7 Hot Technology Trends for 2011

It’s prediction time again. Looking back on last year’s prediction column, I had one of my best years (as far as predictions go anyway) yet.

Last year I forecast a continuingly troubled economy, slow growth for IT spending and a mostly jobless recovery. According to Gartner, enterprise IT spending grew by only 2.9 percent in 2010. According to a Forrester IT spending survey, the vast majority of CIOs, however, reported that their budgets didn’t grow at all from 2009 through 2010.

As for jobs, according to Moody’s Analytics, after losing more than 300,000 jobs in the depths of the recession, IT jobs grew by a substantial 15 percent in 2010 — an impressive number, on the surface. Digging into the numbers, though, puts a damper on the optimism. Much of the growth is directly related to temporary stimulus money that is being used to build out broadband networks and much of the growth is confined to health-care IT, a sector that should continue to shine in 2011.

The TechServe Alliance sees things differently. According to TechServe, IT employment is up only 2.2 percent over 2009. TechServe said it is bullish on IT job growth, even though its report showed significant losses in such areas as data processing.

Since agencies like Moody’s and lobbying groups like TechServe played pivotal roles in the collapse in the first place, take the fact that they are “bullish” with a grain of salt. They get paid for their optimism. According to economists from the Conference Board and Brandeis University International Business School, the tech sector is adding jobs at an anemic pace and continues to shift many jobs overseas.

I should note, though, that plenty of economists believe that Q4 2010 and 2011 will show improvement in the tech sector, even though the sector appears to be in the early phase of a major structural realignment.

In one of the economy’s few bright spots, I predicted that smartphones would continue their rapid ascent, muscling out feature phones and even stealing market share from low-end laptops. IDC believes that by year’s end, the smartphone market will have grown by 55 percent over 2009.

A year ago netbooks were popular, but I accurately foresaw that popularity as a fad with a short shelf life. The netbook’s appeal has been undercut by both smartphones and tablets, most notably the iPad, and they could even face pressure from thin clients in the enterprise.

Last year, I saw cloud security being a real rather than conceptual problem in 2010. This prediction is mixed. Enterprises continue to worry about cloud security, but cloud adoption continues to be strong, mostly in smaller companies, though. Meanwhile, many enterprises are side stepping the cloud security issue by cautiously adopting private clouds, and, if they use it at all, embracing the public cloud only for low-risk things, such as remote email access.

A few of my other predictions (IT security shifting to a risk-management approach, Windows 7 as the last big OS launch, the cloud forcing business to rethink the desktop) look promising but need more time before being accurately judged.

My one big miss last year was with social networking. Social networking continues to bedevil my predictions. Two years ago, I believed enterprises would try to put the brakes on social networking. Last year, I thought that enterprises would start to worry about things like social engineering attacks launched over sites like Facebook.

The risks of social-networking-based attacks are very real, but the attitude of the typical CIO seems to be that the benefits of social networking far outweigh the risks. In the short term, at least, they’re probably right.

So with 2010 out of the way, let’s look ahead to 2011.

7 Predictions for 2011

1. Governments will make noise about regulating the Internet but, other than Iran or China, they won’t – There has been plenty of fallout after WikiLeaks released a classified video of an airstrike in Baghdad, documents from the U.S. Department of Defense related to the war in Afghanistan and diplomatic cables.

One of the predictable reactions is a call to regulate the Internet. The UN is also considering creating a governing body to regulate the Internet. The UN effort is backed by the likes of China and Saudi Arabia, as well as less authoritarian nations such as Brazil and India. I don’t expect these efforts to go very far. The far right in this country already fears UN meddling in U.S. affairs, and anything like this would never get through the Congress.

If the Internet will be regulated in the U.S., it will be by a U.S. agency. Coincidentally, not long after the release of the diplomatic cables, the FCC voted on net neutrality. The initial regulations actually regulate Internet service providers, not the Internet itself. The FCC ruling prevents service providers from blocking various types of content, but allows them to offer tiered services. Taken as a whole, the FCC’s current decisions about net neutrality do very little to regulate the Internet.