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The Future of Technology in the Enterprise

Michael DeVito
February 22, 2016

Today’s enterprises are often portrayed as big, lumbering monoliths which are incapable of responding quickly to anything. Unlike startups, which you’ll hear called agile, disruptive, and nimble, these large companies seem to have bureaucracy, tradition, and sheer size to contend with when trying to enact any sort of change—including the adoption of new technology.

Though this reputation holds true in some cases, it’s often vastly overstated. A true enterprise will likely never be able to adopt new technology as fast as consumers or as a startup, but today’s biggest companies have more advanced technology at their disposal than in any previous era. Thanks in part to rapid innovation in technology on the consumer side, enterprises are able to slowly phase in new gadgets and tech which can help transform business.

Using mobile apps, wearables, IoT, and everything in between, companies all over the world are proving that there’s a compelling need for technology in the enterprise. Today, we’re going to examine a few key technologies to see what adoption looks like now, and where it’s headed in the future. You may be surprised what the enterprise is up to these days.

The Enterprise Goes Mobile... With Apps

Mobile apps aren’t just for consumers—there’s more to them than time-killing games or ridesharing.

According to Citrix, the number of devices managed in the enterprise increased 72% from 2014 to 2015; employees use 3+ devices daily for work activities. What's more, an Apperian study from Q4 2015 found that the mean number of apps companies have deployed is nearly 35 (the median number is 13). Some companies are deploying as many as several hundred mobile apps across the organization! Of course, some companies have only deployed a handful of apps, as well.

True enterprise mobility involves more than one-off apps or just “going mobile” for the sake of going mobile. Like consumer apps, many enterprise apps have high abandon rates—they’re used once and then deleted, or left to sit collecting dust on users’ phones. Apps must be easy to use, easy for the enterprise to manage, and must improve or streamline processes and core business functions in order to succeed.

Apps which are truly transformative—which change the way employees or other users perform key business functions—may find it harder to achieve initial adoption, but more likely to have a long-standing impact in the organization. Apps which mobilize one or two tasks or which perform otherwise simple functions may be easier to “sell” to employees, but their chances of continual use are lower. Employees will almost always take the path of least resistance, so if an app doesn’t make a task easier or streamline a process, it’s likely it will end up in the trash like so many one-and-done apps users are familiar with on the consumer side.

Looking forward, an Appian/Harris Poll study of 306 decision makers found that more than 90% of IT decision makers see enterprise mobility as "the critical function for customer engagement, competitiveness and operational productivity in 2016." The same study found that enterprise mobility was second only to cloud-based applications and solutions (61% and 70%, respectively) in terms of what's expected to yield the biggest returns in 2016.

Ultimately, enterprise mobility is still a nascent space with significant room for growth. However, high abandon rates for some enterprise apps and slow user adoption for apps which transform key business functions still stand in the way of true mobility for enterprises. It’s clear that enterprises seeking to be truly mobile must find ways not only to develop meaningful apps, but also to manage them and build buy-in amongst employees.

Wearable Tech—Not Just for Consumers

It wasn’t long ago that wearable devices like the Fitbit started on their quest to transform the way we view fitness and health. By enabling everyday people to track activity levels, Fitbit hoped to encourage more activity and to become a fitness staple of consumers. (Interestingly enough, Fitbit itself has made its way into many companies with Fitbit Wellness, which uses Fitbit devices and software to promote health and wellness amongst employees.)

If the premise behind wearables targeted at consumers is changing behavior or simplifying everyday tasks, the premise behind wearables in the enterprise is similar. Much like how mobile apps in the enterprise should streamline processes or transform key business functions, wearables should make employees’ lives easier and more efficient. There’s one key note here, however: given how long it’s taken the enterprise to adopt mobile apps (or even cloud computing), we’re likely still a ways off from wearable technology having any meaningful impact in an enterprise environment.

That’s not to say some companies haven’t already found ways to utilize wearable technology. Logistics provider DHL, for example, is rolling out a project involving smart glasses. As EnterpriseAppsTech's James Bourne notes, some warehouse operators at DHL use augmented reality technology to improve efficiency by saving time. The pilot program resulted in 25% greater efficiency.

Whistler Blackcomb, a mountain resort operator, recently partnered with a software company to improve operational efficiency with smart glasses. The glasses pair up with RFID technology in lift gates to show staff real-time data about guests, and also seek to reduce lift maintenance times "by ensuring the right person is directed to the job as fast as possible." Google is apparently even working on a new version of Google Glass specifically designed for use within the enterprise.

Though perhaps not as futuristic as employees using smart glasses, some companies also use Fitbits or other wearable step counters to promote employee fitness, and even lower health insurance rates. Nonetheless, this simpler use case is still indeed a case of wearable technology in the enterprise. Solutions need not be complicated to be effective.

As companies continue their efforts to identify the best use cases for wearable technology for consumers (see: Apple Watch, Google Glass, etc.), it seems the biggest challenge for wearable technology in the enterprise is figuring out exactly where it fits into the productivity equation. As mobile app management provider App47 asks, after seeing how slowly the enterprise has adopted mobile apps and BYOD, "why does everyone suddenly think that wearables in the enterprise are going to take off at the speed of light?" Certainly, there are real use cases for enterprise wearables. But given that there are other technologies, like cloud computing, which have a greater chance of improving productivity, it’s hard to say how long it will be until wearables cement their place in the enterprise.

Security is also an issue. A survey by Ipswitch found that security breaches are the top concern among IT professionals when people are wearing technology to work. It's difficult to ensure security for many of these wearable devices, but that doesn't mean it doesn't need to be done.
Despite all of this, wearables still hold a lot of promise in the enterprise. Exactly where they’ll be used is unclear, but early tests show that smart wearable technology can indeed be fruitful.

The Internet of Things

With more and more people donning wearable technology every day, and with the number of connected devices increasing at an incredible pace, it only makes sense to talk about the growing impact of the Internet of Things on the enterprise.

Gartner estimates from late 2015 show almost 2 billion Internet of Things units installed in the enterprise in 2015. Gartner forecasts that nearly 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016 (up 30% from 2015), with roughly 2.4 billion of those things installed in the enterprise. By 2020, Gartner estimates that there will be almost 7.3 billion enterprise IoT units in use.

Despite accounting for a much smaller percentage of total installed IoT units than consumer IoT tech, enterprise IoT spending is significant—approximately $767 billion in 2015, expected to rise to almost $1.5 trillion by 2020! If Gartner's estimates turn out to be correct, the enterprise will account for 35% of all the Internet of Things units in use in 2020, but will account for almost half (49%) of IoT spending. No matter how you look at it, it seems we can expect spending and the number of IoT devices in use to increase significantly over the next 4 years.

Many consumers are already familiar with consumer IoT devices like smart thermostats and security systems, or connected appliances, but what exactly will connected units do in the enterprise? The short answer: it depends. General devices—what Gartner calls cross-industry devices—include connected light bulbs, HVAC, and building management systems which any company can use. Vertical-specific devices, like equipment used in hospitals or to track cargo in container ships, are limited to certain use cases but are still quite practical.

Examining IDC's "Worldwide IoT Spending Guide by Vertical" reveals that the use cases we just mentioned are only the beginning. Connected devices are also being used to monitor air traffic, automate public transit, enable "smart agriculture," improve efficiency in manufacturing, and more. With so many possible uses for connected devices across such a wide variety of industries, it’s no wonder that we may soon see tens of billions of devices in use around the world.

The IoT is not without its pitfalls, however. As with wearable technology (which is indeed part of the IoT), security is a significant concern within the Internet of Things. That’s true on the consumer level, too, but is especially pertinent within the enterprise. A study from 2014 found an average of 25 vulnerabilities per IoT device, "many of which were severe and resulted in remote code execution." And that was at the very beginning of the rise in popularity of the IoT. Shockingly, only 20% of enterprises will have digital security services devoted to protecting business initiatives using devices and services in the IoT by the end of 2017, according to Gartner.

There are a number of factors which make IoT security so difficult. First is the sheer number of devices. Second, as of right now, there are no clear standards for IoT security. Finally, because there are so many manufacturers making IoT devices today, getting everyone to agree on what security standards should look like (much less how to implement them) is a gargantuan task.

Internet of Things connected devices are already in use in many companies, but the IoT’s biggest challenge moving forward is without a doubt security. Expect significant investment and research into securing IoT devices if they are to see any kind of long-lasting impact within the enterprise.

A New Reality With VR

The last piece of technology we’re going to examine today is also perhaps the most distant (or at least the most abstract): virtual reality, or VR. VR is by far the newest technology of anything we’ve discussed here—at least in the form it’s taken today—and it also suffers the most from a lack of practical use cases within the enterprise. Do we really need virtual conference rooms or VR-enabled calls when robust telecommunications technology already exists? That’s a hard question to answer.

Not long ago, preorders for the long-awaited Oculus Rift went live, perhaps the first step in the growth of a true virtual reality market—for consumers, at least. Analysts see a lot of promise in devices like the Rift for gaming and communication, two areas which could serve to benefit from the immersive experience that VR offers. Because the technology is so nascent, it’s as of yet unclear exactly what the best use for VR in a business setting may be.

Last year, Computerworld discussed predictions for virtual reality in the enterprise. Potential uses included training, building relationships with remote workers, reducing business travel, and improving the sales process. With VR still in the beginning stages of adoption and development in both the consumer and enterprise spaces, the sky is truly the limit. Companies continue investing in developing VR hardware and software, but as with the IoT, wearable devices, mobile apps, and other technologies that came before, it will likely be a while before we see a substantive number of companies using VR to change their businesses.

Slow Adoption, But Big Promise for the Future

Though enterprise adoption of new technology may never be as quick as it is in the consumer space, technology like mobile apps, the IoT, and even VR holds tremendous promise for the future. Despite challenges—security chief among them—many companies are already getting on board with innovative new technologies that are changing the way people do business.

The use cases for (relatively) more mature technologies like mobile apps within the enterprise are clearer, while finding practical uses for nascent technologies like VR remains an ongoing challenge. Nonetheless, just as smartphones, laptops, cloud computing, and even the Internet slowly made their way into the enterprise after they were developed, so too can we expect these newer technologies to continue their development on the path towards adoption within the enterprise.

With so many possibilities on the horizon, and with so much change already happening, it’s exciting to think about what tomorrow’s enterprise may look like. No one knows for sure what technologies enterprises will be using 5, 10, or 20 years into the future, but if one thing’s for certain, it’s that there will likely be a lot of change in that relatively short time frame.

What do you think the future holds for new technology in the enterprise? Let us know what you think! Connect with our team on social media (Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn) to share your predictions.


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