The holiday season is a great time to look back at the year, with an eye toward what we in the ever-changing world of information technology can expect in 2014. These three trends warrant your close attention in the new year.
In Light of NSA Revelations, Companies Will Be Wary of the Cloud
For most businesses, 2013 was the year of the cloud. Companies that still hosted their email in house would in large part move that expense and aggravation to someone else. Microsoft SharePoint and other knowledge management solutions could be run in someone else's datacenter, using someone else's resources and time to administer, thus freeing your own people to improve other services or, gasp, work directly on enhancing the business.
But then Edward Snowden came around in June and started to release a series of damning leaks about the United States National Security Agency's capability to eavesdrop on communications. At first, most folks weren't terribly alarmed. But as the year wore on, the depth of the NSA's alleged capabilities to tap into communications — both with and without service provider knowledge — started to shake the faith of many CIOs in the risk/benefit tradeoff for moving to cloud services.
For companies in heavily regulated industries, it's hard to ignore the continued discovery of the depths to which the NSA has the capability to read data both in transit and at rest. Patient privacy records, sensitive financial transactions and any other data that must by law be kept private — is it now considered private? Can you warrant that to your customers? Can you warrant that to your regulators? Can you afford the risk that NSA access to your data represents? Is it even something that you can control, or do you just ignore it and hope for the best? (That is said with no judgment; given the realities of your business, that could very well be a valid strategy.)
In 2014, we'll see a continued analysis of just what services make sense in the cloud, but some old cherished low-hanging fruit, like email and collaboration, will no longer be considered "easy wins" because of these continuing allegations. Perhaps the cloud will not be the default choice going forward but, rather, a choice made after careful study of the environment, using these PRISM leaks as one important bit of context.
Microsoft's CEO Search Will Define the Future of Their Products in Your Organization
The biggest story of the first part of 2014 will undoubtedly be Microsofts selection for only its third CEO in its history. This job is one of the most important positions in the technology industry; who is selected, and what he or she does in her first 100 days, will set the tone for the next five to 10 years.
Reports as of the Monday morning after Thanksgiving 2013 suggest that the Microsoft board of directors has narrowed its potential selections to two: Satya Nadella, the current chief of servers and tooling at the company, and outsider Alan Mulally, who currently is in charge of the Ford Motor Company and is widely credited for executing a fantastic turnaround of operations, profits, and shareholder return after joining the company from Boeing, a corporate neighbor of Microsoft. (Mulally denies he's interested in the Microsoft job, only heightening speculation.)
There are two main questions surrounding both the choice of chief executive and the immediate moves he makes in the first part of his tenure.
Will the new CEO continue the remake of Microsoft into a devices and services organization? Steve Ballmer, the company's current CEO, has tried to convert the software company into an organization that makes a variety of devices, such as tablets and phones, which connect to services that Microsoft runs. This has been done both to make those devices more rich and useful for the end user but also to monetize that usage through enhanced upgrade services, advertising revenue and subscription profits.
Of course, this represents a big switch from Microsoft's traditional "pay us for the right to use this software in perpetuity" practice that propelled the business to its current height. Many investors and customers wonder if this transformation is beneficial to them. Will the new CEO elect to continue this transformation and carry on the vision of Steve Ballmer even after his departure? Or will the new CEO put pause on the progress and take a few months to assess whether that transformation is good for both Microsoft and its customers? The answers will have a big impact on the role Microsoft software and technology plays within your own business.
Will the cloud still be a huge focus of the company? Will the continued preference of developing for Microsoft' cloud-based services versus its traditional on-premises software erode the trust of corporate customers who still have significant investments in their existing on premises licenses?
Nowhere is this tension more evident than in the Exchange community, where Exchange Server 2013 customers feel as if they are a distant second cousin to the Office 365 subscription data center environment. Complaints abound, from poor patch quality to irregular updates to features arriving in Office 365 but not Exchange Server 2013 for some time. These on-premises customers, paying many thousands of dollars for their combined server and client access license fees, feel shafted on their investment. Will this tension bleed over into other areas? Is the Exchange model the new model, warts and all, for the company's cloud focus? This is a trend to watch in 2014.
The Role of the Cloud Broker Will Emerge in 2014
Whatever Microsoft does and whatever the revelations about the NSA's PRISM program mean for your business, the continued push around consumerization will mean more cloud services for your organization, not fewer. PRISM might eliminate email and other line of business data from being considered in a move to the cloud — but other, less sensitive data can still be stored in the cloud. The corporate IT department can take advantage of a number of cloud businesses that are designed to save money and lower the cost of access to data while revealing new insights and workflows that may not have been feasible for your organization before.
In 2014 that the cloud broker or cloud solution provider position will really come into its own and begin bearing fruit. Vendor neutral, pay-for-service cloud brokers will be able to consult on your situation and recommend both a provider and a strategy for making use of that provider's products and services for any given task or workload.
IT departments will be in the drivers' seats, able to really sit down with a knowledgeable set of professionals and figure out exactly what solution and what model works best. The cloud broker role will be best placed to help the furthering of the IT organization's transformation from a cost center to a place where new revenues and profits are generated — an additional trend to watch in 2014.
Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures, a consulting firm based out of Charlotte. He's also an editor with Apress Media LLC. Reach him via email and on Twitter. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.