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Four trends that will shape IT services in 2012

As businesses respond to the integration of consumer technologies in the enterprise, IT solution providers will need to adapt to serve the new business needs.

When it comes to trends that will shape service opportunities for VARs, resellers and managed service providers during the next 12 months, one huge factor stands out: Businesses will have to embrace and support devices and Web 2.0 concepts that are being rapidly introduced in the consumer world.

The fact is, the line between personal and professional lives continues to blur. While some view this trend with trepidation, others see opportunity. Most of the time, not only does new technology help transform work processes for greater operational efficiencies but it also inspires ever-higher levels of productivity.

With that in mind, here are four themes that the team believes will drive service opportunities for technology solution providers throughout 2012. 

1: Bring-your-own-device movement
The idea that employees should be able to use personal media tablets, smartphones or other mobile devices for work purposes has galvanized businesses of all sizes.

The rationale is simple: Since so many more workers are mobile and handling job duties during nontraditional hours, make it as convenient as possible for them to get their job done. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) philosophy suggests a company’s IT staff should support individual mobile technologies with applications, security and other services sanctioned by the company. Some organizations even offer a stipend that employees can use to fund their purchases.

Research sponsored by Citrix Systems Inc. and released in November 2011 suggests that 25% of small and medium-sized businesses support the BYOD idea. But more than half of them have no policy or controls in place to manage these devices, while another 45% are unaware of all the devices being used.

Solution providers will need to rethink how they charge clients for supporting mobile devices, especially with adequate security and access control.

--NMGI CEO Steve Harper

All this creates new challenges and opportunities for technology solution providers.

“Now people want you to support 25 different phones and 16 tablets,” said Steve Harper, president and CEO of Network Management Group Inc. (NMGI), a managed service provider in Hutchinson, Kan. “What we have is a client expectation level that goes up and costs more for the reseller.”

Solution providers will need to rethink how they charge clients for supporting mobile devices, especially with adequate security and access control, Harper said.

An opportunity to create new consulting services also exists to help companies develop their BYOD strategy, said Mauro Lollo, chief technology officer at Genuit Inc., a business solutions developer in Oakville, Ont.

Beyond assisting a company to select or standardize on certain mobile devices, Lollo said this could involve helping businesses to define new workflows and processes and rethink where data is stored. Solution providers would also create self-service technical resources and develop policies for manage wireless access costs. “Everyone is putting a fair amount of thinking around this,” he said.

2: Mobile app stores
Mobility is responsible for another shift occurring within businesses --  how software applications are delivered, developed and managed.

Think about how you generally add new applications to any smartphone or tablet device powered by the Apple iOS operating system or Google Android: You visit a mobile applications store, select the software you need, download it and usually use the application within minutes. The applications are discrete; that is, they handle one specific task or function.

Chris Ward, vice president of consulting and integration for GreenPages Technology Solutions, a consulting and integration company in Kittery, Me., said more businesses are exploring ways to apply this approach within the corporate environment. That interest is expressing itself in dramatic changes to interface expectations for applications. “Increasingly, companies are looking at a browser-embedded experience,” Ward said.

But to get there means more discipline when it comes to the way applications are developed and managed, said Genuit’s Lollo. It is not unreasonable to hope that applications will be built more with context and specific features in mind, rather than trying to encompass everything in one bloated package. “Companies are more interested than ever in using applet or modular components that stack together to do useful work for you,” Lollo said.

That means it is time for technology solution providers to think about how they build customer core applications and how they develop new ones from scratch. The days of enterprise application bloat are numbered as workers get used to consumer technologies, such as mobile apps.

3: Data management 2.0
Interest in cloud services and infrastructure, the drive to become mobile and the imperative to keep better tabs on corporate information assets are creating a need for better data management disciplines.

Kevin McDonald, executive vice president for managed service provider Alvaka Networks, in Irvine, Calif., said few businesses have thorough data classification or data deduplication strategies.

Both are critical for two big reasons. First, when companies deploy disaster recovery solutions, they need to ensure that the most important data in their information hierarchy is recovered first. Without classification techniques, this is close to impossible, McDonald said. Second, as companies move portions of their infrastructure to the cloud, security considerations will dictate where certain data stores are archived and managed.

“Most organizations are utter failures at this,” he said.

Data management also is increasingly critical as companies embrace more automated, machine-to-machine applications that provide an ever-growing stream of data that isn’t normally touched by humans. Well-managed data will be the key to next-generation business intelligence applications. “We need data that is structured in a way to analyze where we have been [and] to predict where we are going,” McDonald said.

4: The cloud
What trends piece would be complete without mention of the cloud? While the jury is still out on what portion of infrastructure projects will shift into the service model, 2012 will be a year during which many businesses take a hard look at existing technologies and invest in ways to make their business cloud-ready.

“Step one is investing in virtualized infrastructure and applications, and now the focus will be on simplification,” said GreenPages’ Ward. That means solution providers and managed service providers will find opportunities related to helping businesses automate and simplify management tasks.

Small businesses and start-up companies will begin moving a larger portion of specific applications, such as CRM, into software as a service (SaaS) models, predicts McDonald. There will be plenty of opportunities for technology solution providers to help integrate those services more deeply into other pieces of companies’ technology infrastructure, he said.

The interest in cloud services and managed services delivered remotely will require technology solution providers to rethink their service-level agreements, said NGMI’s Harper. Some particularly thorny issues are what happens if data stored in the cloud is wiped out and can’t be recovered; how is the solution provider liable; and what is the extent of that liability.

“It comes down to this: What can I do to protect my clients as they move to the cloud?” Harper said.

That, indeed, is a question that an increasing number of technology solution providers will need to address during 2012.

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years’ experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

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