Microsoft’s technology predictions for 2015: IoT matures, cybersecurity bulks up and mobile gains ground

Alvaro Celis, Vice President, Microsoft Asia Pacific, gives his take on the technology trends set to shake up 2015.

The last few years, I’ve had the good privilege of being a part of a major shift towards cloud technologies in Asia Pacific. Without a doubt, the cloud has been a transformative technology across the board, with organizations regardless of their size or sector achieving measurable business results.

According to a recent Microsoft-sponsored survey of 291 IT decision makers across 10 markets in Asia Pacifici we discovered that 71% of IT leaders in the region are prioritizing Cloud technologies in the next three years. They also ranked the Internet of Things, big data, mobile and social as being the top four technology disruptors for organizations. There is a major shift in intent when it comes to the cloud. It is no longer seen as new and disruptive. It is mainstream, a must-have in every CIO’s IT strategy.

As we look at key business drivers for businesses in 2015, there is no question that growth and greater agility will best derived from technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity, mobility and machine learning.

IoT is poised to go mainstream

IoT is continuing to mature across a range of industry sectors, and companies are focused on the actionable potential IoT holds for businesses today. Companies are keen to understand and utilise IoT within their businesses, a trend that is evinced by a staggering 430% increase in searches for IoT on Bing over the past 12 months.

IoT is not just about connecting “things”. The proliferation of cloud computing and sensors have paved the way for businesses to gain access to nearly unlimited amounts of data that can drive competitive advantages. In 2015, we will start to see CIOs and business leaders reimagining the enterprise by harnessing this data to act on key insights, improve customer service, detect problems before they occur, reduce time to market, enable new innovation in product and services development, and ultimately transform themselves with new business models and revenue streams.

Rockwell Automation is a prime example of the transformative power of IoT – in this instance not only transforming their business, but an entire industry. Rockwell is building new forms of intelligence to transform the petroleum supply chain by providing managed monitoring and support for its product across the globe. This includes cloud-based solutions that use software, sensors and devices to predict equipment failures along the vast oil and gas supply chain, track performance in real time, and help refine designs and processes to prevent failures in the future – all to ensure your local gas pump has fuel when you need it.

However, IoT is not just for the big boys. In 2015, the idea of IoT will become a tangible reality for businesses of all sizes. Many small businesses may feel overwhelmed by IoT, but we they can succeed by starting small with a few changes that can make a big impact. The Internet of Your Things, as we like to refer to it at Microsoft, is not about ripping and replacing technologies. It’s about leveraging what companies already have and adding to their existing systems so everything works better together. Here are a couple of examples:

  • A local retailer can think about how smarter point of sale (POS) terminals can increase cross-selling and up-selling opportunities, how sensors that monitor traffic patterns throughout a store can better facilitate customer service interactions and how they can track shelf inventory data in real time through a device to better meet customer demand; and
  • A small manufacturer can add sensors to the factory floor that can “talk” to diagnostic monitors to improve production efficiency and reduce down time.

Leveraging insights from big data is another way to get started. BlackBall, a Taiwanese tea and dessert chain, which wanted better business insights to help support its regional growth. Partnering with Microsoft, the company is using new insight into data from multiple sources, including social media feedback and its own product sales, to improve its competitive advantage and make better marketing decisions. We believe IoT going mainstream will move SMBs from “running a business” to finding ways to make it thrive.

Machine learning will be the new frontier for competitive advantage

In 2015, businesses will begin to make full use of big data services in the cloud and we expect machine learning to grow exponentially across the retail, manufacturing and health care sectors in particular. Machine learning is the veritable next step in data analytics and is essentially a type of artificial intelligence that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed to do so.

Rampant growth will be driven by three factors: broader access to machine learning tools and services, massive computing power connecting systems and services, and the explosion of online data. These developments will create more opportunity for organisations to use machine learning for data-driven decision making.

One way we expect to see machine learning positively impact both SMBs and enterprises is through the rise of mobile digital assistants. From a sales perspective, Gartner predicts that by the end of 2016, more than US$2 billion in online shopping will be performed exclusively by mobile digital assistants.

Whereas for SMBs, mobile digital assistants like Cortana will help them manage the little things so they can focus on the big things instead. With the power of a search engine behind it, Cortana is able to learn more about its user and keeps track of things that interest the user, make helpful suggestions and provide relevant reminders. With mobile digital assistants capable of learning how to best serve users, business owners and employees can spend less time worrying about mundane activities and can instead focus on higher value added activities.

Niche apps and mobile payments will continue to gain ground

Mobile technologies have already had significant impact for SMBs in 2014, with many realizing the competitive advantages that can be reaped through such technology. And in 2015, businesses will continue to leverage mobility, especially SMBs.
Particularly in 2015, we will see SMBs investing in wider array of workflow-centric mobile applications particularly targeted at specific industries. We are already realizing such a trend with start-ups such as Gamurai Technologies successfully launching its VEON@HairExperience Web app in Singapore which incorporated both hairstyling and business management features, and is targeted specifically at hair salons.

Mobile payments will also gain in popularity globally and in Asia Pacific. Following the broad adoption of mobile payment solutions such as Square, Softcard and PayPal in 2014, 2015 will see a continued rapid increase in mobile commerce and payments. We will likely see new solutions gain momentum that offer businesses more choice, flexibility and the ability to integrate with existing technologies. This means businesses will now not only require a mobile-optimised Web site, but will also need mobile-enabled point of sale solutions that are integrated into their back end infrastructure to help manage inventory.

Businesses will beef up cybersecurity

People do not use technology that they do not trust. In 2014, there were too many news headlines about major companies falling victim to cybercrimes. According to a joint IDC and National University of Singapore study, cybercrime will account for US$138 billion in enterprise losses in Asia-Pacificii. Governments across the globe are re-evaluating security standards and strengthening inter-country cooperation to fight cybercrime. Interpol has even announced the opening of a new centre in Singapore to strengthen global security efforts to combat cybercrime.

It is becoming increasingly clear that businesses will have to do more to fight the increasing threat of hackers, do more to protect their businesses and prevent huge losses. We are seeing policy and technology developments that will help businesses beef up security on premises, in the cloud and across mobile devices.

We see privacy and security concerns becoming even bigger in 2015, as the cloud becomes more and more woven into the fabric of people digital work and digital life. IT brands play a critical role in ensuring that they are always ahead of the curve in security threats. That is why Microsoft has invested heavily over the years to improve our cloud technology, especially in meeting the high security and privacy standards set by governments and MNC customers. Governments, organizations and consumers need to have more active dialogue about concerns such as security and privacy to better understand and ensure that they have the right levels of ‘Trust’ built into their work and life.

Whilst technologies such as cybersecurity, IoT, mobility, and machine learning are not entirely new technologies, we are predicting that we will see dramatic surge in maturation and adoption of these technologies within Asia Pacific. The cloud of course will continue to play the role as a means of enablement to utilising these technologies and will offer businesses of all sizes unique growth opportunities and new competitive advantages.

This story was first published on Networks Asia on January 20, 2015.

i The survey, conducted in Oct 2014, was participated by 291 CIOs, IT Directors and Managers across Australia, Indonesia, Korea, Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

ii in Asia A Changing Regulatory Environment.pdf

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