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As “new” technology gradually becomes more embedded into “business as usual,” defining tech trends and hot tickets for a specific timeframe can seem almost anachronistic. Technologies arrive and mature at different times according to the culture, the sector and, sometimes, to random factors (such as an innovation out of left field).  The three key words for 2014 that I have picked have been on people’s minds for several years. In this post, I wanted to highlight why this year will be the real breakout year for each — as opposed to last year or next year!  My three key words are Mobile, Data & Privacy.  Here’s why.

#1 Mobile

In fact, the more appropriate term should be the smartphone, because mobile — as in ‘dumbphone’ or feature phone — probably should merge with the term POTS (‘plain old telephone system’).  This is the year that smartphone usage will surpass desktop Internet surfing in many countries — at least in terms of access (as opposed to time spent).   Gartner estimates that global mobile phone sales in 2013 reached 1.8 billion units, up 3% over 2012, with an equal split between feature and smart phone.  In 2014, however, smartphones will take forever the lead (IDC estimates around 57% of total mobile phone sales).  According to eMarketer, in 2014, nearly half of all Western Europeans (of any age) will access the internet via the mobile at least once a month.  If mobile and smartphone penetration has been quicker and deeper in Korea and Japan, the “Western-based” companies will finally recognize how strong and real smartphone usage has become and the burgeoning opportunity of mCommerce.  Mobile-first sites (or apps) such as Instagram, Zite and WeChat have shown the way.  It’s time for mainline businesses to take their cue.  The broader generalization of mobile will then lay the foundation for the next big wave of the Internet of Things….

The key challenge for business: Sites that are not appropriately mobile friendly will become as unacceptable as a store that doesn’t accept credit cards — and there are still many brands and businesses that have not optimized for mobile.  The real deal now, however, will be in creating a great user experience on mobile.  A key issue will be finding the talent to create that great mobile experience.

#2 Data

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The trendy term of “big data” has been eclipsed by “smart data” or even “small data” (as in smart customization).  When you see the extraordinary utilization of data by companies such as Amazon, Netflix, Gilt and Target (to name some of the best in class), business leaders should be looking anew at the opportunities to understand and satisfy better their customers.  I recently wrote up how the eBook and the eReader presents an unassaible  opportunity for the eBook buiness versus classic books, because of the access to real time, real data on consumer habits and usage.  Two cases in point: the way Gilt segments its customer database into 2000 different buckets for its daily email blast, or how Netflix has created 76,000 different sub-genres for better targetting.

The key challenge for business this year will be recruiting the right talent able to exploit the data.  Expert data miners (who aren’t obsessed with Bitcoin) will become a hot commodity this year.  Naturally, having a big data expert in-house will not suffice to take full advantage of the opportunities that such data afford.  Having the right infrastructure and right mindset within the (unsiloed) company will be vital.

#3 Privacy

In the aftermath of the NSA debacle, and as the direct corrolary of big data exploitation, privacy and security will become major themes this year for citizens, parents and businesses.  There is the ever present threat of black hat hackers.  Cyber criminality and confidential data will be an ever bigger area of concern for businesses and their IT departments, especially in an era of cloud computing and mobile technology.  The issue is how to balance the need for open and fluid communications on multiple devices and platforms while keeping maximum security on the relevant information?  For parents of children, beyond the notion of unmonitored Facebook accounts, the issue of privacy is also beginning to take center stage for more sordid reasons.  In the UK in 2013, it was reported that bullying (of children) has increased recently.  In a March 2013 report from NSPCC, 38% of young people in the UK said that they had experienced cyber bullying.   The supposition is that the constant connection via the mobile (and social media) has contributed to this spike.  For regular citizens, the risk of having one’s bank accounted pirated is as ominous as having one’s web browser reviewed by the government (e.g. tax authorities, FBI…).  Moreover, in an ever (overly?) connected world, the quest for genuine moments of downtime also speak to the need for intimacy and privacy.

The key challenges for business, from an internal perspective, will be managing the risk of over-protection and being too inward looking versus the need for innovation, speed and access to real-time information.  From a CRM or marketing perspective, the key will be finding a sustainable and viable balance between customer personalization and invasion of privacy.

Those are my three key words for 2014.  What are yours?  Happy to hear your thoughts and/or rebuttals!

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