Feeling a sense of déjà vu? You should, since many themes that dominated technology solution providers' strategies in 2012 will continue to drive the agenda in 2013.
Here are five of the biggest information technology trends likely to come up often in customer conversations in the year to come -- regardless of whether your company chooses to build services or business practices around them.
Bring-your-own device, redux
If your staff is overwhelmed with figuring out how to manage the personal media tablets, notebook computers and smartphones that people are sneaking into the workplace, brace yourself. The trend will accelerate in 2013.
Close to 59% of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) already support BYOD in some form, with the trend even higher in companies with fewer than 20 employees, according to a biannual survey of SMB IT intentions conducted by Spiceworks Inc.
The most commonly supported devices are smartphones, followed by tablets, the data shows. The responses reflect the opinions of nearly 1,400 IT professionals at companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. About 55% of those respondents were from businesses with fewer than 100 people on staff.
"To be fair, people were talking about this a long time before they started doing it. … But we definitely are starting to see more widespread adoption of BYOD," said Dave Casey, CEO of Westron Communications Inc., a network integrator in Frisco, Texas. "It's been slower than expected, but it's coming."
That means more IT solution providers and managed service providers (MSPs) will find themselves in the position of recommending to what extent (or not) their clients should support these devices within their infrastructure. Those recommendations might include implementing new security measures, including virtual desktop infrastructure, or specifying specific pieces of equipment or configurations that would be allowed to connect to the network.
The BYOD trend is having a related effect at the infrastructure level, often in the form of corporate wireless network investments. "Companies are struggling to keep up with the fact that so many devices are competing for a connection," Casey said.
One trend he is watching particularly closely: WiFi services that don't require major equipment investments but that are provisioned via the cloud. That's exactly the sort of service that drove Cisco Systems Inc.'s $1.2 billion acquisition of Meraki Inc. in mid-November.
Cloud adoption by small businesses
Although it may be partly a regional trend related to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Baroan Technologies is experiencing a dramatic uptick in Microsoft Office 365 deals, said Guy Baroan, founder and president of the solution provider, which is based in Elmwood Park, N.J.
"We are knee-deep in it. The business was picking up before Sandy, and now interest has quadrupled," he said. Google's decision to stop offering the free version of a rival set of cloud-delivered productivity apps is also a factor in the increase.
Baroan views knowledge of the Microsoft cloud suite as essential for building deeper relationships with his clients, even if it means the company might lose out on some on-premises projects.
"This is the right thing for many of them, and by helping them evaluate their options, we are becoming more 'sticky' in these accounts," he said.
More than 62% of the SMBs surveyed by Spiceworks are using some cloud-based service, a significant increase over the first half of 2012. Another 11% of respondents indicate that they plan to start using them during the first half of 2013.
Disaster recovery investments (for real)
There is a clear link between the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy and a shift in how businesses are thinking about their disaster recovery options, no matter what region they call home.
Following the hurricane, many businesses across the Northeast were offline for days, because their contingency plans were far too regional in nature. Many New York-based companies, for example, were using replication sites in places such as New Jersey or Staten Island, which were also hammered by the hurricane -- leaving them offline for days.
What's different now is that companies are more willing to update their strategies frequently and to consider cloud infrastructure far away from their headquarters locations to be a viable option, Baroan said.
"As prepared as we were, we weren't prepared for the level of devastation. It was a reminder that plans need to progress and evolve constantly; they can't be fixed in time," he said.
This begs the question: When was the last time you talked to your clients about their disaster recovery plans?
Enterprise content management evolves
Over the past several years, adoption of the Microsoft SharePoint content management and collaboration technology has continued to creep higher, meriting enterprise content management a place on the list of the top information technology trends to watch in 2013.
An estimated 63% of midsize businesses now use the platform to organize and share information, according to estimates from Forrester Research.
That foundation is helping to inspire process re-engineering projects among business line managers interested in streamlining workflows and managing many corporate documents more efficiently, said Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion Networking Corp., an IT consulting company in Warwick, R.I.
"They are really trying to rethink their business and align the technology to assist with that," he said.
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At least half of Atrion's engagement meetings now involve discussions about SharePoint integration projects, portal designs and applications that make use of its content repositories. Many of those conversations happen outside the IT department, and this requires Atrion's team to know far more about its customers' business processes than was necessary in the past.
"Instead of focusing on the technology, everything must be considered according to the experience for the user and the impact on the business," Hebert said.
That investment can be lucrative, though. He points to one project that turned from a one-off infrastructure installation to a development initiative that will take place over several years, simply because Atrion helped its client's IT and business teams see eye-to-eye on the goals. That helped the engagement grow by almost tenfold.
"You can see quickly why it's more important than ever for us to be relevant to the business first," Hebert said. "This has been a major shift over the past five years."
'Big data' gets small, soon
Hyped heavily in the enterprise IT world during 2012, the concept of using big data technologies and applications to improve business analytics and make more informed decisions apparently is about to trickle over into the SMB market.
Evidence of this includes moves by EMC, IBM and others to build middleware that pulls disparate data sets together across an organization, said Nathan Coutinho, manager of enterprise server, storage and virtualization solutions for CDW, the national IT solution provider based in Vernon Hills, Ill.
Big data solutions help businesses assess massive data sets for obvious trends that might take days or weeks to discover through manual processes -- if they were discovered at all, he said.
The cloud is likely to play a big role in the delivery of big data services to smaller companies.
One example is the effort by Intuit Inc. to aggregate data from the companies using its QuickBooks Online accounting and financial management software to help offer customers better insights into how to run their own businesses better. Other cloud services companies focused on the SMB market are building similar capabilities.
"This is like cloud computing was three or four years ago in that it will take time to play out. But there are now more specific solutions coming out that even small and medium businesses can identify with," said Benson Yeung, founder and senior partner at Triware Networld Systems LLC, an integrator in Santa Clara, Calif. "Right now, this is something I am watching closely."
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years of experience.
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