Big Thoughts, General Technology

Taking stock of my 2010 tech predictions

Writing predictions is always fun because if you get one right it makes you look like you have extraordinary psychic skills. And if you get it wrong, well, so what? How could you really know?

On a more serious note, publishing predictions can be valuable content if they are formed by using unique insights to aggregate qualitative and quantitative observations, such as interviews with industry leaders or analyzing trend data.

In January 2010, I published a list of my technology predictions for the year ahead. I’ve been approached by many of you to revisit those predictions and state a verdict on each. While I hit a few right on, I certainly over-estimated the rate of change. In addition, like many of us who make predictions, we’re often caught off guard by the introduction of an unanticipated disruptor (read: iPad!). But that’s what makes our industry fun. Making technology predictions is somewhat of an oxymoron: innovation is by nature unpredictable.

So here are my top 10 technology predictions for 2010 and the assessment of how things actually turned out:

1. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

Prediction: 2010 will be a big year for providers of software as a service (SaaS). The obvious big names in this space will release new offerings to compete with popular desktop applications.

Verdict: This was a slam dunk, although admittedly one of the easier predictions. Gartner predicts that the SaaS market will have grown an outstanding 14 percent in 2010.

2. Netbooks

Prediction: This popular form-factor will have outstanding sales and may even surpass laptop sales by year-end. Given its remarkable low-cost, we will likely see more offerings that make available free netbooks.

Verdict: Wrong. Netbook sales in 2010 took a nose-dive. After outstanding sales in 2009, interest waned and the market crashed. Some blamed the introduction of the iPad, although many have argued that the audiences aren’t necessarily the same. However, there is some agreement that the introduction of the iPad and the tablet format in general did impact the overall sales of portable computers as a broader category.

3. Cloud services

Prediction: An obvious growth area in 2010; we will see new and expanded services from all the usual suspects. Expect major announcements from large businesses and government agencies choosing to move some of their core applications and data to the cloud.

Verdict: Correct. An easy call. Major adoption and spending continues. This week alone the General Services Administration announced it is moving all 15,000 of its employees to Gmail and Google Apps. The continued expanded use of the cloud is anticipated to grow in leaps and bounds in the years ahead.

4. Mobile money

Prediction: By late 2010, paying for products and services via a mobile device such as a cellphone will begin to emerge in the mainstream U.S. Multiple flavors will be available including custom applications and text messaging.

Verdict: While we see progress in this area, I was too optimistic on where we would be by the end of the year. There is no doubt that there is considerable innovation taking place, but we are still a distance from seeing broad adoption of mobile money in the U.S. I do continue to believe strongly that this will be a major area of growth in the years ahead.

5. Free software

Prediction: If current trends continue, it’s quite possible that all software will be available in a form of free, but 2010 will be the first year that this trend reaches a point of inflection. A combination of enterprise-class open source, freemium, freeware, ad-supported, and alternate revenue-model software will have lasting and destructive impact on the notion of license-paid software.

Verdict: Mixed. The big winner in 2010 was open source. We continue to see high adoption rates in the enterprise from products such as WordPress and Ubuntu (implementation and maintenance costs assumed). Worth watching are those organizations that are permitting staff to bring their own home computers to work that in effect offloads enterprise software costs to the employee.

6. Harvesting the social graph and Web-Squared

Prediction: 2010 will see the introduction of the first widely available and easily usable products for better understanding the mass of unstructured data being accumulated across public and private clouds. The emergence of intelligent solutions to interpret massive related and un-related data in order to create forecasts and identify trends will help people make more sense of the world and see previously hidden signals.

Verdict: Some momentum building here, but no critical mass. A notable player, Hadoop has seen considerable growth over the year. But easy-to-use, mass-adopted applications are still a distance away.

7. More video

Prediction: Continued investment in video infrastructures will see greater use in work and non-work environments. It will be more common (but still not ubiquitous) to have video conversations with colleagues and external parties such as customers and suppliers.

Verdict: Notwithstanding the fascinating war-of-words this year between Adobe and Apple on the strategy to support video on devices, this was an outstanding year for continued broad adoption of video. According to a survey conducted by LifeSize, 51 percent of mid-sized enterprises polled use video conferencing and the majority of those that don’t are planning to use it.

8. Green IT

Prediction: This may be an inconsistent area of investment as continued tight budgets and more immediate costs (e.g. migration to updated operating systems) distract from major green initiatives. However, going into 2011 and beyond, broad adoption of virtualization and further movement toward hosting in the cloud may help organizations lower their data center carbon footprint.

Verdict: Mixed. As I predicted, the focus on tightening costs for many CIOs forced some distraction from this subject, although greater use of cloud computing, broader recognition and pursuit of LEED certification, and better system efficiencies in general remained consistent themes.

9. Mobile Location-based services (LBS) and augmented reality (AR)

Prediction: Expect to see an extraordinary number of start-ups and existing technology companies offering mobile LBS-related services. Proximity-based solutions will become more common. Mobile devices will begin to offer compelling overlay data for the real world that help people with existing and new activities. Lots of noise and confusion will ensue as both consumers and providers try to figure out acceptable services. For example: How will people respond when they stroll through a mall and are bombarded with text messages from different retail stores?

Verdict: Correct. Both LBS and AR continue to be exciting and innovative technologies that are growing in leaps and bounds. The exceptional successes of both FourSquare and Gowalla and the use of places in both Facebook and Twitter are indicative of consumer interest.

10. Social spaghetti integration

Prediction: More social features will begin to show up in enterprise resource planning (ERP) apps. New and increased support for ERP solutions that, for example, integrate social networking, will see a further blurring of the lines between work and non-work applications and activities.

Verdict: Mixed. With two major standouts: Salesforce Chatter and Facebook integration, this space is seeing growing interest, but considerable lack of coordination and direction. At the Web 2 Summit in San Francisco in November, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, went to great lengths to suggest that social is coming to all applications over the next few years. This will be a fascinating area to watch and participate in.

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