What to expect when 2013 logs in

December 11, 2012

With the year 2012 logging out in a few weeks, the time seems right for reflection and even prognostication. Since the faculty of the W. P. Carey School’s Department of Information Systems spends 12 months probing the edges of our IT knowledge, we at KnowIT decided to ask them for a sampling of their thoughts. We asked what recent developments they have observed that surprised challenged or troubled them. What do they think we may encounter in 2013? Several of our thinkers responded with thoughts about the impact of technology on the economy broadly as well as on businesses. The change they foresee could also change once more the way we work, and our employment relationships with enterprises.

Three-D Printing

Change often sneaks up on us -- developing over time and then startling us when we realize that the fundamentals are ‘suddenly’ very different. 3D printing may be one of the more intriguing components of a largely under-recognized change that is impacting our economy deeply, according to Professor Robert St. Louis.

3D printing turns manufacturing on its head. Instead of shaping objects by carving or machining material away, 3D printing builds objects by adding material, following a digital model. Imagine the possibilities, including the jobs that will no longer require human hands. But 3D printing is only one of many technological advances that made it possible to automate work that previously was done by humans – a trend that will accelerate in the coming years.

St. Louis points out that the impact of automation on the demand for labor is one of the reasons that jobs are returning so slowly during the current economic recovery, even though GDP is at an all time high. We are producing record amounts of goods and services, he said, but we are producing them in very different ways.

“2013 will be the year that people realize how much machines are capable of doing,” St. Louis said. “Even the worst skeptics will have to admit that it takes fewer people to run our factories and staff our offices. We definitely can do more with fewer people.”

Moreover, the people that do have jobs will need much more education than those who were replaced by machines. The last three recessions, all characterized by slow job recovery, were not an anomaly, St. Louis said, and the demand for low-skill workers will never return. Companies now need employees with highly developed “soft” skills – communication, writing, and critical thinking, he added.

“Hopefully 2013 also will be the year that we recognize how much more we have to do to educate ourselves,” St. Louis said.

Tying the knot

Department Chairman Michael Goul thinks 2013 will see “a galactic re-alignment of the CMO and CIO roles,” transforming the digital marketing ecosystem of companies.

“Many refer to the context for this transformation as the race to the customer,” Goul said. “This will be the year where closed-loop marketing will be transformed through software suites (many cloud-based) that support many aspects of marketing.”

That includes marketing planning/budgeting, creative content production, multichannel campaign optimization (with predictive analytics), event triggering, real-time offer management, performance analytics and marketing processes for a broad host of channels including video, mobile and social applications, interactive TV, digital signage and more.

Will the role of the CIO diminish?

“My take is that CIOs have been chomping at the bit for increased engagement in business processes that can be directly linked to revenue generation,” Goul said. “The CIO and CMO will be BFFs by the end of 2013.”

Not just a play thing

Many recent technology innovations were developed for consumers and only later moved into business enterprises, and this trend is playing out for tablets. Popular for reading, media and gaming, the iPad, Kindle Fire and other tablets reshaped the computer market. Some companies have tried them, but so far tablets have not moved into the office in a big way. In 2013 that may change.

Until recently, the devices have fallen short in the productivity category. In fact, says Faculty Associate Daniel Jewell, there’s a joke that goes like this: “If you’re doing work on a tablet you’re not really working.” Aside from email, tablets have not been all that work-a-day ready.

The change that will put a suit coat and tie on the tablet is the deployment of operating systems that can run productivity tools such as Microsoft Office. Microsoft’s tablet -- the Surface -- runs Windows RT, which supports a version of Office. But soon, Surface will have Windows 8, which will enable the actual, robust Windows applications to run on tablets. Industry experts are expecting other manufacturers to adopt the operating system, widening choice for companies interested in using tablets for business processes.

“Coupled with a physical keyboard, which the iPad lacks, these devices can support real productivity applications,” said Clinical Assistant Professor Altaf Ahmad said. “The latest offerings of hybrid laptop-tablets from other vendors use Windows 8 too and hold the same promise: work as well as play.”

Added together, tablets could make 2013 an interesting year for hardware and for the enterprise.

More clouds on the horizon

“Those who work with IT are accustomed to hearing about outsourcing arrangements and cloud computing,” says Assistant Professor Tim Olsen. “Put these concepts together and you get what has been coined the ‘human cloud.’”

The human cloud is a sourcing ecosystem that engages a pool of online workers or suppliers that can be tapped on-demand to provide a wide range of services to any interested buyer. Buyers contract suppliers or workers through one of dozens of online platforms.

“2012 saw the consolidation of several platforms, a sign of a maturing industry,” Olsen explains. “2013 will see a shift from small business buyers to adoption by large enterprises. We also anticipate a shift from outsourcing of one-off projects to the outsourcing of processes where streams of activities in workflows are performed by ‘cloud’ workers.”

Large enterprises will continue to develop internal human clouds composed of unassigned workers who may engage in modular work, he added. “As information and communication technology advances, outsourcing to the human cloud will eventually disrupt the multi-billion dollar business process outsourcing industry.”

Privacy and big data

A glance at the news of the last few months illustrates Clinical Associate Professor Theresa Edgington’s point about trust and transparency.

“Transparency is building up steam as a cultural expectation, certainly in this country,” she said. “Faith is for God (or whatever higher power you rely upon), but trust is verifiable. Just hiding information, money, indiscretions can be enough for a person's or organization's downfall. This situation is so different from a few decades ago. Then, your conversations to constituents were not recorded and published ubiquitously. Everyone, it seemed, hid their financial assets. And, no one, then, seemed to consider how a leader's trysts might have significant security and continuing employment consequences.”

Her advice: “Be the person you want others to see, because today they can see who you really are.”

The new year will bring increasing attention to the privacy issues associated with the growing use of big data, Edgington says. She points out that policy makers are already discussing the practical issues associated with what’s being called “openly sourced intelligence.” We may also see “big lawsuits, perhaps class action, relating to privacy invasion issues.”

“It isn't just who you really are that big data can support, but who someone else selectively wants to make you out to be. Big data can amount to big manipulation,” she said. “I'd like to see some reasonable accommodation for responsible use of big data, because proper research can provide some amazing discoveries to help people and communities.”