A number of big changes will start to impact IT in 2014 — but you should likely be thinking about them over the holiday break. Here are three trends I'm watching and what they will mean as we all get ready for the New Year.
First, robotics will move very rapidly now that Google is chasing the robot market. The question: Who will buy and maintain these robots, which will be increasingly used for anything from manufacturing to security? They'll need software updates, for one, and eventually they'll need to be managed like PCs, but the jobs robots replace or supplement will reside in other functions. Like all emerging technologies that enter at the bottom line, managers will initially be making the decisions without input from IT.
Think about the kind of vendor you'll chose for this, how your robot will be managed and maintained, and making sure the purchase/maintenance process encompasses the years of experience managing tech IT possesses will help assure that the result is as good as it can be.
Second, 3-D printing and scanning, especially for complex parts and products, will have a significant impact on what you build or buy. Advances in metal, ceramic and blended metal/plastic products in 2013 introduced printers that create amazing things. But this also creates risk. As customers scan and recreate the products you sell, divisions scan and print products using copyright-protected designs, and employees use printers for unapproved purposes.
Remember that IT has useful experience with intellectual property, particularly with preventing people from copying protected IP without proper permissions. IT typically manages printers and photocopiers, setting policies that prevent their use for everything from personal invitations to body parts. Update these policies to include 3-D printers and scanners to assure they're used properly and don't become a bigger problem than benefit.
Third, watch out for wearable technology. I recently suggested that IT departments should ban Google Glass ahead of its general release — an always-on, head-mounted camera, much like an always-on tape recorder, represents too much of a security risk.
But Google is hardly the only vendor creating potentially risky consumer products. Smartwatches such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear also have built-in, always-available cameras and microphones. Revisit your smartphone policies, given the camera quality on these devices and the fact that they, too, have always-on microphones. You can't block them, but making stiff penalties for using smartphones in a way that's harmful to the business, enforcing these policies and communicating the enforcement to prevent bad behavior could go a long way toward protecting your firm.
We live in a BYOD world, and "D" does mean "device." Increasingly, these devices won't be tablets, laptops or smartphones but something new and exciting to employees but dangerous to firms. Anticipating the problems associated with the devices and putting in place enforced policies before the problem occurs should go a long way toward ensuring your competitors have the pleasure of learning from mistakes while you avoid them.
Enjoy the holidays. Next year will bring a whole new set of unique challenges.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.