Are clouds here to stay? Why is the Web dead? Are Fortune 100 companies buying Tablets? Here are some answers.

Triple bottom line’s up to your company! It is that time of the year. And what a year it has been! Thankfully, the economy is inching away from the Great Recession. In the meanwhile, Information Technology has a few new paradigms, and the Facebook IPO has still not happened. Apple’s market cap has surpassed Microsoft’s. 4.8 million hours were spent playing Pac-Man, and businesses lost an alleged $120mn  when Google doodled.

HTC launched the first 4G phone. HP bought Palm, and fired another one of its CEOs. Oracle completed its acquisition of Sun, hired HP’s ex-CEO, and involved the company’s current CEO in a multibillion dollar lawsuit. Tablets became the new chill pill, and Angry Birds the new killer app. Quite the year!

Wondering what lies ahead? Some answers. 

You may not know what Cumulonimbus clouds are. You will know what Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud is

Expect the number of applications and data in virtual environments to keep growing. Companies without existing investments in legacy systems (like ERP systems in a central server, hooked up to the LAN) will find it easier to adapt their business processes to the Cloud. Enterprises will migrate to a private cloud, and then start operating in a hybrid private-public environment.

Again, it is a matter of scale and maturity. As more and more companies get into the Cloud, and Cloud technology offerings mature, current barriers-to-entry, like security concerns for example, or a lack of standardisations and complicated service-level-agreements will be smoothened. 

Migrating to the cloud is easy. No CAPEX , and a multi-tenancy hosting contract can be as cheap as a movie and dinner for two. All you need is a credit card. And if there are issues, Robert Scoble’s email address is widely available.

The Web may be dead. And we may have killed it. With a little help from Steve Jobs 

That may be an exaggeration. Web-based services are here to stay. Websites may go Semantic, but they will not go away. What will happen is, we will use the browser less and less to get on the Internet. Instead, we will be using semi-open or closed platforms which will employ the Internet for delivery, but not necessarily a browser or HTTP.

The best example of this is using apps to access dedicated services, a trend started by Apple. Today, the number of apps available for the iPad/iPhones and Android markets push to a quarter million (there are some 300,000 apps for the iPhone alone).

There are also going to be more players in the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and P2P (peer-to-peer technology) space, companies like Skype (which incidentally uses both) that will disrupt the way we do things and who we are.

Take one Tablet, and call me next year

Remember Tablet PCs? Not the iPads silly, or Galaxy, but the bulky notebooks launched by HP and Toshiba years ago. Tablets are gaining so much traction today for the same reason tablet PCs did not really, and the reason is form factor. And of course, the sheer number of things to do using that form factor. About two-thirds of the Fortune 100 companies have already begun deploying iPads for enterprise use, says Tim Cook, chief operating officer of Apple.

Tablets are still pricey, but as early adopters make way for the early majority crowd in the typical technology adoption cycle that we are seeing, prices will come down. There may not be $35 Tablets for everyone yet, as the Indian HRD Ministry had rather hastily promised, but tablets prices should ballpark high-end smart phones in the coming year or two.

While 2011 is going to be the year of the Tablet, what remains to be seen is if some flavor of Windows will still be the OS of choice. 

Local is the new Glocal. You are Tom Cruise

GPS technology and fine-grained mapping systems are increasingly available in mobile phones. Thanks to real-time location-based services, you can be gently nudged to a store a few feet away from you as you are walking past a mall. Your phone’s unique identifier can even alert the marketing agencies which demographic cluster you belong to - say, male, between ages 25 to 34, plays Angry Birds, has between 25 to 35 downloaded apps, movie-goer, car-owner. Any details that can identify you as a person will be strictly encrypted, but the advertisers will know enough to blast advertisement and promotional offers customised for you, and depending on where you are at the moment.

Search and surfing will increasingly become location-aware; and you will have the option to opt-in, or opt-out. Those smart folks at the IBM Research Labs are working on technology that will allow pushing personalised advert to customers, tailor-made to reflect their interests and preferences, and they are coming for you.

If you have seen ‘Minority Report’, you must remember how bill boards flashed personalised advertisements to Tom Cruise as he got on the subway. Matter of time before the local bhajiwallah beeps you with special offers as you walk past their store. Onions, however, may not be on sale. 

The customer is your wife. She is also your mother

Prepare to be told what you are doing wrong. Prepare to be told what to do. Prepare to be told, period. If consumers becoming tech-savvy were so last year, consumers tweeting about your company so this year, next year is going to be about more and more consumers demanding they be involved in your company, products and processes. Users are no longer content to be passive recipients of what you give them, they want in. And when we say users, we mean your employees as well.

More and more companies are building engagement platforms to involve their customers. These platforms are either part of their corporate portals, or spun off as a separate website altogether. Discussions are not only moderated by the company, companies like Pepsico also have engagement officers to ensure stickiness, and consumer engagement is a job function with key performance indicators like any other.

The rules of engagement are emerging even as you read this. Issues like Intellectual Property for example, are yet to be sorted out.  It is also unclear how to keep your users continuously involved once you do have a platform. What is certain however is that emotional equity can have the shelf life of a ripe banana. You are just a few text messages away from being voted out!

You have no privacy. You got over it. Now face the music

Scott McNealy is a visionary. “You have no privacy,” the Sun CEO had famously told reporters way back in 1999. “Get over it,” he had added. Beam us up, Scottie. We have gotten over it, a decade or so later. Now we are trying to figure out just how much of our information is scattered over the Web, and the long-term implications of leading a public life.

Not only is everything you do over the Internet being tracked, tracking companies also let you see what information they have about you. If you want to see how YOU are helping some marketing agency get richer, log on to Rapleaf. If you are using a smartphone, your browsing and usage patterns are being mapped by various applications and vendors; and some of the data is personally identifiable, at least in theory, because your cell phone unique identifier code is just that. Then there is history sniffing - where cookies can track your browsing history - and know exactly how naughty or nice you have been.

Facebook had a few trysts with the privacy police this year, as did Google, and online privacy advocates are pushing for new legislation. The new year will bring fresh issues and concerns. For example, should governments be allowed to interfere in privacy issues, and who watches the watchdogs. In the meanwhile, you have your 15 minutes of fame. Just make sure you are watching your enterprise data like a hawk.

Maybe this world is another planet’s hell. Maybe it does not have to be

Data center energy consumptions have doubled over the last decade. Used computers and cell phones end up in landfills or incinerators or wind up in developing countries, especially in Asia, where e-waste is a booming trade (To give you a perspective, 25,000 workers are employed at scrap yards in Delhi alone, where 10,000-20,000 tonnes of e-waste is handled each year, 25 percent of this being computers, says Greenpeace International.) Foxconn International Holdings, a contract manufacturer in China that makes iPods, iPhones, and iPads, asks employees to sign no-suicide pledges. It is part of the company’s suicide prevention initiatives; eighteen employees attempted suicide this year, and 14 were successful. Mistreatment, employee abuse and discrimination were alleged, and later substantiated, by independent audits conducted by Apple.

Discussions on carbon footprints have gone beyond the living room of the elitist few, and is on its way to becoming a mass concern. The Foxconn suicides were widely publicised, and the company is believed to have increased wages and improved labour conditions. Facebook’s young CEO has committed to donate the majority of his wealth to charity, and began by donating $100mn to public schools in Newark, New Jersey.

Larry Ellison went public saying that he had always intended giving away 95 per cent of his personal fortune, and has put his assets in a trust to that effect. He had already given away hundreds of millions of  dollars to medical research and education, he says. Google has invested in wind farm, and is working towards energy efficiency. Twitter (and social media in general) has raised awareness and encouraged donations for clean water initiatives or malaria eradication. Corporate social responsibility is no longer something nice to feel good about (just ask BP) but in the new enterprise ecosystem it will be among the key metrics of stakeholder value.

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