Tech Trends

Tech Trends to Watch

We all look to the future from time to time and since it is a new year taking a closer look at the following tech trends might be fun and give us a glimpse into what might be affecting our businesses in the coming years.

On-Demand Software

Ask any corporate technology executive: The wave of the future is software delivered over the Internet (think web-mail services like Google's Gmail) rather than locally installed applications on company-owned desktops and servers. Tech staffs and financial officers like "software as a service" because they don't have to invest in massive data centers and they can buy or cancel the service when they add or subtract employees. pioneered the model, but others, including IBM, Microsoft and even Oracle are also looking at ways to deliver software via the web. Smaller companies, too, are applying the software-as-a-service model to specific corporate functions. SuccessFactors in San Mateo, CA, helps companies conduct employee-performance appraisals and assess employee goals online. They are also pursuing opportunities in "business execution software," that marries its existing employee-performance software with tools that help workers meet overall strategic goals. The hope is the service can help companies lower costs while getting employees to execute better.

Another company poised to benefit from the software-as-a-service trend is Seattle-based F5 Networks. F5 sells bundled servers and software that speeds up the delivery of web-based applications. Clients already include eight of the top nine on-demand software providers.

Health care is another huge growth area for on-demand software. Information technology has tried for decades, with little success, to penetrate doctor's offices and hospitals, as the providers have always cited cost as a deterrent. The U.S. health-care system is about to go digital, though, thanks to a proposed $45 billion in federal funds earmarked for health information technology. One company that stands to benefit is AthenaHealth, which provides physicians on-demand software to automate billing and payment.

Rise of the Smartphone

As sales of traditional handsets slow, smartphones that can access the Internet, led by the rise of the iPhone continue to grow in popularity.
Thanks to an aggressive expansion into international markets, Apple now has 18% of the global market share in these high-end devices (behind Nokia and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion). And if history holds true, Apple is just getting started. Apple has built a mobile-computing platform that aims to do for phones what Microsoft's Windows operating system did for the desktop.

Broadcom, the global chip manufacturer, already has a strong position in the wireless world and it's leading the way through their chips in the newest iPhones. Its chips enable phones to connect to local wireless networks (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), play videos and offer GPS navigation capability. Some believe that smartphones represent the future of computer technology, enabling smaller and more agile devices.

Data, Data, Everywhere

Consumers and businesses are constantly generating astounding amounts of data, from home videos to corporate e-mail and employee records. The companies that can capture, store, manage and make sense of that growing volume of data are going to be forefront in the coming decade. Google, which converts online information searches into a platform for advertisers, is clearly the biggest and best example of a company taking advantage of the trend. But other companies are poised to take on data overload. Informatica, in Redwood City, CA, helps large corporate customers sort and view the vast streams of information that come pouring in from their employees, customers and suppliers. The software company provides a data-integration service that organizes information across multiple corporate applications. It could, for example, sync web-based information about their sales activity with internal customer-management software to help managers figure out which customers are consistently securing the biggest discounts. Others, like ComVault, provide solutions addressing the problem of how to secure and ultimately use all the data collected and generated, whether for strategic reasons or compliance regulations.

Smaller and Smaller

This may sound like a commercial for the "Jetsons", but science dealing with subatomic particles and practical applications are coming into their own. One such arm of particle research, "Quantum Dots", has developed to the state where they are expected to be the next generation of semiconductors. Early phase companies such as Solterra Renewable Technologies are bringing this technology to the forefront of semiconductor crystal development with innovative uses from flexible solar cells to energy saving LEDs. This technology is truly revolutionary with uses and applications still being explored that will open doors to advances in medical, aerospace, waste heat recovery, biotechnology & optoelectronics. Companies in this field such as Quantum Materials have plans to produce commercial quantities of quantum dots. With this production, comes the need for instrumentation for process quality control and research measurement. Leading this niche is the instrument manufacturer Nanovea, out of Irvine, CA. Current developments in materials research may soon be affecting us in ways not dreamed possible only a few years ago.

Electricity Gets Smarter

As development continues our electrical needs will continue to grow, our wheezing electric grid will need to be upgraded as well. Without a smarter grid, electrical overloads will become more common, because the grid currently doesn't have the interactive capabilities needed to monitor and balance all that activity. One of the chief problems utilities face with today's grid is an inability to predict demand. When demand spikes, an overloaded system may fail, sending everyone into darkness. And energy prices are also likely to jump.

Boston-based EnerNOC has developed energy monitoring software that manages energy use for customers who have signed agreements to throttle back on nonessential energy use during peak periods in exchange for payment. With this "demand response" system, utilities get the power they need to make it through peak emergencies and power users get paid for their help. As of November, more than 2,500 entities from state governments to grocery stores to steel plants have signed up with EnerNOC, effectively putting 3,250 megawatts of power under its management.

Source: Michael Copeland via

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