If You’re Launching A Tech Startup In 2016, Focus On Privacy And Fast Data

Enterprises over the last decade have devoted large portions of their IT budgets to collecting, securing and analyzing huge volumes of big data. Or at least trying to.

But heading into 2016, the increasing complexity of networks, and the sheer number of connected devices that are constantly streaming data over those networks, will create a paradigm shift in how enterprises secure and manage information and systems.

Consumers’ desire for more control over their privacy, enterprises’ efforts to analyze data in real time and the Internet of Things (IoT) trend will create opportunities for startups, threaten the dominance of tech industry stalwarts and compel enterprises to focus on operational technology (OT) over traditional information technology (IT).

These business drivers will also affect our personal lives in ways you may not anticipate. I apologize in advance for frightening you if you’ve recently watched any of the Terminator movies. Nonetheless, here are my fearless predictions for 2016: 

A New Security Startup Will Empower You To Take Control Of Your Data Privacy

We live in an era where big companies are sparring with government over access to your personal data, and where data breaches make regular headlines for exposing your most sensitive personal and financial information to thieves.

Meanwhile, we’re adding more connected devices to the arsenal of gadgets we carry every day. Consider how many new smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and fitness trackers will be unwrapped this holiday season. 

Privacy is top-of-mind for a majority of consumers. According to a recent study by customer identity management provider Gigya, more than 90 percent of consumers are at least somewhat concerned about data privacy and how companies are using their data.

Big companies are sparring with government over access to your personal data.

The established security software vendors focus on helping companies harden their security postures to thwart the bad guys both inside and outside of the network. Protecting your privacy is a different concern, and requires a different approach, and that creates fertile ground for an entrepreneur to build a company with the mission of empowering you to take control of your data privacy.

You could, for example, have access to a detailed record of every big company that has a copy of your data and creates a trail of how these companies use it, including who they share it with and for what purposes. You will have more visibility and control, conflating the concepts of security and privacy in a way that has not been done yet.  

Barbarians At Cisco’s Gates

Enterprises that were once wary of cloud computing are increasingly migrating their applications and systems out of their data centers. Some 84 percent of enterprises surveyed for the Verizon Enterprise Solutions 2016 State of the Market: Enterprise Cloud report say their cloud use has increased in the past year, and half say they will use their cloud for at least 75 percent of their workloads by 2018.

Combine that with the fact that more employees now work in remote locations than work in the typical enterprise’s home office and you understand why the network has become more complex and difficult to manage than ever. Thankfully for both the IT team and users, Moore’s Law is commoditizing the dedicated switching hardware space.

The traditional way to build networks is to buy a lot of hardware, then over-provision by installing more bandwidth than you need, which leads to an operating expenditure (OPEX) explosion. All those Cisco-certified network engineers won’t work for free.

A new architecture known as software-defined network (SDN) is gaining traction. SDN enables an enterprise to replace the system of routers and switches spread out across the network with a hyper-converged infrastructure that projects apps and data from the data center. You’ll still have big iron, but you don’t need the same kind of dedicated hardware. The payoffs are dramatic reductions in capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operating expenditure (OPEX). 

SDN represents a transformation from dedicated (and expensive) hardware systems stored in closets to inexpensive computers and mobile devices that all feature low-cost processors. We’ll see more compute companies try to move into Cisco’s space during 2016 to meet enterprises’ goals of OPEX and CAPEX reduction.

Focus On Data Streams Instead Of Data Lakes

Having amassed huge piles of big data, enterprises are discovering a new challenge: turning that data into actionable intelligence. This is made even more difficult by the fact that the data just keeps coming.

Analyzing big data means looking at historical data and analyzing patterns over long periods of time. That has led to conversations around storage metrics, i.e., how many petabytes, or even exabytes, a company is trying to manage. It’s all about volume and trying to examine that entire volume for nuggets of information we can use to improve our business processes. 

In 2016, those conversations will be driven less by Hadoop and just how much data we are storing. Analyzing big data will remain a priority, but the focus will shift to also examining multiple pipelines of data streaming in from specific sources. Again, we see the incredible disruption that IoT creates for businesses. 

More employees now work in remote locations than work in the typical enterprise’s home office.

We will leverage sensors on connected devices to pinpoint where data is coming from and who is using those devices, similar to the real-time analytics the marketing department can perform with their website analytics tools. As the Harvard Business Review reported in its October 2015 issue, “The relationship a firm has with its products — and with its customers — is becoming continuous and open-ended.”

For example, smart thermostats, water heaters and other “smart” appliances can transmit back to manufacturers data about how homeowners use them. A car can send data about its operation, location and environment to its manufacturer, who can then push out software updates that enhance the user experience and the car’s performance, and even avoid problems before they occur.

Enterprises in 2016 will focus on analyzing these data pipelines that provide real-time information directly from their sources. But big data is not going away. The information from these data pipelines will move into big data lakes in order to provide companies with the ability to identify long-term trends they can use to improve sales, enhance customer service and grow their businesses.

Moving through and beyond 2016, we will see more connected machines communicate and share data with one another, leaving people out of the process entirely. That leads me to my next prediction. 

Rise Of The Machines: Operational Technology

Enterprise IT departments work to ensure the machines they manage deliver the information users need to get their work done; hence the title, “Information Technology.”

IT is a people-centric operation accountable for consumable services delivered to employees. In 2016, we’ll start to see priorities shift away from people and move toward the growing number of — you guessed it — IoT devices. That shift will place more emphasis on operational technology (OT) over IT. For technology professionals, this will create a different kind of accountability, scale and technical challenges. 

Gartner defines OT as “hardware and software that detects or causes a change through the direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes and events in the enterprise.”

In other words, enterprises are implementing a number of IoT machines and automation technologies to make businesses hyper-efficient without having to add more people. This means there are infrastructure issues that go far beyond “Help, my email is down” or “I can’t access Salesforce.”  

In 2016, we’ll start to see priorities shift away from people and move toward the growing number of IoT devices.

Consider factories utilizing networked machines that operate autonomously. A machine can detect a potentially dangerous malfunction before it happens, shut down other equipment that could be damaged and direct maintenance staff to the problem. This scenario is the perfect illustration of the difference between IT and OT.

In an IT environment, someone has to monitor the status and operation of all the machines to ensure they’re operating at peak efficiency. In an OT environment, the machines monitor themselves, take proactive measures to prevent problems and tell people how to fix them. 

The OT professional will service millions, even billions, of devices, not thousands of employees. They won’t spend their time rolling out new services to employees, which will remain a big IT challenge. They will be performing tasks such as upgrading a million sensors for a global oil-extraction business.

Putting Hollywood’s typical apocalyptic visions aside, we will see the true “rise of the machines” as OT starts to become the center of attention over IT. 

Random Musings

Now, let’s have a bit of fun and consider how these technology trends will affect how you interact with your friends, family and even your favorite devices:

  • You’ll uninstall from your smartphone at least five social networking apps that you never use.
  • You’ll take 200 percent more pictures of food with your smartphone (and finally realize you should always take a picture of your airport and mall parking locations).
  • You’ll see a civilian drone somewhere you least expect.
  • You’ll consciously try to ”disconnect” from the Internet for a whole week…and fail.
  • You’ll get a 2016 Christmas present made on a 3D printer.

I’m not saying you’ll love your 3D-printed gift, but at least it will have a personal touch. Unless, of course, the person who gave it to you printed multiple copies for other friends and family members. Either way, smile and look impressed — it’s the thought that counts!