What's in the Tech Crystal Ball For 2011?

Small businesses will need to adapt to a new tech climate focused on mobile, cloud computing, and social networking, IDC says

Market research firm IDC makes a number of tech-related predictions near the end of every calendar year, but its prognostications for 2011 may well be among the company's most dramatic yet.

A "new mainstream" is how IDC characterizes the computing landscape of next year, and you can bet the implications will be significant for companies large and small.

"Nearly every assumption of the industry's past two decades will be overthrown," IDC notes in its report.

What will the changes mean for you and your business? Here are a few potential implications to consider.

Mobile Surpasses PCs

Receiving the bulk of media attention so far has been IDC's expectation that shipments of non-PC mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets will outnumber PC shipments within the next 18 months.

While certainly not an indication that PCs are going away--such computers will actually continue to increase in sales, IDC says--the prediction of this shift does suggest that the tech world will no longer by dominated by them.

It's already no secret that employees in businesses of all kinds are increasingly demanding iPhones and Android devices for work in increasing numbers, and that's clearly not going to stop. As a result, companies of all sizes are going to have to deal with the management of all these diverse devices, including making sure they are secure.

If your company hasn't yet begun to tackle mobile device management, this would be a good time to start.

There are also specific implications for companies in particular industries. In health care, for example, 14 percent of all adult Americans will use a mobile health application to manage their health, wellness and chronic conditions next year, IDC predicts. Companies in this and other industries will need to factor such shifts into their upcoming plans.

Mobile Advertising

Not surprisingly, hand in hand with this growth in the generalized use of mobile devices will come a corresponding increase in mobile advertising.

In fact, mobile ad spending in the United States alone will reach close to $2 billion, representing an increase of 120 percent over 2010 levels--which, in turn, were 140 percent higher than 2009 levels, IDC noted.

Given that half of the 2.1 billion people connecting regularly to the Internet will do so via non-PC mobile devices, it stands to reason that advertising needs to follow. If your company advertises, you'll probably want to make sure your advertising budget reflects this shift.

Social Networking and SMBs

Social networking will also play a newly elevated role in IDC's predicted "new mainstream," and that's particularly true for SMBs, a full 40 percent of which will be using social networks for promotional purposes by the end of 2011, the company says.

"Small and midsize firms will increasingly flock to Facebook and other social networks to establish a free online presence that improves their ability to acquire, engage, and retain customers without the hassle and cost of setting up a traditional Web site," IDC wrote.

That trend will be particularly evident among SMBs in developing countries, the company added.

Has your small business "friended" Facebook yet? If not, there's no better time than the present.

Clouds Go Mainstream

As "the cloud" becomes a standard part of everyday computing, surging adoption by small and medium-sized businesses will be particularly evident, IDC predicts.

Specifically, more than 33 percent of midsized US firms will have adopted some cloud resources by the end of 2011, it expects. Small businesses will lag behind those figures, but in general, cloud computing will become increasingly pervasive.

In fact, the term "cloud computing" itself will start to fade away, IDC predicts -- "not because the cloud services model itself is a short-term fad; indeed, it will be the opposite: it will be because the market recognizes the cloud model as a fundamental part of IT service delivery - simply the way IT is done, and no longer worth labeling as a special model."

Emerging Markets

IT spending in emerging markets is going to grow at 2.6 times the rate of growth in developed markets, IDC predicts. This includes Asia/Pacific (but not Japan), Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East and Africa.

"Vendors that don't already have emerging market presence and offerings - particularly in the BRIC markets - will be boxing themselves out of almost 30 percent of industry spending, and over 50 percent of industry growth opportunities," IDC notes.

In other words, if your business offers IT products or services, you need a plan for these markets. If, on the other hand, it operates in one of these markets, you'll likely have new bargaining clout.

Management of Digital Information

One final note: The "digital universe" of information and content created and stored digitally will grow to 1.8ZB in 2011--up 47 percent from 2010--and to more than 7ZB by 2015.

Currently that data is stored across public clouds and between public/private clouds and legacy systems, IDC notes, but if your company is in a position to offer solutions for integration, distribution, management or analytics of this growing heap of digital information, opportunities will abound.

Regulatory compliance will be a key factor "as enterprises look to offload this cost to service providers," IDC noted.

'Are We Positioned to Compete?'

In short, the changes IDC predicts for the upcoming year require "rethinking your organization's aspirations and capabilities in the market - its offerings, target customer segments, partnership strategies, and business models," as the research firm points out.

That may be particularly true for IT providers, but businesses of all kinds will no doubt feel the effects. Don't let your business get caught by surprise.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

Tags tablet PCIDCconsumer electronicsproductivitytabletsinternetcloud computingsocial networks

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)

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