The maxim has it that one should never make predictions, especially about the future. And the pace of technological change means that our industry has a greater propensity than most to provide ample surprises.
This year has certainly had its share of shocks, with vendor giants and industry bellwethers such as HP and Microsoft finding themselves in the headlines for the wrong reasons all too frequently. Meanwhile, the rise of trends such as cloud and the consumerisation of IT could irrevocably change the way IT is bought and sold for tech providers of all shapes and sizes.
Outside the IT industry, the fallout from massive geopolitical events including the Arab Spring, the eurozone crisis and the election of Barack Obama for a second term could affct the global business climate for years, if not decades to come. At least the UK was in a party mood this year, thanks to the diamond jubilee and the Olympics.
While it may be something of a folly to try to predict the future, vendors, distributors and resellers need to place their bets on the technologies and markets they feel will provide the best returns next year. Here we tackle the burning questions on their minds right now and ask a range of channel big hitters what they expect to see in the coming year.
Who will win the tablet battle?
The tablet market is set for a frantic fight for supremacy in 2013 between a handful of alpha-male wannabes as the BYOD craze looks set to stay.
Stuart Fenton, EMEA managing director of Insight, has high hopes for Android-based devices next year.
"The uptake of non-Windows tablets will continue. We have not seen a big uptake of Android-based tablets in the enterprise market yet, but next year that will be huge," he said. "Samsung is, without question, leading the Android tablet market. It has a credible brand and a credible back office, because it is not just about what you buy, but also what happens when something goes wrong. Samsung is not quite IBM or HP yet, but it is getting there."
According to GfK, UK tablet sales are set to rocket next year, leapfrogging both mobiles and notebooks, to shift 16.6 million units, compared with 9.3 million this year and 3.8 million last year.
However, Barrie Desmond, group marketing director at Exclusive Networks, said the channel needs to look at the 360-degree picture when selling tablet devices and BYOD as a strategy.
"Next year will be all about human IT - that is, all about the user experience - providing an ‘instant in' as well as an ‘instant on'," he said.
"This is a huge opportunity for the channel. Smart mobile device users consume four times the amount of data as laptops and that will affect storage and datacentres."
Will old-guard vendors survive?
The world's biggest enterprise hardware and software companies - HP and Microsoft - both endured problematic years in 2012. And with new giants such as Google and Amazon increasing their channel footprint, with an army of niche application providers underneath them, 2013 could be a make-or-break year for the old guard of IT giants.
Stuart Fenton, EMEA president of VAR Insight, predicted that HP will bounce back next year. "I think HP is an aggressive organisation and I am betting on it to make a fighting comeback next year," he said.
"There is a belief that the VCE is this really strong grouping. But as VMware, Cisco and EMC make acquisitions to bring in technologies that compete with each other, there will be a big fightback for the integrated approach of HP. While Meg Whitman says it is a five-year story, I think we will start seeing some of the impact next year."
Kathy Schneider, executive director of global channel marketing and programmes at Dell, claimed that while specialist application developers such as Salesforce.com could rise to the top of their market, the traditional vendor titans will still prosper at a wider level.
"There are certainly going to be emerging companies, especially around applications, but the larger organisations also recognise the importance of that area and I am not sure they are going to be completely outgunned," she added.
"We also still have buying environments where buyers want to have an ecosystem of a relatively small number of vendors. I do not think the IT-buying community will want to be managing 20 different vendors across 100 different apps."
Are we facing cybergeddon?
The rise of state-sponsored cyberattacks and "hacktivism" may have given the world of cybersecurity an apocalyptic feel, but a complete takedown of the internet is unlikely, experts at a recent panel on the topic of "cybergeddon" agreed.
When asked if it were theoretically possible to take out the world's 13 root servers, Paul Simmonds, co-founder of the Jericho Forum, claimed this could probably be caused only by a "glorious cock-up".
"I think the answer is probably yes," he said. "But I think it is more likely to see all the root DNS being taken out by a cascade action due to a botched router upgrade, than anything state-sponsored," he said.
However, Hugh Thompson, chief security strategist at security vendor Blue Coat, said cybergeddon could also be taken to mean a situation where trust in the internet is eroded to a point where no one is willing to use it, which he argued is possible.
"When the marginal cost to make one more highly personalised and credible phishing attack comes to pass, we are going to be in a seriously concerning situation. You can see an erosion of trust, where you have 50 emails in your inbox and even a super-paranoid person cannot tell which ones are legitimate and which are not."
Will the skills shortage worsen?
The IT industry has been fretting about the skills shortage for years. A recent study by the Royal Academy of Engineering estimated that the UK requires 100,000 science, technology, engineering and maths graduates per year to maintain the industry status quo. The annual shortfall stands at well over 10,000.
Gary Janes, managing director of Channel Recruitment Solutions, claimed that while the skills shortage will not worsen in 2013, skilled candidates will continue to be in the driving seat next year, with employers needing to show greater flexibility on salary, location and virtual working patterns.
"There are not millions of good salespeople on the market and candidates can be a bit fussier," he said. "The good thing is [employers] are starting to become much more flexible."
But Ben Cranham, head of corporate accounts at Trustmarque Solutions, argued that "there is no skills gap", pointing out that computer sciences graduates have the highest unemployment rate of any subject after six months.
"We have a mismatch between what industry claims it needs and what it is prepared to invest in building, and the same goes for the government," he added. "Instead of poaching and offshoring, if companies invest in the development of individuals over time and the government increases support for higher apprenticeships and other vocational development, we will have an opportunity to build a generation of capable, committed IT professionals in the UK."
Views from the channel
It has been a big year for product releases, and James Napp, managing director of Bechtle, claimed that although this has been good for innovation within the industry, it has left a trail of confusion in its path, which needs to be addressed in 2013.
He said: "For me, the general picture has been of change [this year], and we have all really felt it. One of the biggest things I find when talking to CIOs and IT directors is that they seem confused and want us to guide them as their resellers.
"New Microsoft products such as Windows 8 have caused a big stir, and we are not sure how that will play. Server 2012 has also incorporated a lot of improvements and people want to know how it will affect them."
He added that customers will look to streamline their existing products to make efficiency savings in the new year. "It [will not be] about cutting costs, but making sure their products are deployed in the right way," he said.
Kathy Schneider, executive director, global channel marketing and programmes at Dell, claimed that security will be CIOs' biggest priority next year, as it is a prerequisite for all other big trends, such as cloud, BYOD and big data. She added that if they become increasingly commoditised, vendors may begin to view traditional hardware such as servers, storage and client computing as necessary constituent parts facilitating a broader ecosystem.
"A lot of those traditional devices are the lead-in to some bigger trends. If we think of it that way, servers start to become components in a bigger solution," she said. "We still see pockets of positive growth, in servers and particularly in storage. There is still room for growth in terms of creating an ecosystem approach. You are going to need more computing power to read and understand all that data [being created]. You may have to just look at some of the more traditional components a little differently."
Simon Robinson, vice president of 451 Research, said: "do more with less" became a mantra for IT managers in 2012. But while the tightening of purse strings is generally bad for the industry, he said the success that companies offering cost-effective technology have enjoyed is set to continue next year.
"In terms of storage - which is facing the brunt of this scrutiny - 2012 was the year of optimisation, with a real focus on efficiency, so technologies such as deduplication and thin provisioning have done well, and will continue to do so," he added.
"Another example is SSDs. That technology has become a lot more viable, not just in performance but from a cost perspective too so it is definitely a technology hotspot [for 2013]."
Graeme Watt, EMEA president of Avnet Technology Solutions said it is unlikely that the market would stage a quick recovery.
"I think the economy is now at the bottom point, and a lot of countries are not going to reach the economic goals they have set for themselves. We are going to have a long, drawn-out stint at the bottom and the overall economy is not going to come off the bottom for some time," he said.
"However, I do not think the IT industry has been hit as hard as it could have been - at Avnet for example, we are relatively pleased with how the business has performed compared with the bigger economic picture. In terms of our position in the market I am relatively positive."
Dave Ellis, director of new technology and services at Computerlinks, predicts that the security market will remain robust next year as the proliferation of mobile devices and data necessitates investment.
"More data is being distributed outside the corporate firewall," he explained.
"We also think there is an opportunity in software-defined networking. It will start to be looked at more seriously by vendors."
The Computerlinks man added that, while there are few independent distribution targets left for potential acquirers, there will always be opportunities for specialist start-ups.
"Some distributors are not doing enough to move to a different kind of model," he added. "They are taking a product and service and just distributing that and not wrapping a lot of value around it."
Mike Mitcham, business development manager at reseller Point to Point, said the consumerisation of IT has meant that customers are more aware of their IT needs than ever before, so resellers will have to make a concerted effort to understand their requirements in the coming year.
"Consumerisation has certainly changed what users expect from IT, and in order to meet that, companies can either deliver users' requirements regardless of whether they are right or wrong, or they can try to understand what they really need," he added.
"If you ask kids to give away some of their toys to a charity shop, the amount they want to keep is a lot more than they want to give away, but it does not mean they will play with all those toys again. Users might want something but not really need it, and the challenge [for next year] is helping them gain the appropriate intelligence [about their] IT requirements."
Consolidation will continue apace in 2013 as large resellers and SIs look to fill gaps in their cloud portfolio, according Peter Deacon, strategy consultant at Techgate.
"This year we saw Redstone and Maxima join forces and I think that will continue," the former Calyx and Telindus director said. "Large organisations will start snapping up more specialist companies to fill some of the holes in their portfolios more quickly."
Deacon predicted that firms that have not yet moved from project-based to annuity revenue streams have a big shock in store.
"The market has gone through this big shift and it has taken everyone a while to catch up," he said. "I was sitting in a meeting three years ago with a local council, and they said in three years they did not want any networking equipment because they wanted to buy it as they use it - and that has now happened. If you take Office 365, that is exactly what Microsoft is offering, and I think that will accelerate in 2013."
Distribution has so far struggled to carve out an identity in the cloud era, but Alex Tatham, sales and marketing director at Westcoast, predicted that 2013 would be the year that cloudy talk is finally matched by actions.
He revealed that his firm has just bought a datacentre in Wales, which he hinted would be used to support its efforts with Microsoft Office 365 and other cloud offerings.
"For us, 2013 will be a big year for cloud," said the West¬coast man. "We have the Microsoft SPLA contract now so we will be engaging with a new customer base around that. I think more resellers will engage in cloud next year, largely driven by Microsoft, but other vendors will come in."
"I think you will also see the resurgence of HP," he added. "It had a weak year, but you will see it becoming less internally facing and much more aggressive."
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