As we bid a final farewell to 2011 and settle in for another new year, we asked several leading industry observers about their predictions for business technology in the coming year.
Desktop and Mobile Converge
Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at IDC, predicts that "desktop and mobile application development ecosystems will begin their convergence in 2012, as the industry marches to the release of Windows 8."
Touch Revolution for Enterprise Software
As part of that convergence, Hilwa said, 2012 "will mark the dawn of the touch revolution for software." He predicts that apps reworked for touch, such as new ones from Adobe, will "spur more developers to think about the truly new possibilities" now available through that kind of interaction.
This will result in a move to touch, Hilwa said, that "will be the most dramatic shift in UI [user interface] technologies since the move from text to GUI [graphical user interfaces]."
HTML5 Will Dominate Phones and Tablets
2012 will also be marked by a definitive move toward HTML5, Hilwa predicts, with HTML5 capability for "90 percent of smartphones and tablets" by the end of the year.
Desktops, however, will not reach an equal level of HTML5 penetration until mid- to late 2013. A key factor in increasing the installed base, he said, will be Microsoft's new auto-update strategy for the Internet Explorer browser.
Platform-as-a-Service Going Mainstream
Hilwa also predicts that platform-as-a-service, or PaaS, backends will be seen as "mainstream for consumer and mobile apps" in 2012.
At the same time, enterprise app vendors will increasingly engage around PaaS "as they accommodate the needs of small- to mid-size enterprises [SMBs] eager to harness cloud economics."
Information Foraging Evolves
To help predict coming enterprise trends, analyst Brad Shimmin of Current Analysis suggests that it's often helpful to look at trends in the consumer space, such as the move toward natural language and gestural interfaces, like those now available with gaming consoles.
But there's one 2012 direction in particular, he said, that may be gaining traction first in the enterprise. He's talking about "information foraging," part of an increasing trend by vendors to turn away from traditional filtering methods for organizing and finding corporate data. The term "information foraging," Shimmin said, is based on the idea that "scavenging for corporate data today and foraging for food on the Serengeti thousands of years ago aren't very different from one another."
He pointed to software vendor Lyzasoft, which offers a "collaborative intelligence platform," as a company that is "betting heavy upon the idea that we all leave traces of ourselves in everything we come in contact with." As an example, he said, "time spent in a file imparts importance in that file," and the resulting "informational scent" can be used by others "to more effectively locate resources that are contextually relevant."
Big Data Solutions Coming
Charles King, principal analyst at industry research firm Pund-IT, said he expects "exploding data growth" in 2012 to further drive the growth of "big data" solutions, like EMC Greenplum and IBM Netezza, as well as "massively scalable cloud-storage infrastructures."
Social Media Fueling Volatile Politics
King also predicts that the impact of social media in politics and news cycles, despite the huge attention it has already received, is just beginning. Heavy activity in social media, he sees, could result in 2012 becoming "an especially volatile year in politics."
Cloud Security Needed
King also said that security of data residing in the cloud needs to be addressed comprehensively over the coming year. Without improved security, there could be a serious impact on the "adoption of public cloud services and the evolution of hybrid clouds" consisting of internal and service provider offerings.
If security issues don't disrupt the move toward cloud computing, he said, the trend of small businesses driving public cloud adoption could grow in 2012.
Android Security Gets a Boost
Speaking of security, Ross Rubin, executive director of connected intelligence at NPD Group, predicts 2012 will see Android handset vendors making a stronger security push. He pointed to Motorola Mobility's recent acquisition of 3LM, maker of mobile security software and management products, as one example.
The need for improved security became apparent throughout 2011, as malware surfaced in dozens of apps in the Android Marketplace.
More Tablets with Windows 8
Elsewhere in the mobile scene, analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis said that, while a number of tablet makers are dropping out already, he expects to see other vendors moving forward with Windows 8 tablets over the course of the year.
T-Mobile's Future in Question
There's at least one tech story, Greengart predicts, that will become important in 2012, but the resolution is harder to forecast: "What will happen with T-Mobile?"
Although the AT&T merger deal has collapsed, T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom had been planning to spin it off. But, he asked, will they use the multibillion-dollar no-deal fee from AT&T to invest in growing the company?
Could Be a Tough Year for Oracle
On the enterprise front, analyst Laura DiDio with Information Technology Intelligence Corp., predicts that "reality is going to bite Oracle very hard" in 2012.
She foresees the enterprise-software giant "is going to be hitting a wall, not because of an overall weakness in the technology sector," but because, she says, Oracle has been annoying customers by "hiking prices and changing terms and conditions."
Tablets Infiltrate the Enterprise
Rounding out our predictions for 2012 with a forecast from the NPD Group's latest survey of SMBs (small and mid-sized businesses): Tablets will continue to be high on the shopping list of business decision-makers. And, Apple's iPad will remain the top preferred brand.
Although many industry observers have predicted that the rising sales of tablets would lead to PC cannibalization, the NPD survey found that less than 20 percent of SMBs expect to cut their PC purchases over the year ahead.
"Spending continues on PCs, and on tablets," said NPD Vice President Stephen Baker, "and few companies -- even the smallest ones -- are significantly reallocating their spending away from the personal computing needs of their employees."