How millennials are driving tech trends

This time of year, just about every industry analyst and technology vendor trots out his or her predictions for top technology trends to watch next year, and I’m no different.

This time, though, I’ve also sifted a bit through what other industry observers have to say. Interestingly, the predictions nearly everyone is making stem from a reality in the workplace – namely that Generation Y and Millennial employees have certain expectations for technology in the enterprise, which savvy vendors are meeting.

The emerging trends for 2015 embrace expanded use of video in Unified Communications, Infrastructure and Software-as-a-Service, and low-cost computing devices. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Unified Communications (UC), Video and the Cloud

In October, Frost & Sullivan released a report on the “Office of the Future,” noting that Millennials will make up 75% of the US workforce by 2025. An average user may utilize four devices per day, the report said. So the workforce is becoming increasingly mobile and the work environment itself is becoming smarter than ever. That means next generation technologies need to be introduced into the UC concept, just to accommodate the expectations of Millennial and Generation Y employees.

Another analyst firm, Ovum, also places Unified Communications on its list of 2015 Trends to Watch. Noting that cloud-based communications services are transforming UC, Ovum suggests that better integration and lower price points will continue to drive enterprise adoption of video into this service.

In my experience, businesses are rapidly moving to cloud-based solutions for enterprise communications. Video is not only becoming part of every conference room; it’s increasingly at the fingertips of nearly every employee. Now that public cloud offerings like Amazon Web Services and the IBM Cloud have the bandwidth, stability and availability to be practical business solutions, employees can reliably and securely meet over video wherever they happen to be – whether on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones.

Infrastructure and video software delivered via the cloud is dramatically changing the UC framework, creating lower-priced, highly scalable solutions for a connected experience among employees, vendors, partners, and customers.

Computing Everywhere, IT-as-a-Service

Building on the idea above, the analyst firm Gartner in October released predictions for top IT strategic trends in 2015. Like its competitors, Gartner saw a greater emphasis on mobility, noting that the computing environment “will need to adapt to the requirements of the mobile user.”

Part of that emphasis for business was what Gartner calls “Computing Everywhere,” which it connects with “Cloud/Client Computing and Web-Scale IT.” As cloud and mobile computing converge, industry will see the growth of “centrally coordinated applications that can be delivered to any device,” Gartner noted.

The maturation of Infrastructure-as-a-Service technology is leading to more and better Software-as-a-Service enterprise applications for the enterprise. These cloud offerings are redefining how we think about team collaboration and document sharing.

These days, just about any company can put video IT infrastructure in the cloud, and it can be of huge business benefit. Security issues are dramatically reduced, which lets companies make the best use of the technology on whichever device an employee happens to be working.

By delivering and maintaining IT as a service in the cloud, you’ve nearly done away with expensive, complicated on-premise server technology. Combined with less need for complicated security protocols, collaboration within and among companies is much easier. As the year goes on, we’ll start to see an even greater variety of cloud offerings, such as the rise of real-time communication applications. By that point, computing is truly going to be everywhere.

Low-Cost Computing in the Enterprise

Businesses are starting to look more closely at ultra-low-cost computing devices, like Chromebooks. According to another report by Gartner this past summer, Chromebook sales could triple to 14.4 million units by 2017. This year’s ales of the devices are on track to top last year’s by a whopping 79 percent.

Isabelle Durand, principal analyst at Gartner, said that "by adopting Chromebooks and cloud computing, businesses can benefit; they can shift their focus from managing devices to managing something much more important — their data."

They’re not only managing their data better, they’re also managing their people, productivity and communications better. One big reason is that end points are changing dramatically. These low-cost computing devices can lead to dramatic cost reductions for video and video-related applications. With a Chromebook PC and a quality pan/tilt/zoom camera, a business can cut the cost of video in laptop communications by up to 80 percent per end point.

And let’s not kid ourselves – Millennials and Generation Y employees are driving the rapidly growing interest in Chromebook technology for businesses, at least to some extent. Chromebook sales were predominant in the education market in past years, and the students that swore by them a few years ago are now today’s up and coming corporate workers.

That’s why so many predictions about technology trends in the coming year have an overt focus on video. The young people that will account for the majority of the labor force in just over a decade are not only very comfortable with video, they prefer it as a means of engagement.

We’re at an interesting crossroads, technologically speaking. Increasing demand for video, reduced cost for infrastructure, improved software capabilities and dramatically more affordable end points are all being pushed by a very real demographic shift in the work force, and how these workers interact with technology.

This piece first appeared in Wired Magazine February 2015