With the New Year upon us, the time is right to pause for breath, consider the year that was, and build our plans for the year ahead. In the world of business technology, 2014 was well and truly dominated by the cloud. New cloud services seemed to appear on an almost daily basis, while more established players either doubled-down on their push for market share, or struggled to make headway against more nimble or simply better funded (I’m looking at you Microsoft, Amazon and Google) competitors.
It’s no surprise then that 2015 is set to provide more of the same. New cloud providers will appear, while established players will continue to battle for market share through substantial investment in both marketing and product development.
Existing services will continue to rapidly mature and in the process become far more useful and viable for users beyond the earlier adopters and risk taking micro-business that have so far been leading the uptake of so many cloud services. More importantly ‘The Cloud’ will stop being a thing, and cloud services will simply become a standard part of the technology landscape.
So without further ado, here are the top technology issues on the agenda for small businesses in 2015.
2014 was the year that the cloud gained solid traction within a lot of previously reluctant businesses, lead strongly by Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft’s strategy of ‘Cloud First’, and the retirement of the venerable Small Business Server product line has in many cases left business with little option but to accept cloud services (not that this is necessarily a bad thing), with the leading service driving adoption being cloud based email.
While some are content simply with their email in the cloud, those businesses that have been able to recognize the opportunities that Office 365 presents have then taken advantage of other bundled services such as SharePoint and Lync to drive even greater efficiencies in their operations. 2015 will see this trend continue as confidence in the cloud grows.
Microsoft’s recent expansion of its Azure cloud platform, and introduction of Australian based hosting for both Azure and Office 365 will further drive adoption of the platform by business both large and small, removing one of the oft-stated objections to the service, being that data is stored outside of Australian shores (and therefore legal jurisdiction).
This now puts the Azure and Office 365 platforms on an even local footing with Amazon Web Services, who secured substantial Australian growth since their introduction of a local datacenter in 2012.
2015 will see an accelerating uptake of cloud services by small business for a number of core operational systems, primarily driven by the following.
- Email and Exchange
- Accounting software
- Backup and Disaster Recovery services
- Document storage and team collaboration
Mobility will continue to boom throughout 2015, driven by a combination of mobility-enabling cloud services, a proliferation of mobile device options, and end-user demand as mobility becomes a basic requirement of doing business rather than an optional upgrade.
The very concept of mobility is about having access to corporate systems and information from anywhere, not just at a desk in the office. The rapidly expanding uptake of cloud services provides a natural platform for such ‘anywhere’ access, making mobility substantially more accessible to small business users who may be adopting cloud services for other reasons.
This desire for mobile access has and will continue to strongly influence hardware manufacturers as they continue to battle for market share with ever more powerful mobile phones and tablets, and smaller and more powerful laptops.
As vendors continue to search for the next ‘killer product’ around mobility, new product categories will gain traction such as the ‘Phablet’ (combination phone and tablet) and Laptop/Tablet hybrids such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.
With the almost ubiquitous use of smartphones and the growing adoption of tablets within business (see BYOD below), more and more organisations will see a natural evolution in 2015 towards mobility for their people. The more innovative groups will actively drive the integration of mobility into their business through the use of both 'off the shelf' solutions as well as custom developed software and apps.
The "Bring Your Own Device" movement will continue to expand hand in hand with mobility and the consumerisation of technology, with many businesses already operating with some degree of BYOD within the organisation, whether they are aware of it or not.
Users will continue to strengthen personal preferences for their technology equipment, particularly around mobile devices such as smart phones where their personal device may be newer than that offered by their employer. This in turn will lead to the integration of personal devices into the corporation network (usually led by accessing corporate email), bringing with it various potential risks and costs.
2015 will see more small businesses recognizing both the potential benefits and risks of the inevitable BYOD approach to technology, with the smart ones proactively defining and implementing their own BYOD policies to manage potential risks such as data loss and security breaches.
2015 will see an increase in the presence of 'Shadow IT' within small businesses (a strong trend throughout 2014), primarily driven by staff introducing the use of new cloud services into the business without any formal planning, involvement or even knowledge by management or IT departments.
Shadow IT can be both a source of innovation for organisations but also of risk. A common example from 2014 was the almost viral proliferation of Dropbox within corporate networks for the sharing of files between people and across devices. While clearly demonstrating the power of such tools, in this context Dropbox could also effectively bypass whatever security and network management structures the organisation has in place.
Many businesses will struggle indirectly from Shadow IT throughout 2015, risking network infections, loss of data security and even compromise of critical systems. Those organisations that are able to not only effectively identify the Shadow IT within their walls, but to manage it and use it as a source of learning and innovation will not only be better at avoiding the associated risks, but better placed to profit from the process.
Make no mistake, business technology is undergoing a fundamental shift due to The Cloud, which is in turn enabling massive change in other areas of technology. 2014 saw something of a ‘coming of age’ for various cloud services as they reached a tipping point of acceptance with business both large and small.
This will accelerate through 2015 as more organisations upgrade their legacy systems and choose cloud based services as the replacement, with the obvious flow on effects in areas such as mobility and BYOD.
The smart money will be looking to capitalize on this fundamental shift by taking a proactive approach towards their cloud strategy, getting the jump on less forward looking competitors in the process.