As the old year draws to a close it's time for CIOs and analysts to reflect on the developments of the past year and gaze into the crystal ball to work out just what 'revolutions' 2015 will bring. This time last year my colleague Dale Vile forecast that technology tidal waves would be few and far between, not to say non-existent.

His view was remarkably accurate being based on the extensive research we undertake talking with CIOs. Our predictions for the next twelve months show only subtle changes, but there are some signs of accelerating developments in a few areas that you should keep a weather eye on.

  • One of the year's hottest marketing phrases revolves around 'Software Defined', with Software Defined Data Centre (SDDC), Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Software Defined Storage (SDS) all featuring heavily. It is highly unlikely that 2015 will see 'Software Defined' nirvana arrive with every IT resource automatically controlled by software based on the organisation's policies, but the automation and control of IT hardware resources will expand. Even though SDDC, SDS and SDN are hype marketing terms, the solutions being developed do have value, although most are still in the early stages of development. It will be some time before mature platforms arrive, but that is no reason to ignore developments now as there are good use cases for existing solutions.
  • 2014 has seen a widespread change in the maturity of the marketing industry with respect to most things 'Cloud'. The idea that every organisation would rush to move all IT systems to the public cloud is now obsolete in most, though alas not all, vendors. The majority now accept that most companies will use a mix of in-house IT and external resources. 2015 will see organisations of all sizes use the solutions that best fit their needs, budgets and comfort zones.
  • The moves towards Cloud, Software Defined and more flexible, cost efficient IT that supports ever more effective business services frequently requires IT resources to be shared among multiple users, departments and to run competing applications on a common infrastructure. Many organisations have IT budget processes that are not well suited to funding shared IT services. IT budgeting needs to change and all business users will be impacted. Such changes may well prove to be more challenging than any technology projects as the dreaded 'internal politics', possibly combined with 'charge back' are likely to be very visible.
  • Mobile and BYOD will continue to pose problems even as management solutions evolve to meet a much broader range of use cases and cover broader groups of devices. While management solutions are maturing in terms of the capabilities they provide, many organisations have yet to establish policies governing what is and is not acceptable in terms of BYOD usage. Many also still need to tackle what support will be delivered for user owned devices or how the organisation's data and intellectual property will be protected and secured on such machines. 2015 is the year to ensure you have suitable policies, as well as how to monitor and enforce them.
  • Big Data still grabs the headlines while sightings of data scientists at large in businesses remain rare. But the solutions able to support faster analysis of data, whether big or not, are developing rapidly. In truth our research tells us that operational analytics, as close to real time as can be achieved cost effectively, is an area offering great potential value to a broader range of organisations than very big data systems. But solution development is not enough if the end users who should be exploiting these developments lack either the skills to turn information into business actions or are not given the authority to do so. Next year is the time to ensure your staff are ready to exploit better analysis of the organisation's data.
  • Before you can analyse your data better, you need to be able to find it. However, information management is something everyone puts off until things break. With data volumes growing and organisations under pressure to exploit data more effectively as well as to ensure it is protected appropriately, information management must be addressed now.
  • A number of high profile vendors and widely published 'influencers' continue to insist that the role of the CIO is becoming subservient to the demands of other executives, most notably CMOs. This is not the case in the vast majority of organisations and is extremely unlikely to become so during 2015. IT is becoming more important to business and is still far away from becoming a 'utility' service capable of being switched on and off at the whim of any executive. More and more businesses rely on IT systems to perform essential services and to support almost all business processes and operations. This will not change in my lifetime, never mind in 2015.
  • People matter more than ever as IT is not just about technology developments. The need for training has become a luxury, but if overlooked this can have negative effects, if only in missed opportunities and the inefficient use of staff resources. As IT becomes more complex the need for IT skills in both the technical teams and in the user population as a whole grows. 'Smarter' management, automation and 'user friendly' systems help, but understanding how things hang together is essential. Training may be difficult to value in cash terms, but the benefits can often be very visible. At the very least, training in analytics and 'Software Defined X' will be essential in 2015.

Are you ready for the opportunities and challenges 2015 will bring?

Tony Lock is an analyst at Freeform Dynamics