2013 Predictions

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The sky’s are getting greyer and the nights drawing in, the year starts to draw to a close and its time again to stick my neck out and put some technology predictions together for 2013.

So I’m firing these out with no particular research other than gut feel and what I’m seeing in our sector.  Here goes…

Mobile will continue (again) to play part of 2013

In the UK and much of the developed world, 4G will be upon us this year.  This means quicker speeds and more capability from our smart phones.  Mobile browsing will be come even more of a requirement for most of the websites out there.  However mobile apps need to be thought through before investing.  We are getting to the tipping point in the app stores now where your apps simply won’t get found.  Brochureware apps are no longer novelty, so we really need to think about real application and utility. Saying all this if you get the utility right or the entertainment factor right then consumers will make the download.  When setting out on your app journey in 2013 think about two things.  How close are you to your customers and would they value a utility or an entertaining app from you on their precious phone real estate? If you get this wrong then you are going to be throwing the investment away.

On the other hand mobile web and mobile web browsing will be major.  If your websites not mobiled up for smart phones then you are going to be singled out and branded slow to adopt.  We know most smartphones can zoom browse and therefore full screen browsing works, however consumers are expecting a fat finger touch experience as the first point of entry, they will switch to your classic site after that.

Also for 2013, here in London, the tube is starting to get wifi-ed up, again increased connectivity such as wifi on planes, the underground and trains will create a pull for mobile users to consume content and that content will often be video. From a developers perspective we need to keep embracing HTML5 and progressive enhancement.  The industry will need to keep pushing the boundaries,  2012 has seen the launch of more html5 compliant websites with richer assets all of which are putting pressure on current website performance however we need to persevere because bandwidth will keep up.  It won’t be quite like moores law but it will improve, so keep innovating.

Tablet Revolution will continue

This is such an obvious one but will continue into 2013. I will explain later how Windows 8 will help buoy this.  Apple launched iPad mini yesterday, Amazon will follow with the fire and I’m left explaining to my colleagues why its all a good idea.  Surely two different sizes of tablet, how can than be a benefit, how will they sell, surely they are cannibalising their other markets in the case of Apple? The answer is handbags, all different sizes but they are all needed and we(well not me) will have more than one. I think Apple have got it right and I’m determined to have all three sizes.

“Connected Big Data”

I’m going to claim this term first before the rest of the tech world gets it.  We have seen big data growing in significance, like cloud computing in 2011, its a buzz word that means something to tech consultancy firms, but what does it really mean to our customers.  My view on this, is we are really starting to see the emergence of connected big data.  i.e. a lots of our customers are starting to join the dots between silos of data and systems with a single purpose to unify around their customer or consumer at the web layer.  The silos of data may be getting joined up globally or just with the sole purpose of providing unified information. We are seeing unification of product data, consumer data, crm data, analytical data and general content all of which require connected specialist with the ability to consult across all levels within an organisation. We typically see four core  data hubs occurring within most global companies;-

1) Product data and enriched product data

Here we are seeing platforms like SAP or Oracle working in collaboration with enrichment tools such as digital asset management platforms and content management platforms.

2) Customer and CRM data

Here we a seeing a unified customer view where we are connecting the customer with common data sources and we are joining the dots between data silos.  Starting with a single identity for a customer.  i.e. how do we create a identity passport and then map the users CRM footprint to that passport as they interact with your brand either via your website or on in the social and mobile worlds.

3) Transaction Data and Analytics

We are seeing even more sophisticated data mining techniques with business intelligence technology fed back to the web layer to optimise user experience and customer engagement.

4) Centralised and localised content

Traditionally the home of the enterprise content management platforms.  However we are seeing architecture and approaches challenging the dominance of these platforms.

So connected big data compared with just big data, sees the joining of dots at a global level between systems with big data silos such as SAP to surface that data to the web layer and allow web layer users to contribute and participate in that data as opposed to just surfacing that data for analytical purposes.

Social

Will the growth in social continue?

Yes most definitely but are we seeing increased demand to play in this area?  I believe we are seeing a plateaux in innovation, which is starting to slow down social network innovation, this means there is less opportunity for growth.  I think it will be still a major part of any digital agency’s portfolio but I think there is a level of maturity beginning to emerge.  Saying this I think we are ahead of the curve and there is still significant motion in this sector with lots of organisation now getting it and starting to put money into social for customer engagement, marketing and application.  So it will still be a big part of 2013 and certainly a time for agency’s to capitalise on the hype.  However innovation is required to lead the pack.  Facebook will continue to grow, but more slowly.  Verticalised social networks like pinterest will also see growth however there will be common sharing standards and approaches starting to emerge such a sign-on protocols like facebook connect.

The biggest advance in innovation will be context sensitive social.  It will be used to drive likes, connect friends and customise information.  Organisation that develop good delivery platforms for this from both a technology and campaign perspective will be able to take most advantage of this market as it starts to mature. Finally watch out for revenue drive innovation from the both Twitter and Facebook they have to do something in 2013.

Will Windows 8 make an impact?

Is Microsoft really on the decline, is Apple’s position now dominant for the next 10 years? As we eagerly await the launch of windows 8, are we really expecting a fundamental relaunch of good old microsoft?  Well Microsoft are expecting to spend big to push this one out.  I think it will start to make an impact on businesses with I.T. departments still hanging onto a level of control and still trying to hold off the day when they can no longer resist their staff enjoying a dose of Apple. However it certainly won’t be a revolution as we saw in 95. We will see interest regenerated by some new sexy devices, even some nicely designed tablet hybrids that will catch on.  But don’t expect too much.

What it will do is start to standardise the tablet and touch.  I know Apple, Samsung and practically every other vendor supports gesture and touch capability and have been doing it for some time. But with Microsoft coming online will mean we will start to see the standard fully adopted. Navigation of apps and web browsing will need to ensure touch is at the core of their design from now on. This will mean innovation in design, html5 and our favourite, Javascript.

Open Source at the Server

Open source is continuing grow and its now proving itself with organisations and in big projects.  One winner in this is Drupal which is rapidly becoming enterprise capable.  This will continue and Drupal could start to rival some big content management vendors. Watch this one closely for developments. We certainly are.

Content Management Platforms

This leads me on to platforms and CMS platforms in particular.  Our favourite has been Tridion for many years.  We feel it will be a push for Tridion to be knocked from its well earned enterprise content management leader. However the ones to watch and not ignore in 2013 are;-

  • Sitecore
  • Drupal
  • Adobe CQ
  • EpiServer

Amaze are developing strategies and approaches to ensure our customer can pick wisely.

E-Commerce Platforms

E-commerce continues to grow and grow.  Choice of platform remains critical and its becoming an increasing requirement as businesses start to look at second generation commerce capability.  Obviously depending on your size will depend on your choice of platform.  But if you are in the enterprise bracket i.e. you are operating a global platform or have substantial business being run through e-commerce then we still would recommend Hybris as number one.  Why? Because it is more complete than any of the other big vendors. i.e. you get more to start with; for example product information platform, e-commerce accelerators, customer support, content management and mobile.  This therefore leads to less complex software integration programmes and less risk.  It also means you can get to market quicker. We feel its still number one and one to embrace in 2013.

Content Delivery Networks

Is a big theme for infrastructure going into 2013.  There are still a lot of companies that have not even looked into this let alone deployed CDN.  With content increasing and globalisation becoming an ever increasing factor content delivery networks are becoming a necessity.  There are only a few key players that do this well;-

  • Akamai
  • MaxCDN
  • Edgecast
  • Amazon
  • Rackspace

So happened to?

Finally I just wanted to wrap up by revisiting last years buzz word and trends that I have not mentioned here.

HTML5 – adoption continues.  Yet still not a ratified standard but the industry is ploughing ahead. It must continue to be embraced.

Cloud – interest and adoption growing more slowly than the hype, however its here to stay and will continue to be a big factor in any big infrastructure project.  Microsoft Axure has been slowest to succeed whilst Amazon is trail blazing.  What we are seeing is growth in vendors starting to provide onDemand services to their traditional software license models.  This is good news for the industry.

Product information management

I had a little bit of a light bulb moment today when discussing product content and e-commerce. We are increasingly getting drawn into conversations around e-commerce, digital asset management, saas based system, master data tool sets and content management. All enterprise level platforms that require lots of thinking and organisation to get right. Most of the conversation is based around 1) product display and 2) integration.

Surely the core hub here is product information management. This is the only tool that hooks everything together. Once its dealt with the rest falls into place. Your e-commerce strategy, your content management strategy, your digital asset management strategy and you fulfilment and order management strategy.

Get you PIM right and the rest flows from there. Go the other way and you will be left forever integrating and making platforms work together. Of course this only applies if you have a lot of product data to deal with.

If you are thinking PIM. Hybris seems to be coming up trumps time and time again without even trying.

Building a viable e-commerce business model

For the last week I’ve spent my time on helping produce a viable e-commerce business model using latest enterprise class commerce platforms, a well informed seo and media strategy and a decent runway to break even. This is not the first time may I add, but it does take into account some new challenges.

The saas world, e-commerce 2, global markets and the improved use of pay per click have made it even more a numbers game to make the business model work. Obviously your product needs to be good, but if it is and you have the right partners in place and the right technology it is simply a case of playing the numbers to get a return on investment? Sounds easy? Not quiet that easy. Its a fine art, where you need to apply your skills and know how to finally tune your system to get the most out of it. Its only through experience and through having the right partners can you guarantee the numbers game will work.

To get it right depends on your conversion path and this starts by having a coordinated approach between brand, traditional advertising, pay per click, social channels and traditional product channels. All need to be identified and a strategy developed to create a buying conveyor belt to your e-commerce cart. It doesn’t start with just your site its starts a lot earlier.

Choosing the right platform and partner to route this conveyor belt through the buying process will lead to successful conversion.

The platform needs to be able to take the feeds of potential customers from all these conveyor belts. It then needs to show case the product well, display options and link to other products to engage the user and stimulate their buying emotions. This is where saas platforms that have one model to fit all fail to deliver. They fail to capture the channels and trigger the buying responses. A wholly owned platform tailored to your product, brand and customer will win hands down when it comes to maximising conversion. It requires multi channelled approach to commerce and there are only a few platforms out there that do this well.

So if you are looking to play the numbers conversion game you need to be in full control of the whole engine from advertising spend, ppc, seo to platform and design. You need to control it all in order to fine tune the animal. This I believe is critical to achieving your business plan. However think SasS when you implement.  Build the As A Service element for your global markets but own the technology yourself.

Designing a global e-commerce platform to overcome network latency

I’ve been working on efficient network latency model for a global e-commerce solution. Having designed a few major global platforms there are a number of factors that need to be considered. Misconceptions around content delivery networks make it easy for an organisation to say we can just apply an Akamai or Amazon webservices to solve the problem often mislead potential customers. Whilst Akamai and Amazon do solve content delivery problems particularly for services that rely on heavy media types they do not solve the problem for transactional websites. For this we need to turn to network design, the positioning of data centres, peering of networks and the routing of traffic through key undersea cables.

Whilst the later can often be something out of your control, by choosing the right data centre partner in the right location will mean you can solve the problem relatively easy.

So what do we need to look out for;-

Geography of the data centre.

Designing the solution to cater for your largest population of users. For example trans oceanic links between Europe and East coast US are very strong and reliable. But equally West Coast US and Tokyo or equally reliable. So if your user populations mainly reside in these two geographies then we can accurately select a good location for the data centre.

Data Centre Routing and Peering

We then need to factor into the equation data centre routing and network peering. This if you are a solution provider is often out of your control however again choosing the right data centre organisation with the appropriate peering and routing arrangements can shorten the amount of hops your traffic will need to take between the server and your user. To do this well we need to look at the financial sector, particular realtime volume trading where big trading centres such as London, Tokyo and New York are paired by many global hosting organisations. All of which will have the links and relationships set up ready for you to choose.

Business Model

Then there’s your plan for global domination. You need to factor your business model into this. There is no point designing the most perfect global hosting platform if you do not have the business case in each market. We all know the safest and efficient global transaction solution is to have servers located in each of your markets, however this is often not viable and doesn’t play to the strengths of the internet. If we are talking billions of pounds/dollars of revenue than there is naturally a business case, but if you are starting out, a well placed set of servers with a good hosting business will serve you adequately well and will leave you with dollars to spend making the shopping experience more rewarding.

And there is a place for CDN

And yes Akamai can still help, but only with your rich product content. It will be useless on a transactional level. But really transaction is often the smallest factor in your overal website design.

And finally there’s Australia

This is something that will challenge every network engineer. But links are getting better.