Around the Globe

2013 Tech Trends

Three tech-savvy professors share their insights for the unfolding year.

Marty Anderson, senior lecturer in management

Online Courses: With cheap global connectivity, we are seeing the objective parts of education (core math, language, etc.) being replaced by massive online platforms. Why should a high school teacher who is only good at teaching basic math be the sole source of knowledge for kids who can get access to the best massive online courses, with consultation, at the cost of pennies? The same pressures apply to colleges. Do we really need class time to do the basics of simple economic or accounting models? Why can’t we send our students to world-class interactive sites and then spend precious class time on the human dimensions of learning?

Global Connectivity: More than 6 billion people are connected to each other daily via mobile devices, including most of the poorest people on the planet. The U.S. and Europe “waste” significant portions of their GDPs trying to maintain outdated legacy infrastructures (landline phones, cable TV, centralized computing, etc.), while the poorest regions can use scarce money to rapidly scale only the most modern wireless technology and other infrastructure. We cannot predict what it means to have 6 billion wired world citizens, but it means the old “first world” is not nearly as important as it once was.

Bala Iyer, professor of information technology management

Utility Platforms: In the old world, productivity gains of 1x or 2x were considered huge. Now 50x and 100x gains will be seen. The key driver is the reuse of infrastructure facilitated by developments like cloud computing and companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon. These companies have spent billions to build their infrastructures, and they are letting others use them. A startup can use Amazon’s e-commerce engine to sell its products. Similarly, companies can use AdWords or Facebook to run campaigns and engage with customers. In the past, building these capabilities would have cost companies millions, but today they just can use what already has been built.

No Borders: Every business is now global. Customers can find you globally, suppliers from across the globe can meet your demands, and employees can be sourced from a global marketplace. The challenge becomes how well you can navigate these marketplaces. In a world without borders, companies must have employees who are digital natives and know how to navigate these channels to find resources, engage with potential customers, and interact with stakeholders. Entrepreneurs also will need to create an online identity to gain a reputation that attracts both investors and employees.

Sal Parise, associate professor of information systems

Digital Wallet: The digital wallet lets consumers make mobile payments from their smartphones, as opposed to paying with credit cards, and it stores retail gift cards and discount cards. The end result is a more convenient way for many users to shop by “swiping” their phone at checkout. The digital wallet also potentially frees employees to focus on the customer experience as opposed to working checkout lines. Starbucks recently equipped 7,000 stores with digital wallet capability.

Big Data: Big data allows companies to extract value from large volumes of data, much of which comes from both structured, transactional data (sales data, for instance) and unstructured, social data such as brand and product conversations found on social platforms. Once the data is accessed, analytics can be used to build customer profiles or to forecast sales. Companies then can redefine customer service by not only knowing who their best customers are, but also by identifying who is influencing purchasing decisions on their digital channels and empowering those customers to be brand advocates.