they started adding employees to Slack, and within a few months, realized how much internal communication it had replaced. They decided to forego the expensive and traditional in-house option and signed up for Google Apps. That gave them email and calendaring features in the cloud.
Just as businesses had to adapt from website optimization to a mobile-first strategy, companies considering a simple cloud adoption need to instead consider a cloud-first strategy.
That’s the President of Broadsuite, Daniel Newman’s take on the cloud. Newman believes that companies that merely survive by half-heartedly embracing the cloud will not thrive. He admits that not every move to the cloud will be a smooth one, but believes the cloud is only going to play a larger role. As new companies form, they will adopt a cloud-first strategy from the start, giving them an advantage over those companies lagging in the adoption phase.
Explosion of XaaS
XaaS is a collective term for “X as a service” or “anything as a service”. In short, it refers to the increasing number of services that are delivered over the internet rather than on-site. XaaS is also used as a catch-all term for everything from SaaS (software-as-a-service) to DaaS (disaster-recovery-as-a-service) to NaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service). These are some of the many services fueling cloud computing today, and it’s set to explode in 2017.
One benefit of XaaS is that it helps minimize risk. Asking IT to install new software on company servers has never been easy. Licensing, security and hardware considerations often kill the idea before it gains traction. But with XaaS, the risks are minimized because security and hardware considerations move to cloud provider. A colleague of mine has been pushing for a new CRM for the past couple of years, but always ran into roadblocks. When he recently proposed a cloud-based CRM solution, he was up and running within days.
That these and many other services will be offered over the internet is only part of their appeal. XaaS allows companies to scale as their needs grow and access them almost immediately. With just a credit card and few clicks, I can spin up a VM to host my application. You could do the same with CRM, accounting or marketing-on-demand systems served by the cloud. Speed absolutely matters. Agility and enterprise aren’t often mentioned in the same sentence, but I expect that to change with XaaS.
I’m not talking smartphones, although they play a role as companies embrace a mobile workforce. Expect IoT to continue the push with all kinds of new devices meant to keep us in touch with our colleagues. More companies will embrace ROBO (remote office/branch office), putting a larger emphasis on enterprise collaboration tools.
Microsoft is attempting to fend off Slack using its ubiquitous Office suite. The sheer footprint of Office might be enough to increase adoption. This strategy has service Microsoft well for decades, and I wouldn’t count them out just yet. Flock and HipChat wait in the wings, picking up customers in niches Slack and Office have overlooked. I also expect machine learning to help bring users, resources and data together in ways that only improve collaboration efforts.
If you’ve overlooked the power of Chat, don’t put it off any longer. It’s not your father’s Instant Messenger. I used to look down on chat programs as something the marketing or sales teams used to waste time. But that changed when Slack came along and drastically reduced my reliance on email. The best thing that happened was that Slack gave me access into production and support which had been hard to crack. Understanding their challenges helped me bridge the gap between our departments.
Cloud-to-Cloud Storage Backup
Few things are as intimidating as embracing a new backup technology. Cloud-to-cloud backup has been a few years in the making. I believe that 2017 will be the year that many companies fully embrace this new type of technology. Companies with large hardware investments have taken a “wait and see” approach, but that’s changing as people gain more trust in the cloud.
Storing sensitive information in the cloud is a difficult sell. That’s why we’ve seen companies keep a local backup, even with a large investment in cloud services. But the walls are coming down, and the convenience of cloud-to-cloud backup can no longer be ignored. Multiple vendors, encryption, and reliability will play a part in ushering in this move.
There’s a lot of innovation happening around this topic. Suffice it to say, it’s here, and this is an enterprise technology I’ll certainly revisit this year.
AI and Machine Learning
We’ve talked a lot about these two technologies, but what’s interesting about 2017 is how they will work together. Expect to see more computing systems that can actually learn and change their behavior using AI.
All major cloud providers now provide machine learning APIs that developers can tap into. That means we’re going to see more tools that allow regular users to recognize patterns in large pools of data. We’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s interesting to think that it took major chip innovation by companies like AMD and NVIDIA to finally create GPUs powerful enough to analyze petabytes of data. “Humanizing” data will be a major trend of 2017.
Machine learning will play a major role in fraud detection, medical diagnosis, traffic and weather prediction. For years we’ve been creating massive amounts of data, but the tools to comb through that data were primitive by comparison. That’s all about to change.
The last couple of years reminds me of the climate around the time I graduated from college. Companies big and small were figuring out how the internet might play a part in their business. It’s almost comical to look back at 1994 and realize many still considered it a minor trend. We’ve come a long way from debating the positives and negatives of giving employees access to company email and data on their phones and tablets.
Today you probably have employees scattered around the globe using cloud services one could only dream about a few years ago. If I’ve learned anything in my 20 years in technology it’s been this: We tend to underestimate the rate of technological change. That means the cloud is here to stay and companies need to stop hedging their bets and embrace a cloud-first strategy. It means tracking customer sales isn’t enough when machine learning can help you track their habits at a much deeper level. It means putting the right tools in the hands of your employees and developers.
I’m excited about 2017, and I hope you are too. What are some of the major enterprise trends you see on the horizon?