I love year-ahead forecasts and have looked a number of them from all over the global IT press. Here’s what the buzz seems to be for 2013 from a nonprofit technology viewpoint. This piece was originally published recently on TechSoup.org.
The Forecasts for 2012
I guess a good place to start is looking back at forecasts from January 2012. Andrew Cohen of Forum One did one called 12 Big Trends in Nonprofit Technology for 2012. His big prediction was that 2012 would be a breakout year for mobile computing in nonprofit tech.
The crystal ball on mobile computing looks to be an area of dramatically increased use of tablet computers, and also the convergence of cloud computing services and mobile. More and more nonprofit, library, and NGO offices worldwide will need to accommodate personally-owned tablets and smartphones on wireless networks in order to work and communicate.
In other words, it's the "bring-your-own-device" trend in which employees and volunteers supply their own computing devices. Another term for it is "consumerization of IT." Our internal IT staffs will struggle to integrate them into organizational email, security, and data collection. This trend is expected to accelerate. During the last week of December, 1.76 billion mobile apps were downloaded across 20 countries. The only way to integrate tablets and smartphones is to use cloud services.
As a result of this increased usage by not only staff, but also by consumers in general, nonprofits, libraries, and NGOs will be clamoring to ensure that their online presence is mobile-friendly. While many larger organizations have already done this, smaller nonprofits and libraries, which have had leaner budgets for technology upgrades during the economic recession, will be investing time and money in 2013 into catching up on optimized sites for mobile web browsing.
Libraries and nonprofits that provide public computing access, in particular, will be working to expand broadband bandwidth to their patrons, as more of them come to their local computer lab expecting to access wireless Internet and services through their personal devices.
TechSoup's online community manager, Michael DeLong, also predicts that nonprofits, libraries, and NGOs will increasingly integrate an overall mobile strategy into their work in 2013. Our community team has assembled a great collection of resources for tips on developing apps and optimizing resources. And our Transforming Communities: App It Up program has a wide variety of resources on specific mobile apps already available for nonprofits and libraries and on developing your own app.
The Decline of PCs
Another big trend in the IT press forecasts is the much heralded decline of the traditional PC – laptops and desktop computers. The logic of this is that as the bring your own device trend gains momentum, people will have fewer uses for PCs.
I have to say that I’d be surprised if many of us get rid of PCs entirely in favor of mobile devices just yet. Of course we’ll use mobiles more and more, but for heads-down work on longer documents, spreadsheets, presentations, serious data base projects, graphic design, and anything else that involves looking at a screen for hours at a time and using a proper keyboard – I’ll be keeping my laptop and will be glad to have it.
The Internet of Things
"The Internet of Things" is a bona fide new buzzword and is on most of the IT press forecasts for 2013. I’m not sure how much it will affect nonprofit and library technology, but I just thought I'd put it on the radar. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a trend in which every day, physical objects will be connected to the Internet and will be able to identify themselves to other devices. This will greatly increase the amount of data that will be collected on us and our surroundings. One example is a pedometer that someone would wear while walking around all day. Newer ones no longer just count footsteps taken, but also connect that data to the Internet to be logged and monitored as part of a fitness program.
By 2020, Cisco forecasts that there will be 50 billion things connected to the Internet in this way. Another example of this trend are the smart meters that report the patterns of your electricity usage to the electric company, but that you can also monitor online. More and more things will have Internet connected sensors, mostly RFID (radio frequency identification devices).
There are now carpets that dim lights when nobody is on them, thermostats and security systems that are accessible via apps for our smartphones, tablets, and web browsers. Most products have had barcodes on them for years that feed information in to inventory databases and also collect data on consumer buying habits.
My TechSoup Global colleague in Warsaw, Anka Kuliberda, reports that the biggest nonprofit tech story in Europe this past year were the anti-ACTA riots in several countries and also the Open Knowledge Festival. Increasingly people there are demanding transparency and an open-source Internet as a necessary condition of democratic society in a deepening information age.
In 2012, "Big Data" became an IT buzzword right up there with cloud computing. It’s actually allied with The Internet of Things. I expect we'll be hearing a good deal more about it in 2013. Big data are the vast amounts of information about us and our environment that are coming in through the internet from our PCs, mobile phones, tablets, other "things" (as noted above), and ubiquitous cloud services like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter.
My TechSoup Global colleague in London, Keisha Taylor, recently posted a piece on what this all means for NGOs called Thoughts on Big Data for NGOs from the OECD Technology Foresight Forum. She essentially finds that big data is a significant opportunity for NGOs to democratize data and make it public, and also to identify patterns of need. For instance, using combined datasets on health and education for NGOs and charities could help influence policy decisions, advocacy, and strategic planning for nonprofits. I hope she's right. If you want to go down a level deeper, Keisha recommends O'Reilly Radar's 14 big data trends to watch in 2013. I can only guess what algorithmic censorship in social networks might be, but it's apparently coming our way this year.
On a more nonprofit tech level, TechSoup Global’s content curator, Ginny Mies predicts that Infographics will gain more traction in 2013. Data visualization, or presenting a picture of complex information, has been called the new storytelling for nonprofits. There are now free web tools out there, like visua.ly, info.gram, and Pearltrees that can help anybody put together an attractive infographic without any special design skills. Watch for Ginny’s blog about free infographic tools in 2013 to find out more about this emerging field.
The Cloud in 2013
One important finding in TechSoup Global's 2012 global cloud survey of NGOs was that file storage, data backup, and disaster recovery are the cloud services that organizations are most likely to adopt in the near term. That was also one of Forrester's 2013 cloud forecasts as well. TechSoup Global has developed a strategic partnership with the nonprofit Tech Impact and its npCloud project, which hosts a data backup service called npVault to help address this need.
Cloud backup and storage is a technology that is also very useful in human rights work. An example of this is the superb open-source freeware database developed by Benetech called Martus. Martus is a secure information management tool that allows organizations that document human rights abuses to create a searchable and encrypted database and back their data up remotely to publicly available servers.
The challenge for nonprofit and library technology organizations is to identify the services and systems like this in a rapidly changing IT field that are suitable and affordable to NGOs and libraries. We'll be writing much more on this blog and the TechSoup for Libraries blog in 2013.
Some Final Bold Predictions
TechSoup Global's content curator, Ginny Mies also predicts that the free Facebook photo sharing service, Instagram, will become an increasingly useful tool for nonprofits and NGOs, especially on mobile devices this year. Nonprofits are already using the picture-sharing site in interesting ways. Instagram's blog is a good place to see how nonprofits and NGOs are using the app.