Predicting the Future Is Not for the Faint of Heart
I was doing some research in the Time Magazine archives (the best ones I have seen, by the way) the other day and came across this nugget from 1962:
"Despite the discouraging results so far, many scientists argue that military-space research will ultimately produce an overflowing cornucopia of marketable consumer products, from supersonic planes to small nuclear reactors for home power."
- "State of Business: Where Are the Tinkerers?" Sept. 21, 1962
Take note of the date. Supersonic planes for commercial travel became a reality with the Concord, an Anglo-French construction that operated between New York or Washington and Paris or London for many years until airframes started to fatigue and the small fleet was retired.
Supersonic travel never really caught on. Airlines have gone in the other direction since then, electing to buy big cattle cars for the masses rather than supersonic hotrods for the elite.
It makes perfect sense too, given the rise of civilian aviation and private planes over the years and people's refusal to hear sonic booms whenever a plane flew over, but in '62, who knew?
That's the point about prognostication, especially when you don't rely on research to provide an inkling of what's even possible or what other factors might have an impact.
That's best seen in "small nuclear reactors of home power." In a society where people can't be depended on to do the right thing when disposing of an old TV or refrigerator, small nukes simply offer the real possibility of a million Chernobyls.
What About Computers?
What the Time article didn't even hint at was the possibility of having small computers for home and personal use or what that might mean. They couldn't even imagine that, but they are not to be blamed. It's human nature to think that tomorrow will be just like today in all its particulars, and that's one reason why we are so bad at making predictions.
With that in mind, we turn to the new year and prognostications about what might happen in our tiny corner of reality, CRM. Here are my thoughts.
- Gamification will continue to gain interest as some people figure out how to avoid the crash that Gartner predicted when it said that 80 percent of gamification projects would fail by 2014. The key will be understanding the difference between gamified tasks at work and work as a game. See?
- Cloud computing will continue being adopted by enterprises. The version of cloud that will be popular will involve moving the data center off-site, not in fundamentally reorienting enterprise apps to face modern customers and users. We are still in the early phases of adoption of this kind of cloud, which is best thought of as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Disenchantment is still a year or two off, but it will happen.
- Back-office applications will accelerate their migration to the front office. We've seen billing and payments move much closer to the front office with products like Zuora making them part and parcel of the subscription economy. Also, human resources applications like Work.com from Salesforce are also moving historically back office HR functions to the front office. This will continue as other companies get into the act. Eventually, I expect to see customers interacting with raw-material suppliers through vendor sites.
- Robotics invade the front office. Companies like VirtuOz produce intelligent virtual agents that replace people in many routine customer service functions like triage or even whole transactions. IVAs aren't perfect but they can speed up the customer service process and they can be deployed 24/7 for consistent service. Sometimes, all you need is a robot to get something done, and IVAs will help segment the market and preserve human agents for more complex situations.
- Analytics will continue its land-and-expand approach. It started with sentiment analysis, which has proven to be useful, but there is so much more to be done. Applying analytics to segmentation, influence and other more fine grained listening is not that hard. Once you have an analytics engine, the next piece is scoring and submitting the scores for analysis. Scoring algorithms will therefore proliferate and the roll out of additional analytics ought to accelerate, bringing more refined ways of filtering big data.
- There is a hardware revolution going on that almost no one is attending to, partly because gear has become so commoditized at the personal end that we think of it as another appliance. This is also because we see it as so geeky at the main server end that few of us comprehend it. Make no mistake about it, however, gear is where innovation is at a fever pitch. No gear, no social, no analytics, no cloud. No kidding. Devices that speed up data handling through in-memory (SAP and Oracle come to mind) databases, massive storage arrays with solid-state drives, and sophisticated analytics to take advantage of all this, are in market. This is another land-and-expand situation where landing has been ongoing so look for the expansion to get into high gear next year.
- CRM continues to melt like a jellybean on a summer sidewalk. Everything is coming together, and the appeal of siloed sales and marketing applications continues to wane along with interest in desktop PCs. What replaces them is the holistic CRM database, shot through with social and analytics for anytime decision-making and continuous buying. CRM is not going away, and neither is the jellybean -- we're just making soup.
- The cost of energy is beginning to affect front-office business, and we can see it in several ways. Transportation is becoming costly for manufacturers, who are beginning to move production closer to customers (think HP and Apple, for starters). Transport costs and travel in general will affect the front office too, so look for credible alternatives such as video calling embedded in front-office apps. This is another technology already in market and ramp up will not be difficult.
That's enough. Hopefully none of this rises to the level of a small nuke for the home, but if it does, I will be back here next year to walk it all back.