business trends 2014Predictions. We all love to indulge in them, especially my mother and aunt. At the start of every new year, they would visit a psychic to find out what the future will bring. Will it be love? Money? A new adventure? Sometimes the predictions would come true – and sometimes they wouldn’t. But as my mom would say, “At least the process was fun and gave us hope for an interesting year.”

And this true of the business world. If you googled “business predictions 2014”, you’ll see pages and pages of predictions from analysts, reporters, thought leaders, and everyday practitioners. Predictions are fun, but then there’s a point when you have to stop predicting and really observe which trends are taking shape.

Now that we have survived the first two months of 2014, here are the top six megatrends that are emerging in businesses worldwide – and transforming how we work, live, and communicate now and in the future.

Trend #1: Internet of (All) Things

The Internet of Things is going further than we all thought. It is now encompassing EVERYTHING. No longer are we simply linking physical assets, networked sensors, and actuators to each other to automate everyday tasks like regulating the temperature of our homes. Businesses are now capturing, processing, and analyzing this data to better access, control, and automate devices of all kinds and purposes and to assist decision making at work, in our personal lives, and for the betterment of society and its infrastructure.

The ability to glean actionable insights from such large volumes of data streaming at lightning-fast speed can give way to advantages in market sectors such as:

  • Manufacturing: 2.5 – 5 percent reduction of manufacturing operating expense from productivity improvements
  • Industrials: 4% of sales lost due to stock-outs can be prevented by IoT-based inventory control
  • Government: 7 – 10% average savings of local public sector infrastructure spend

How you can prepare now

Although the benefits can be significant, analysts still advise businesses to approach the Internet of Things with caution. According to Andrew Rose, senior analyst with Forrester Group, the rise of IoT will result in “a radical transformation” of the computer and digital systems around us. And while, in many instances, it will serve up new and innovative services, it will also “pose unprecedented data privacy and security challenges for security and risk professionals.”

To protect systems and data from breaches, initiate policies, action plans, and best practices to anticipate the impact of the Internet of Things.

Trend #2: Work and Workforce of Tomorrow

Changing demographics. New, and often innovative, organizational structures that foster automation and collaboration. Increasing reliance on social tools. Rapid technological innovations. These are just some of the trends that are creating the future of work.

Rather than fighting it, businesses are all sizes, industries, and regions are embracing it. Executives understand that the evolving definition of work and workforce composition brings significant opportunity and challenges. For example, the global society of consumers can influence supply and demand with a quick, 140-character tweet. Meanwhile, businesses need to become more creative in how they attract, retail, and develop their employees now and in the future.

The key to building the workforce of tomorrow that is more fluid and leverages all workers, whether on site or across the world, is adoption of:

  • LinkedIn and other social tools for recruiting and retention
  • Collaboration, sharing, and workflow tools to manage a workforce that is remote, flexible, and technologically savvy
  • Cloud-based talent management systems to improve recruitment, employee engagement, training, and career development
  • Expanded use of mixed content for training and other functions
  • Big Data and predictive analytics to discover patterns in employee data
  • Automation solutions for common business functions

By incorporating the above technologies into a typical workday, businesses open themselves up to improvements such as:

  • 20 – 25 percent greater productivity through increased collaboration
  • 5 – 10 percent labor cost saving from better hiring and retention
  • 5 percent of common business functions 2 percent of other work possibly automated by 2016

How you can prepare now

The workforce and executive leadership team are a great launch vehicle to create a business culture that is motivating, nurturing, and purpose driven. All the technology in the world doesn’t mean a thing if your workforce and leaders are not on board first.

HR organization should devise plans and programs for helping:

Trend #3: Modern IT and the Innovative Enterprise

Cloud, consumerization of technology, and Big Data are redefining enterprise IT – and there is no way to stop it. CIOs are stressing to their executive teams and management board the importance of putting all existing and newly selected IT solutions and platforms to use in the most cost-effective and secure way.

When it comes to today’s business world, there is no time to get it wrong – ever. As a result, executives expect their software and consulting vendors to have unique expertise that can help them choose the most economic, effective, and secure combination of enterprise IT products.

For example, they want to know:

  • Which form of cloud adoption (public, private, or hybrid) can create a most cost-efficient, always-on, and highly accessible enterprise IT architecture – while addressing security concerns, regulation, and the push for quick ROI
  • How the proliferation of smart devices is changing consumerization of IT
  • Which Big Data processing solutions and analytics can help create new models for serving customers and guiding business decisions

How you can prepare now

In less the three years, nearly every line of business will be impacted by cloud technology. And Big Data is already affecting most areas, while the consumerization of IT is changing how everyone is using office technology.

The key is to understand what your business users need and want. From there, you can create and/or implement applications centered on the user – not just the “cool” features and functions of the moment.

Trend #4: The Rising Billion – Innovation in the Developing World

Globalization, emergence of a new and growing middle class, and increasing access to mobile devices and the Internet in developing economies are paving the way for unprecedented opportunity. This is especially true as the consumer voice gets louder through social entrepreneurship and new sources of innovation emerge.

This trend can be seen everywhere, but it is truly transforming organizations that provide financial services, federal and local government services, healthcare, and agricultural goods. For them, this means new demands, including novel low-cost, innovative products and services – especially those that incorporate mobile technology. To design products tailored to a particular local demand (or even a market of one), there’s a need to collaborate with telecom and high-tech players to design products tailored to local business needs.

How you can prepare now

Whether your business has one store or is a large, multinational conglomerate, the trends really does even out the playing field. Small businesses may compete against mainstay brands names – and even have a chance in winning over their customers too.

For some businesses, the answer comes in the form of the cloud. Without making a large investment, you can access information anytime, from anywhere, and on any device. With a clear view of inventory, costs, and forecasts on customer and vendor demand, you can shift make key decisions “on the fly” to meet requirements.

Trend #5: The Networked Enterprise-to-Individual Economy

Social technology that weaves together businesses and individuals are blurring the lines across private, public, and work life. Through continued innovation for connecting enterprise and personal social networks and applying crowdsourcing and gamification, organizations are finding better ways to collaborate, coordinate, and engage with a new generation of employees and consumers.

As a result, new organizational structures and business models are being created, such as:

  • Business to business through business commercial networks
  • Business to individual by using social marketing and crowdsourcing
  • Individual to individual with enterprise social networks and sharing /collaboration tools
  • Individual to business via social analytics

And this movement towards the networked enterprise-to-individual economy seems to be gaining speed as businesses experience a 25 percent increase in productivity in knowledge-related work – thanks to improved communications and collaboration within and across enterprises.

How you can prepare now

Every business wants to promote great productivity, collaboration, and communication. And it appears that every social and collaboration solution promises that. So how to you cut through the buzzwords and find a solution that doesn’t distract your workforce and halt activity?

Rather than buying ineffective social “overlays” and updates designed to upgrade existing tools, challenge your IT department to implement truly social business tools and commit to effective change management with real, actionable plans that transform user habits.

Trend #6: Consumer Engagement

By combining social, digital, mobile, and augmented reality technologies, retailers are taking the customer experience to new levels. They have a more intimate understanding of their consumers and are engaging with them on a more personalized, consistent way. And better yet, the connection across the entire value chain is tighter than ever – enabling the business network to respond to demand in real time.

Retailers that are able to offer personalized service in multichannel environments are rewarded with greater loyalty and sales, such as:

  • 3.5 times more consumer spend by using an omnichannel approach
  • Increased length of engagement, improving conversion and loyalty
  • 15 – 20 percent higher marketing ROI when data drives campaigns and promotions

How you can prepare now

To gain these key advantages and much more, learn how to leverage the social media momentum to become even stronger. Use this content to understand what’s really important to customers and how their experience differ from those who purchased competing products.

By applying customer intelligence to improve the consumer experience, you can pinpoint ways to provide the right experience throughout every customer-interaction channel – convincing customers to spread the work with potential consumers.

If you try to control what customers think and neglect creating positive social interactions, your brand could face serious damage.

What do you think?

Do you see any of these trends really affecting how you work and live? And better yet, do you see any other trends emerging? Tell me your thoughts below!