2012 Tech Predictions

January 6, 2012
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Come explore the future with me, but be warned, the future is a big place, and 2012 is a small slice of time. It’s hard to be sure what the future holds, or how quickly the tech world will change. While I see all of the bellow predictions coming to pass sooner rather than later, I can’t promise we won’t be too busy playing with Siri in the coming year to enact all of these changes. That said, here is what I see on the horizon for 2012:

We will finally talk about cybersecurity in the present tense: Calling 2011 “The Year of the Hack” may have been a bit overblown. LulzSec and Anonymous conducted some very high-profile attacks, but they were only revolutionary or critical in the amount of media coverage they gave “hacktivists.” And after all was said and done, the biggest change that came out of the massive WikiLeaks insider threat was to USB policy rather than foreign policy, though once again, information security made it to the headlines.  The hacks that really matter were, as expected, too shadowy to say much about. Stuxnet and Duqu are well over a year old, credit card theft is difficult to track, and while costly intrusions are a growing concern in industry, it’s hard to say whether that’s due to an increased threat or awareness.  We also hear talk of increasingly bold intrusions by China, and Iran has recently claimed to have taken down our favorite weapons system through cyber.

Cyber crime and espionage may not have changed dramatically over the past year, but the attention that they receive has. It’s no longer an issue of hitting the snooze button after each cyber wake up call as cyber is a leading concern for government, industry, the public, and the international community. 2012 shows that despite all the cuts to security budgets, spending on cyber is expected to remain the same or increase slightly across government.  While in the past CIOs, CTOs, and CISOs struggled to justify cyber spending, an investment in network security will become the default in the coming year, especially if high-profile breaches and leaks continue. And, as the debunked Illinois water plant SCADA attacks show, rather than ignoring the seriousness of cyber, we are ready to jump to that conclusion, and countries like Iran are using alleged cyber attacks to garner international prestige. Though it may take more time to formulate a rational response, in 2012 we will no longer be talking about the threat of cyber in the future tense and “what ifs””. 2012 will be the year that the mainstream accepts the importance on cybersecurity for today’s government and enterprise.

From the PC to the device to...  Desktops and laptops won’t go obsolete in 2012, if ever, but their dominance as computing platform of choice will continue to decline, especially in certain fields like entertainment. To start, smartphones will likely become the most common type of mobile phone this year, as they already had an almost 40% share of the mobile market in November. Tablets are also becoming more and more mainstream, and will continue growing more common as they are now diversifying across the cost, performance, and size spectrum. At the same time, these devices are becoming increasingly powerful and applications are adding to their capabilities. And, it looks like more and more workplaces, including the government, are embracing mobile and the consumerization of IT. Soon, most Americans will be walking around with fairly sophisticated computers on them at all times, connected via 3G (or 4G, eventually) and WiFi.

This will have several major consequences. Clever apps will become revolutionary, as they will be accessible by almost anyone from almost anywhere. Expect to see more work in augmented reality, for example, and a greater reliance on cloud services. Mobile security will also take center stage as the prevalence of mobile devices outpaces defense and enterprises are faced with a much broader attack surface.

But tablets and smartphones are only a halfway point in the trend towards greater mobility.  Even the best smartphone has a tiny screen, meaning that you need to bring your tablet if you intend to do serious reading or jot down notes, but to really compose and create rather than consume, you still need to go home to your PC or lug around your laptop. This is less a limitation of the device’s capabilities, as my smartphone has a notepad and the phones of tomorrow should be able to handle fairly advanced word processing, let alone the tablets, than of devices themselves. In 2012, I expect more decoupling of devices, software, and applications through cloud computing, software-as-a-service, and thin clients. It will remain a fringe technology trend, but I expect that in the coming year, we’ll move closer to the vision of accessing your “computer” from any screen and interface available to you.

Cloud goes from “if” to “when” and “how”: This year, industry and federal agencies still debated whether they would switch embrace public or private clouds, dealing with concerns over service, availability, and most of all security. But as IT budgets continue to shrink or stagnate  in the public and private sector and cloud computing technology matures, we’re already seeing a shift in the debate.  For example, the NDAA will require cloud computing solutions as a cost saving measure for government agencies. That doesn’t mean old concerns will disappear, however. Organizations will still need to determine whether a private cloud, public cloud, or some combination of the two is right for them, and what they want to migrate into it. At the same time, a growing reliance in cloud computing will encourage more solutions for security problems and new approaches. In 2012, expect to see both cloud computing and cloud solutions rise sharply.

Editor’s note: We have asked each of our researchers to pull together considerations meant to help in your planning for 2012. We solicit your feedback on all these predictive posts. — bg