The Top 10 Technology Trends for 2012

Archived Published: 16 February 2012 ID: G00230213

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Gartner has compiled its annual list of the top 10 strategic technology trends that have the potential to affect individuals, businesses and IT organizations. This year's list has been heavily influenced by the growing importance of mobile computing.


For the purposes of our annual top 10 strategic technology trends list (see Figure 1), we have defined a strategic trend as one that could have a major impact on the enterprise during the next three years. Factors that denote significant impact include a high demand for a particular technology by end users or business leaders, the potential for disruption to IT or the business, the need for a major dollar investment and the risk of being late to adopt.

Figure 1. How Technology Trends Affect the Human, Business and IT Experiences
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (February 2012)

In some cases, the impact of the trend will be the need to radically change the status quo in terms of current technology, IT processes or business processes resulting in significant cost and disruption. The selection of trends for the list is also biased toward trends that are highly disruptive or where there is an acceleration, shift or tipping point occurring now or during the next two years that will make the technology newly strategic or applicable to a wider market.

Many specific technologies may be associated with a particular strategic technology trend. These may be technologies that have matured and/or become suitable for a wider range of uses. In the case of a mainstream technology, the strategic decision is likely to revolve around product/vendor selection and the degree to which it is incorporated into the broad IT environment.

A technology may also be an emerging one that offers an opportunity for strategic business advantage for early adopters or has the potential for significant market disruption during the next five years. In the case of an emerging technology, the strategic decision may be to request funding to evaluate the technology.

These trends were selected because they have broad impact across a wide range of industries and companies. However, individual companies should use the list, and lists from previous years, as a starting point to create their own customized lists. Adjustments based on industry, unique business needs, technology adoption models (e.g., early adopter, mainstream or risk-averse) and other factors could change the emphasis or, in some cases, add or remove trends.

Companies should factor these technologies into their strategic planning processes by asking key questions and making deliberate decisions about them during the next two years. Sometimes, the decision will be to do nothing with a particular technology. In other cases, it will be to continue investing in the technology at the current rate. In still other cases, the decision may be to test/pilot or more aggressively adopt/deploy the technology. Gartner recommends IT organizations, particularly in rapidly changing industries, formalize the technology research function to track emerging and strategic trends. (See "The Role of Enterprise Architecture in Technology Research," "Developing an Emerging Technology Trend Deliverable for Executives" and "Driving the STREET Process for Emerging Technology and Innovation Adoption" for more guidance.)

Ultimately, the reason for examining trends such as these is to understand their potential impact on the enterprise. CIOs and IT strategy leaders should recognize that the impact can be positive or negative, and they must examine the potential threats or risks associated with the trend. In particular, one must examine the implications of ignoring the potential impact of a trend or the potential for a competitor to exploit a trend to change the competitive landscape.

Impact can be examined in many ways. A useful first step is to consider influences on individual human beings, the business or the IT department. Each trend can and should be examined in light of all three of these dimensions, but there will often be a primary impact point.

The Human Experience

One impact to consider is the human experience. How will the trend affect individual employees, customers or people working for a business partner? With the shift toward the individual, consumers are becoming more interested in, knowledgeable about and dependent on technology, and this experience becomes ever more important. The need for the enterprise to consider not only employees, but individuals as business partners and their customers as technology consumers, further expands this need.

Five of the top 10 trends have a direct and significant impact on the human experience: mobile tablets and beyond, mobile applications and interfaces, contextual and social interfaces, the "Internet of things," and app stores and marketplaces. These combined trends will result in a client computing world by 2016 in which individuals use technology on a more continual, fluid, natural, dynamic and often-invisible basis. Computing becomes a feature of the environment around us and referencing electronic information sources or directing the nebulous "computer in the cloud" becomes a natural part of an individual's daily activity, rather than a unique and separate activity he or she performs.

The Business Experience

Another impact area to be considered is the business experience — i.e., the extent to which initiatives based on the trend impact business operations. Explore opportunities to reduce expenses by improving operational efficiency or increase revenue and/or profitability by enabling new business models, supporting the delivery of new products or services, or otherwise changing business operations. Do not ignore the organizational implications in terms of a trend's impact on organizational structures, particular roles and responsibilities, or new skills or business processes needed.

A number of the trends on the 2012 list have a direct impact on the business experience. These include mobile application and interfaces, contextual and social user experience, the Internet of things, app stores and marketplaces, next-generation analytics and "big data." As a starting point, the changes in the human experience create enormous opportunities as well as business challenges for the enterprise. It is not simply about additional mobile devices, but is especially rooted in the expanded interfaces and consumer-focused applications, as well as the extension of the supply chain into the real world, which Gartner calls the "digital supply chain."

Another major impact on the business itself is the use of advanced analytics to analyze patterns and make more timely, informed and insightful decisions. These decisions are based on analyzing an expanded set of data (including market information from mobile consumers and the Internet of things) in a social/collaborative environment that brings decision makers together from across a company.

The IT Experience

Although the impact on the business and individuals (employees or customers) is arguably the most important thing to focus on, the impact on the IT organization and the technologies it manages is also significant. In some cases, a trend may have a positive impact on the human experience (e.g., advanced natural user interfaces with total choice of mobile device), but a correspondingly negative impact on the IT experience (e.g., heterogeneity and change driving up management costs and increasing skill requirements). Understanding these tradeoffs and clearly communicating them to decision makers is critical. In other cases, the impact may be more directly seen by IT and only indirectly seen by the business or individual users.

A number of trends on the top 10 list fit largely into this category: big data, in-memory computing (IMC), low-energy servers and cloud computing. These trends will change the architectures, deployment models, and the related security and management processes around the systems for which IT is responsible; however, users will only see the result in the form of some application or service. When considering these trends, think of the message that can be easily delivered to business users and consumers — it often focuses on the derivative impact, rather than the trend itself. Cloud computing, which has a broader popular connotation, is the exception to this; however, don't ignore the need to educate users on the hidden challenges and consequences of cloud that IT sees, but users often do not.

The direct impact of a trend is the most obvious and clear vector, but it is critical that other impact vectors be examined. Derivative impact examines how one technology affects another area. This impact may be to drive a change in the level or nature of how another technology is used. For example, the extensive use of multiple mobile devices and the use of additional intelligent connected devices in the office is likely to put a strain on the existing wireless networks in many offices. Another derivative impact could be the need to change IT or business processes to address challenges posed by the strategic technology or to ensure that the benefits of the technology are achieved.

For example, the tenets of cloud computing are driving the trend toward more continuous application development and integration. This, in turn, will push IT organizations to bring development and operations groups together from a process and tools perspective.

Another effect that must be examined is disruptive impact. How could a particular trend disrupt users' behaviors or expectations, industry or business models, IT organizations or IT markets? For example, the trends toward cloud computing, big data and extreme information management are likely to disrupt many traditional approaches to data warehousing and data management, forcing a shift in how these activities are executed.

However, disruption is not always negative or painful. When properly exploited, a disruptive shift can be used to deliver value to the organization. For example, the shift to cloud computing is disruptive, but it creates an opportunity to leverage the cloud to drive business innovation (see "Case Study: EasyJet Exploits the Cloud for Rapid Innovation" ).

Finally, any analysis of technology trends must consider combined impact over time. This is an often overlooked, but enormously critical area to examine. Technology trends have impact individually, but often have a much greater effect when a number of trends and related technologies and initiatives are combined in new or unique ways, or when there is a complementary congruence of technology trends in related areas. This congruence may create a new, higher-order technology trend or result in a fertile environment for the emergence of other targeted technologies in the future.

Cloud computing is a classic example of a new trend emerging from this congruence. Technology trends such as real-time infrastructure (RTI), virtualization and automation, service-oriented architecture (SOA), the Internet, browsers and the Web, and Web 2.0 combined to give birth to cloud computing.

Research Highlights

For each technology trend, we have separate research that delves into the trend and explores the impact of the trend.

"Media Tablets and Beyond: The Impact of Mobile Devices on Enterprise Management" explores how the client environment is fundamentally shifting from the desktop we have known since the earliest days of "green screen" terminals to a new era in which individuals use multiple, mobile client devices in myriad settings. This shift has significant implications for enterprise governance and management processes. It also has a significant impact on the IT market, because the vendors that once dominated the desktop are being forced to deal with a more heterogeneous mobile market.

Device proliferation is only one aspect of the shift to the post-PC era. In "Mobile Applications and Interfaces: New Approaches for a Multichannel Future," we deal with the fact that the user interface will be changing dramatically during the next five years, as is the notion of an application. This shift is driven by simple mobile applications with expanded input/output (I/O) channels (e.g., tactile, audio or video); input models (e.g., touch, gesture, voice or expression); and algorithms (e.g., search or inferred intent).

"Context-Aware Computing and Social Media Are Transforming the User Experience" builds on the mobile applications and interface theme by examining how context awareness, social networking metaphors and social media applications drive further changes to the user experience. In addition, we examine how these techniques affect diverse application areas, including security, content delivery and e-commerce.

Mobile is only one part of the extension of endpoint computing devices off the desktop. Beyond handheld and wearable devices is the Internet of things in which computing is embedded in a wide variety of things in the real world from vehicles to consumer electronics devices to appliances. Video cameras, audio devices and specialized sensors are also increasingly prevalent, while use of mobile devices to take pictures of objects, labels or barcodes links the real world into the cyberworld. In "Internet of Things Scenario: When Things Negotiate," we explore how this trend will evolve to eventually deliver the Internet of Everything.

Growing from the mobile consumer space, but with increasing relevance to the enterprise for mobile application scenarios and a broader enterprise governance model is the top trend of app stores and marketplaces. In "Enterprise App Stores Reduce Risk and Improve Business Results," we look at how the app store metaphor will move into the enterprise, influencing governance and provisioning models. More near term being able to manage access to consumer mobile app stores and considering how app stores can be used for the delivery of enterprise mobile apps is the focus.

In "Advanced Analytics: Predictive, Collaborative and Pervasive," we examine how processes, techniques and tools are evolving to deal with the expanding sources of data, such as social networks, content repositories and the Internet of things. This continues to see advances, with real-time analytics embedded in business processes combined with predictive analytics to support strategic decision making. Going forward, more collaborative tools incorporating social interface models and the emergence of collaborative decision-making environments will drive further disruption and opportunity.

Big data is a key part of a larger trend that Gartner calls "extreme information management." This looks at how the volume, velocity, variety and complexity of data affects the enterprise. In "'Big Data' and Content Will Challenge IT Across the Board,'" we look at how big data will affect the IT organization in terms of new skills, new tools, and new design or architectural models for things such as the enterprise data warehouse.

"Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends: In-Memory Computing" analyzes a phenomena that has been building steadily for a number of years and will be reaching important tipping points during the next three years. Flash memory is steadily becoming the dominant storage medium for many client devices, but is also emerging as an important and unique tier of storage at the server. This further adds memory capacity to the already-massive amounts of standard RAM available in commodity servers.

Meanwhile, IMC-enabling software — such as in-memory data management, in-memory event-processing and analytics, in-memory messaging and in-memory application platforms — are rapidly maturing. The combination of these hardware and software trends is driving IMC adoption into the mainstream, thus opening up new opportunities for business innovation, as well as creating new IT challenges.

At the server level, another trend is outlined in "Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends: Extreme Low-Energy Servers." This new type of server architecture is just emerging in which thousands of servers based on lower-power and lower-function processors be delivered in less floor space with lower energy consumption than hundreds of more powerful servers with high-end processors. Although unsuitable for most workloads, this new approach is well-suited for a select and strategic set of workloads, such as map/reduce for big data needs.

Cloud computing remains a major technology trend that relates to all of the other top 10 trends as either a driver, enabler or accelerator. Although cloud computing has permeated the market during the past two years, the trend and its related technologies continue to evolve rapidly. In "Five Cloud Computing Trends That Will Affect Your Strategy Through 2015," we focus specifically on a number of subtrends that will be accelerating, shifting or reaching a tipping point during the next three years. Continual monitoring of cloud computing trends, with regular updates to an enterprise's cloud strategy, is essential to avoid costly mistakes and capture market opportunities.

Recommended Reading

Some documents may not be available as part of your current Gartner subscription.

Media Tablets and Beyond

"2012 Planning Guide: Mobile Strategies"

"Use Managed Diversity to Support the Growing Variety of Endpoint Devices"

"iPad and Beyond: The Media Tablet in Business"

"CEO Advisory: Seize the iPad Opportunity Now"

"Hype Cycle for Mobile Device Technologies, 2011"

Mobile Applications and Interfaces

"Guide for Mobile Application Development, Sourcing and Support"

"Designing and Developing the Tablet User Experience"

"The New PC Era: The Personal Cloud"

"Hype Cycle for Human-Computer Interface, 2011"

"Emerging Technology Analysis: Migrating Gesture Recognition from Entertainment to Enterprise"

"Cool Vendors in Multitouch User Interface, 2011"

Contextual and Social Experience

"Context-Aware Computing: Clear Strategies and Best Practices Emerge "

"Social Experience Design Is Becoming a New Imperative"

"Context-Aware Computing Intensifies: How to Make it Part of Your IT Strategy"

"Mobile and Context-Aware Branches Grow From Public Web APIs"

"Ensemble Programming Will Emerge to Help Designers Create Context-Aware User Experiences"

The Internet of Things

"Internet of Things Scenario: When Things Negotiate"

"Exploit the Democratization of the Internet of Things"

"The Internet of Things Is Coming"

"Falling Cost of Components Will Help Drive the Pervasiveness of the Internet of Things"

App Stores and Marketplaces

"Enterprises Can Apply an App Store Approach to Support Employees' Smartphones and Tablets"

"The Impact of App Stores on Your Application Strategy"

" Best Practice for Software Asset Management: Take an App Store Approach to Help Manage and Chargeback Software Cost"

"Apptrepreneurs and Enterprise Application Development"

"Predicts 2012: Enterprises Must Balance Opportunity and Risk in Cloud and Mobile Security"

Next-Generation Analytics

"Who's Who in Collaborative Decision Making"

"Beyond Moneyball: How Professional Sports Teams Are Using Collaborative Decision Making to Win"

"Marketing Essentials: How to Build a Social Analytics Strategy to Mine Customer Insights"

"Need for Speed Powers In-Memory Business Intelligence"

"Seek Information Patterns With Data Mining and Predictive Analytics"

"Hype Cycle for Analytic Applications, 2011"

Big Data

"Predicts 2012: Information Infrastructure and Big Data"

"Does the 21st-Century 'Big Data' Warehouse Mean the End of the Enterprise Data Warehouse?"

"Data Quality for Big Data: Principles Remain, but Tactics Change"

"Hadoop and MapReduce: Big Data Analytics"

"'Big Data'" Is Only the Beginning of Extreme Information Management"

In-Memory Computing

"How Flash Memory in Servers Delivers Higher Value as a Uniquely Addressable Memory Type"

"Innovation Insight: Invest in In-Memory Computing for Breakthrough Competitive Advantage"

"Emerging Technology Analysis: Enterprise Solid-State Appliances"

"What CIOs Need to Know About In-Memory Database Management Systems"

"Predicts 2012: Cloud Computing and Event Processing Will Be the Key Advances in Application Architecture"

Extreme Low Energy Servers

"Introducing Extreme Low-Energy Servers"

"Where Extreme Low-Energy Servers Fit Well"

"Extreme Low-Energy Servers Have Consequences and Downsides"

"Extreme Low-Energy Servers Aren't Built Only With ARM and Atom"

"Emerging Technology Analysis: Extreme-Low-Energy Servers"

Cloud Computing

"Predicts 2012: Cloud Computing Is Becoming a Reality"

"Predicts 2012: More PaaS Vendors and More PaaS Confusion"

"Who's Who in Cloud Services Brokerage"

"DevOps and Monitoring: New Rules for New Environments"

"Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing, 2011"

Note 1
Ranking the Top 10 Technology Trends

Gartner's top 10 strategic technology trends list identifies trends that the enterprise cannot afford to ignore. Selection for the list and the relative position of a trend on the list is not determined by a simple scoring process. We factor in Gartner's Hype Cycles, market surveys, analysis of search trends ( and others), client interaction trends and ongoing research activities to identify potential trends. Selection and placement are influenced by factors that include the type (e.g., revenue, cost, profit, technical architecture, organization and skills); scope (e.g., geographies, industries, business or IT roles, end user populations); degree; speed; and size of the impact, disruption or change associated with the trend.

We consider impact in both positive (e.g., business opportunities) and negative (e.g., painful change) terms. The timing of the impact is also considered, with preference given to trends that will demonstrate high impact during the next two to three years. However, an emerging trend with less near-term impact may be placed on the list when there is a need to begin long-term planning or when early adoption of the trend can generate significant opportunity. Finally, the degree of uncertainty associated with the trend and the number of enterprises that have evaluated the trends affect selection and placement as well.

Trends will tend to move up in the ranking when there is greater impact, disruption and/or change and when the trend is not well-understood or factored into the strategic plans for most mainstream organizations. As a trend becomes better understood, most enterprises have it factored into their planning processes. As the trajectory of its impact or disruption becomes more certain, it will move down and may be displaced by new trends with greater impact, disruption or uncertainty.

The movement of cloud computing on the list is a case in point. Cloud computing moved down the list from its position in 2011 to No. 10, not because it is any less strategic, but because other trends, particularly mobile-related trends have a higher relative level of uncertainty, impact and disruption. However, there continues to be significant new disruption, change and uncertainty related to cloud, so it remains on the list.

© 2012 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction and distribution of this publication in any form without prior written permission is forbidden. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. Although Gartners research may discuss legal issues related to the information technology business, Gartner does not provide legal advice or services and its research should not be construed or used as such. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

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