Monday, January 16, 2017

Future trends in Hardware for the Enterprise and the Consumer

When I wrote about the un-happenings for 2017 – technologies that will not live up to expectations, it triggered a chain of messages to create a list for hardware trends; many dig hardware, beautiful to look at, touch, feel, status symbol for some and necessity for many. Consumer hardware is evolving rapidly with quick replacements annually or at least every two years, a vicious cycle. On the enterprise front, the detachment from hardware has been slow and steady since the advent of Cloud Computing and literally Everything as a Service.

At the turn of the century what started as Application Service Providers (ASP) transformed and spawned multiple avatars: Infrastructure, Platform, Applications, and Storage as a Service followed by the Network. Not satisfied, then came Software Defined Storage, Network, Data Center and as a combo they became Software Defined Everything ! Enterprise Hardware has thus been disrupted time and again taking advantage of refresh cycles – a trend that started with desktop/laptop refresh with desktop virtualization, now creating an Infrastructure Identity crisis.

Every road warrior’s primary device has been shrinking from the laptop to the tablet to smartphone to phablets and now hybrid devices – the tablet and laptop rolled into one. The future may probably do away this need too with smartphones packing in increasing power rivalling mid-range portable computers; connect the phone to a large screen and keyboard/mouse combo via Bluetooth and you are ready to roll. Foldable keyboards have been around for a while, the advent of foldable screens will bring the next disruption.

Public WIFI services are expanding footprint globally almost to the extent of becoming ubiquitously present; security solutions are evolving to protect the nomads from being attacked as long as they follow some basic discipline. Virtual private networks across the public infrastructure and hotspots is not too far behind; some providers already offer the ability to create a segmented private secure network on their services. It is a matter of time that enterprises will no longer need to deploy WIFI solutions on campus.

Bigger trends can be seen in the immersive solutions with hardware in our lives enabled by startups and large enterprise offerings. VR is already getting embedded into smartphones, number of sensors increasing and making their presence felt on personal devices (apart from the phone the fitness band, shoes, clothing, personal accessories like rings and more to come) and surroundings – doors, restaurant tables, chairs, look around and you will find some more which are not top of the mind like air-conditioners.

Personal Digital Assistants are no longer quaint devices (remember Casio and HP ?), they are AI powered voice interactive devices and now taking the shape of Personal Robots. Notwithstanding they ordering the entire store for you based on your wishes or sending the data to the provider’s cloud, the good part is their use in healthcare to provide critical care to infants and the infirm. The combination of sensors, big data, and Artificial Intelligence is the next big wave that will bring new opportunities and threats.

From banned and restricted deployment on commercial scale, the drone has bounced back as a personal companion satiating narcissist behaviors with selfies to guarding cattle and services in open air restaurants. Use cases for enterprises are still sketchy with experiments to explore how they can be integrated into the mainstream. Can they evolve into transformer (like in the movies by the same name) like capabilities to improve upon industrial robots or replace policemen in sensitive areas for surveillance or defense ?

That 3D printing is changing manufacturing would be presumptuous at this time; the promise to change is definitely on the horizon. It is freeing up manufacturing capacity from small batches of spares or customized merchandise thus allowing for improved utilization of capacity. Automobile companies are already beginning to bring this technology to the workshop, the healthcare industry is experimenting aggressively with various appendages and parts with higher precision thus bringing better outcomes to patients.

To round it off, finally with or without physical data centers – owned or outsourced, every enterprise will require massive amounts of storage and compute power to leverage all the sensors, social media, and transactional data. Big data is getting bigger and so is the ability to process it with innovations in analytics, and this requires significantly higher scale in comparison to what enterprises have experienced; I believe that the Cloud will offer succor to the needy who recognize this and want to leverage this opportunity.

Visible or not, hardware will drive opportunity that will be leveraged using software to disrupt the conventional ! Be prepared.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Can Small & Medium Enterprise leverage Digital to achieve their full potential ?

The SME segment globally is the vehicle for growth contributing as high as 90% of GDP in some developing economies; they are also the largest employment generators for countries. Impact of any macro-economic activities are felt quickly by this segment especially when negative while they take some time to see an upside. Digitalization of the world and every industry has created opportunities in plenty for scale and disruption, the small and medium enterprises have mostly struggled to take advantage.

Most SMEs aspire to scale and become big enterprises; they are constrained by many factors – some within their control, some that they don’t and some that can be addressed with help. The recent brouhaha about Digital has resulted in consultants mushrooming with all kinds of services and offers. Owners shying away from the large names and mostly technology agnostic and ignorant, based on their understanding engage the consultants with mixed results; this is where good news now appears on the horizon.

Last week the CEO of a global IT superpower – Google – visited India; much covered by the media and debated on social media. Government functionaries welcomed the announcements on launches that help the majority of SMEs in their quest to derive benefits in the Digital world. The assumption is that technology availability to the masses will help reduce the gap between the technology haves – the big enterprise and the have nots – largely the SMEs; thus this step is seen as positive stimulus for the industry.

Interestingly the technology announcement also included a training program with certifications from Google, an institute and industry body. The workshops thus planned should trigger trials which will require support for sustaining the effort to keep the momentum going. SME business are typically Digital migrants and thus a big opportunity; trust deficit has been the constraint in their adoption of technology solutions and the fact that they do not have internal resources who can lead the way in their digital journey.

As an extension of the "Google My Business", the "Digital Unlocked" from Google is a big step forward. I believe that for this initiative to succeed, there needs to be a significant push towards publicizing the availability of the curriculum and benefits to the adopters especially the segment that is still not connected. Proliferation of the initiative through various channels will help the cause of democratizing the Digital India initiative. Future promise of tools should aid overcoming the starters block with simplicity and ease of use.

Current estimates that less than ten percent of SMEs are digitally enabled thus leaving a huge opportunity; the potential impact can be significant with increase in numbers and the ability to serve newer markets and customers. A report by KPMG predicts a direct correlation such that democratization of the digital platform will increase SME contribution to the GDP. They can definitely provide much needed stimulus to the economy in the currently constrained sentiment driven consumption post demonetization.

I believe that the entrepreneurial spirit will also see the rise of service providers who will master these tools and provide services to the SME sector. Over time this should have a multiplier effect on the services market with the cascading to B, C, and D class cities and towns. Availability of internet connections is slowly and steadily improving beyond the 2G speeds with the proliferation of new service providers as well as upgrades undertaken by the incumbents; we are at the cusp of a new world, let’s all become the catalyst !