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5 disruptive technologies your enterprise needs to worry about

Christopher Null Freelance writer

In today's enterprise environment, there's no such thing as taking a minute to catch your breath. The industry is evolving and changing direction at a breakneck pace, with significant, disruptive technologies now emerging at least once per quarter.

Which advances will have the greatest impact on your business over the next 12 to 18 months? Here are five major disruptors you need to pay attention to—now.

1. The Internet of Things (IoT) is about to ruin your life

To the average consumer, thermostats you can change with your smart phone and refrigerators that email you when your eggs are about to spoil sound like a lot of fun, and they are. It's when stuff like this makes it into the enterprise and starts trying to hijack your existing network that things start to spiral out of control. "This started with the mobility movement of the last 10 years, but IoT is just going to explode the number of potential endpoints on a LAN that are not directly provisioned by the enterprise. This will continue to push security very much toward highly virtualized and containerized architectures," says Brian Ray, CEO of Link Labs, a long-range M2M networking solutions provider.

The security risks of the IoT are well documented. In April, security expert Bruce Schneier noted that "it's all really, really bad and it's going to come crashing down." But the specific risks are also poorly understood. Unlike an industry-standard router or Windows server, there's virtually no security oversight for the IoT—and there's no real methodology to make a dishwasher "secure." Enterprises that allow the deployment of IoT devices over their network risk opening unexpected holes that will inevitably be taken advantage of. Link Labs' solution is to create separate virtual LANs and segregate IoT (and other non-enterprise traffic) from the rest of the network.

2. Microservices won't solve badly written code and might make things worse

The hottest topic in the development world in 2015 is the concept of microservices: extremely small, independent, and modular computing processes that are each responsible for a single, tightly designed operation. Microservices are a natural extension of the idea of continuous software delivery, as modules can be rapidly troubleshot, upgraded, and replaced without causing any downtime.

In theory, anyway.

Microservices are designed to make application design simple and more logical, but the concept introduces a number of new wrinkles into a typical DevOps environment. The largest of these is the paradox of additional complexity which is introduced due to confusion at the service boundary level. In "Failing at Microservices," Richard Clayton writes that his team made the decision to divide the back end into eight separate services. The team then assigned each service to an individual who in turn became that service's owner. Infighting quickly began among the service owners, with complaints of one service blocking another—even though that runs against the very idea of how microservices are supposed to work. Clayton also writes that the extreme modularity meant that "developers lost sight of system goals in favor of their individual services' goals." In other words, developers could no longer see the forest because they were too busy building silos in their own trees.

In order to be successful, microservice-oriented development projects will need close attention from the executive level, lest they become bogged down by similar problems.

3. Mobile payments, micropayments will force you to rethink the way you make money

Merchant. Credit card processor. Bank. It has always gone like this, and the vast majority of non-cash transactions undertaken today continue to be processed along these lines (with credit and debit card transactions together gobbling up the lion's share of transactions). But things are starting to change—slowly—as newer technologies muscle their way in.

Most visibly, near-field communication (NFC)-based payments are finally gaining traction now that every major mobile platform has a working NFC solution. This, combined with new chip-and-signature rules on credit card transactions, will force larger consumer-facing enterprises to entirely revamp the way they accept and manage credit cards at the point of sale. It's not a big deal, but it does mean a significant upgrade in hardware for larger retailers.

In a related example, years ago, micropayments were posited as the savior of web content. Consumers would click to spend a few pennies to read a story rather than shell out the $50 annual subscription for paywalled content. That never really panned out; instead, publishers took the route of sticking with advertising and (often) requiring readers to register with a (spammable) email address in order to read more than a story or two.

It may have taken 15 years, but micropayments are finally finding their legs. A half-dozen startups like BitPay and BitWall are working to make microtransactions a less onerous and more enticing option for publishers. It remains to be seen what a newly independent PayPal might bring to this table when it's freed from the yoke of its eBay overlord this summer.

Like it or not, a lot of this future seems to ride on the success or failure of bitcoin and related cryptocurrencies, the very mention of which could send your finance department into a tizzy.

4. One unique user, one unique experience—repeat as needed

Monogrammed bath towels were only the beginning. Now, you can walk into a Converse store (or visit their website) and design your own bespoke Chuck Taylors from top to bottom—right down to the color of the stitching. Today, the concept of extreme personalization is being turbocharged and adopted by just about every industry, online and off.

Retailers are now diving into the mass personalization trend. In a 2014 study, 96 percent of retailers said that personalization efforts had some impact on customers' buying decisions, and 31 percent of consumers said they wanted more personalization while shopping. Personalization could mean anything from customized promotions and coupons to curated product recommendations.

Online, Amazon is well known as the leader on all of these fronts, offering data-driven product suggestions and discounted bundles of two or three items for shoppers browsing the online shopping site. Content personalization technologies are driving these efforts, with the goal of helping improve the relevance of content recommendations (particularly items in a retail catalog) and get web users to linger just a bit longer.

Personalization software uses data mining techniques to look at shoppers' past behaviors—what they've searched for, what they've clicked on, what they've purchased—and recommends additional content or products that fit that pattern. It isn't a complicated idea, but its implementation becomes exponentially more complex with the size of a business's product catalog.

Now, fold in things such as seasonal shopping patterns (is Valentine's Day coming up?), the geographical location of the shopper (do they live in Little Rock or New York?), and even the weather (is another polar vortex on the horizon?), and personalized product recommendations become quite a programmatic challenge. Check out Monetate and Barilliance for a couple examples of personalization service providers that are innovating in this space.

5. If security isn't your biggest worry right now, you're in major trouble

November 2014 wasn't a great month for Sony Pictures Entertainment. Hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace cracked into the studio's network, releasing everything to the public: salary information, tens of thousands of Social Security numbers, embarrassing executive emails, and even unreleased films—all because the Guardians of Peace didn't like the plot of an upcoming Sony movie.

The massive fallout culminated in the resignation of Sony Pictures cochair Amy Pascal.

If you aren't dedicating full-time resources to enterprise security, you're setting yourself up for a full-on disaster. But today, a shift is underway in the enterprise security landscape. The focus is turning away from preventing attacks and toward quickly detecting and responding to them. Gartner says that by 2018, 40 percent of large enterprises will have formal plans in place to respond to a major business disruption attack like the one that hit Sony.

At the network level, threat detection is moving from standard firewalls and server-level protections to the endpoints—particularly crucial in a world where mobile devices and access to the corporate network from remote locations are becoming commonplace. This involves both security at the server as well as on client devices, all centrally managed to ensure that attacks are detected no matter how they get in. If a laptop or smartphone is stolen—still an embarrassingly common method by which networks are compromised—the system can be tracked and its data can be remotely deleted.

Endpoint security is becoming increasingly popular, as companies like Vectra Networks and FireEye adapt real-time data analytics technologies to detect attacks as they're happening, at any level of the enterprise. Endpoint attack detection systems are also being rolled out among the major security suites—so either way, it's time to start locking down devices.

By its very definition, technology is a field that is constantly being disrupted. Market leaders that rest on their laurels for too long—or at all—risk being made obsolete overnight by leaner, faster competitors. Of course, it's not all bad news. As McKinsey notes in its recent report on the "relentless parade" of upcoming disruptive technologies, enterprises "need to understand how the competitive advantages on which they have based strategy might erode or be enhanced a decade from now by emerging technologies—how technologies might bring them new customers or force them to defend their existing bases or inspire them to invent new strategies." In other words: adapt to change and you'll not only survive, you'll thrive.

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