Predicting what is likely to happen in the coming year is always a fun exercise (like watching the guy on the high wire without a net is fun), but given the number of mobile initiatives and potential confluence points that are on the short-term horizon, I think we would be well served to polish the crystal ball and make some prognostications. I see four main areas for 2011, which tend to overlap:
First: Expect a fundamental, permanent and transformative shift in how end users interact with corporate information resources. There are a number of sub-elements to this, which revolve around changing form factors, cooler user interfaces and better information.
The form factor argument is obvious (the rise of the tablet) and is prediction No. 2. The cooler user interface is driven by a touch-screen paradigm; we're still in the gee-whiz stage of appreciation of what Apple (and now others) have brought to the table with the swipe interface. At the risk of dating myself, remember when the mouse was introduced? Same reaction back then. We'll get used to the swipe interface, and then Apple will do something even cooler, because that's what they do. The point is that the way you interact with information defines the quality and context of the experience. I'm not suggesting that enterprise software will have an "Angry Birds" feel to it (be great if it did though), but it will be a significantly different experience than what it has been, and it will be a noticeable improvement, driven by both swipe interfaces and the fact that it's now delivered as a smaller, denser mobile payload, which by definition drives pithiness, which drive efficiency, etc.
Second: Tablets will NOT kill laptops – laptops will have to schooch over and make room on the bench. There are all sorts of things I can do with a laptop that I can't do with a tablet, and vice versa. Part of the reason tablets have taken off is that they fill a niche between smartphones and laptops, but filling a niche is not the same as taking out a lateral device. Laptops will continue to be around for heavy lifting, but if all you're doing is consumption, then the tablet is the right choice. It is not the end of the laptop, but it is the end of their dominance.
Third: Mobilization expands beyond devices to processes and workgroups. People often assume that because they have a smartphone, they've embraced mobility – they haven't. Embracing a cool device is not the same thing as embracing true mobility, and we need to be more precise about the difference. Mobility in the workplace is about taking existing workflows and creating a different kind of experience, not just for the individual, but for the group the individual works within.
Anytime a new technology is introduced to a process, it changes that process, and 2011 will be the year that mobility gets serious traction within the framework of enterprise workflows. Part of the reason this is very likely to happen is the enterprise mobility solutions from Sybase and SAP are, in fact, getting serious traction, and a year from now the roster of companies that are leading this transformation will include a significant number of high-profile, visionary enterprises.
Fourth: Expansion of cloud services for enterprise applications. Cloud-based services are as much of a no-brainer as you can find. The gating factors up to this point have been security (which is now airtight), bandwidth (which is improving by leaps and bounds) and the need for form factors that allow better interpretation of complex information, combined with the adoption of HTML 5 and a persistent rich media experience, which is perfect for cloud services. The non-gating factors are driven by pricing models (CAPEX vs. OPEX) and have always been compelling, and the elements needed for broad adoption are now in place.
Bottom line? We have alignment and we have momentum. The needs mobility addresses are widespread, touching nearly every process and vertical market, and are fundamental to the way any business operates. 2011 will be remembered as the year of the true transformation of the enterprise.
Dan Ortega is Senior Director, Product Marketing, at Sybase.