10 Tech Trends for 2014: What Awaits Small Businesses
From IT to Big Data, small businesses have plenty tech trends to look forward to in 2014. / Credit: Tech image via Shutterstock

Technology changes quickly. Just when you think you have the latest technology solution for your business, something newer and better is being touted as the "next big thing." Nonetheless, the idea is the same: it's not about adopting all the hottest tech available, but rather about keeping up with the latest trends, to stay informed and keep ahead. As 2013 draws to an end, here are business tech trend forecasts that will matter the most to you in 2014.

The IT sector experienced all types of disruptions in 2013, from new firms offering outsourced and remote IT services to the many changes in the cloud industry and Windows-based business computing. Heinan Landa, CEO of Optimal Networks, an IT services, support and consulting company, gave his predictions in where IT is headed in 2014:

Instead of conceptualizing IT as an independent business necessity, more executives will begin to see the value of using IT as an integrated, strategic business driver. Leadership will ask more thoughtful questions about their IT function: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What is working? Why? What is not? Why? As the IT industry continues to mature and evolve, this business segment will join operations, human resources, sales, marketing, finance and administration as a core business function. [10 Tech Tasks Small Businesses Should Outsource]

Many individuals and organizations will move to Microsoft's cloud, only to be severely disappointed. Although many say that Microsoft and Google own market share in the cloud space, I would argue that they are "renting" it. Although a significant number of people will migrate to these industry giants' cloud models, just as many will become disenchanted with their service and application limitations; 2014 will be the year of cloud education. People will become savvier about cloud options and vendors based on their experiences. They will come to the conclusion that bigger is not always better and begin to more strategically select the cloud model, and corresponding vendor, that works best for their organization.

This will be the year of public protest against Windows 8. The idea of apps and programs is just too confusing. The public doesn't know when to use what; there are duplicative functions, and, visually, the OS is unnecessarily complicated. Windows 8.1 did nothing to make it better. I predict that people will skip over it as an operating system, upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 to the next operating system Microsoft develops.

In a world where lines have blurred between mobile and social media, the past few years have fundamentally changed the way brands engage with consumers. Next year, it will be even more critical that small businesses know how to leverage both realms to better reach, interact with and retain followers. JoAnna Dettmann and Kaysha Kalkofen, co-founders of digital marketing firm tSunela projected that mobile and social will play an even bigger role for brands and consumer engagement:

Mobile marketing will dominate innovations in 2014. Companies will discover new ways to target mobile devices and users; in fact, 2014 will be the year that the mobile user is thoroughly researched and understood as a distinct entity from the desktop user. Organizations will begin to build on their understanding that the mobile user needs information that will make them act quickly, without having to scroll or click. Companies will invest in refining their mobile presence, and we will see additional mobile payment methods and mobile marketing campaigns.

In 2013, we saw an outstanding growth of users on social media. From 2011, Twitter has grown from 200 million users to 500 million users, Facebook from 600 million to 800 million, and LinkedIn from 119 million to 238 million! In 2014, we predict that Facebook will be used more as a resource for information; its utility will increase for brands and decrease for individuals. People will use Facebook to research organizations, products and services. As such, full optimization of your business' Facebook-page description and inclusion of "Like" and "Share" buttons on your business' website will become even more important.

Mobile and social media don't just intertwine with one another; together, they provide unprecedented marketing value and Big Data resources to small businesses. Constant Contact, an online and email marketing company, released the following prediction of how small businesses will take advantage of visual marketing and use Big Data analytics for more effective campaigns:

Over the last few years, social media marketing for small businesses has continued to trend upward. In a recent Constant Contact survey, small businesses continued to rate the "big three" social media channels — Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — most effective for their organization. That said, a variety of newer, more visually focused channels — Pinterest and YouTube — also experienced growth in effectiveness ratings from small businesses users, suggesting that the way small businesses engage with their customers on social channels will shift. With consumer attention spans getting shorter, sharable and visual content will play an increasingly important role in a small business marketing strategy. A powerful image or video will carry much more weight across social networks, with small businesses creating more visually inspired marketing campaigns with fewer words.

Small businesses have access to plenty of data, from sales receipts to Facebook Insights to Google Analytics, and much more; 2014 is the year when there will be new understanding on how this data can help their business, as [there was] with mobile two years ago and social media five years ago. Small businesses will find more insights they can quickly use to their benefit, such as what time of day is best to send out their email marketing campaigns and what types of social media content spark the most engagement for their business. And the importance of mobile will come into sharp perspective as small businesses learn how many of their email-marketing opens occur on mobile devices. With these Big Data insights, small businesses will run smarter, more affordable and more successful marketing campaigns.

The events of 2013 proved that security should not be taken lightly. From phishing attacks to digital takeovers, security breaches and other cybercrimes ran rampant in 2013, affecting small businesses and large corporations alike. In 2014, it will be no different, making it even more critical to keep up and protect your business' security. Experts at Neohapsis, a security and risk management consulting company specializing in mobile and cloud security services, said organizations and vendors will be stepping up their security, though cyberattacks will become more sophisticated:

The Snowden NSA revelations have put the spotlight not just on personal privacy, but [also] on Internet eavesdropping in general. We'll see accelerated deployment of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) — which appears in front of a URL to indicate that Internet data is encrypted and transmitted over a secure session — across sites in all sectors, and especially among non-U.S.–based services, as companies and end users become more aware of the risks of unencrypted traffic. At the same time, technology vendors, especially cloud service providers, are finding that privacy and security snafus can be extraordinarily damaging to business. Vendors will take visible actions to encourage confidence in their products and services.

The availability of two-factor authentication (2FA) will continue to spread, especially with the wide availability of easily deployable implementations — both commercial and open source — and [the] ubiquity of smartphones, which significantly improve the 2FA user experience — now at 56 percent of the U.S. population. However, while the implementation and deployment has become easier, the concept is still foreign to average Internet users. Adoption from the user side will be slow until best practice guidelines or regulatory factors move it more into the public consciousness.

DDoS attackers will accelerate a move from simple volumetric attacks to attacks which take advantage of a site's specific performance. DDoS attacks that intelligently target bottlenecks in performance, such as pages with a high server load or specific network bottlenecks, can magnify impact over attacks which are volume based or naively request the homepage of a site. Whether [they use] naive guessing, timing analysis or adaptive statistical analysis during the attack, these attacks will require targets to deal with the specific part of their site that is causing problems rather than dealing with it at a purely network level. We will begin to see the spread of tools which profile specific targets and attacks based upon certain weaknesses in configuration or implementation. Attackers will begin to use adaptive and intelligent DoS techniques, and as a result, we will begin to see performance impacts disproportionate with traditional DDoS, and the need for more nuanced defense strategies than many are using currently.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.