“Market Research Insider View” - Part 5, Technology Sector

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Nothing has been running at a faster pace and on innovation adrenalin in the past decade more than the technology business sector. 

Technology has played a role as diverse as allowing families miles apart to communicate instantaneously, to providing undisputed smoking-gun evidence in court cases, to assisting in coordination and documentation of political uprisings against dictatorships.

If you think it’s tough for consumers to keep up with what’s new and available in technology, imagine how hard it is for businesses to keep up with the technology market research that allows for them to meet consumer needs and desires in new technology development.       

TNS Global Technology interviews 24,000 people annually across 35 markets on their mobile technology usage habits (Mobile Life study) to compliment hundreds of thousands of client-specified custom research programs.  Tom Bueher is the TNS Senior vice president in the Technology Sector.  He shares his expert insights.

BKH:  What specifics areas of technology are you following in 2011 for clients? 

TB:  Our broad-based teams of technology researchers are pointed in three general directions.  We work with consumer information technology (IT) clients in areas that include operating system development, application software, and hardware which include computers, peripherals and emerging form factors like tablets. 

On the business-to-business (B2B) IT side, our work with clients includes:  servers, networking hardware and software, virtualization, and security among others.  Our third technology space is telecommunications, where teams serve:  landline and wireless network providers; mobile device makers; platform and online retail environments; and location-based services.

BKH:  What are the most important factors in bridging the gap between IT and the C-Suite?

TB:  The C-Suite has become more technologically savvy out of necessity over the past decade.  Not only are there critical systems investments that impact corporate performance, but there are also opportunities to use technology in ways that impress customers, investors, and work teams. 

The impact of IT on the entire organisation has risen to such heights that the C-Level executive can only ignore the potential benefits to their own detriment. 

At the same time, IT has had to step up its game to become more participative in the overall management of the organisation, which has improved the dialog with non-technology management in order to:  serve more universal needs; improve performance in every corner of the enterprise, and raise the importance of their function in the success of the organisation. 

The IT leader that cannot rise up to the business challenges of the organisation will not survive the next round of change in many organisations.  While this would appear to put stress on organisations, it actually makes for a more cohesive enterprise, based on improved collaboration between IT and senior management.

BKH:  How does your market research work help a company do this most successfully?

TB:  The role of information, the “I” in IT, has become a larger component than the technology itself.  Businesses not only thrive on information, but they now have access to a depth of information that has literally exploded in a relatively short period of time.  Market research leverages this data access and uses it to inform decision making. 

Marketing research, which is the primary offering of TNS, helps to fill in the gaps between hard performance data and prognostication.  We offer answers to questions about use, preference, and needs that are used to determine whether to:  spend more to earn more; to develop an offering for a new or existing market; focus on acquisition or retention; and where and how to establish channels for distribution.

BKH:  What is your technology specific research area following most closely in technology trends for clients?

TB:  We look for megatrends in the IT world that will fundamentally change how people use their communications and technologies to make and save more, as well as to be more productive and/or have more fun. 

In the B2B IT space, we watch the movement of computing and storage into cloud-based environments and seek an understanding of the bridges and barriers to their success which vary significantly by enterprise size.  We also see the move toward more virtual environments impacting IT spend and decision making in more significant ways every day.  We also watch for trends that enable or inhibit market improvements.

In consumer communications, the continued efficiencies brought by the uninterrupted benefits of Moore’s law are, for example, somewhat offset by the slow developments in battery technology, which has improved at a much slower rate for many years. 

Wireless spectrum is also a critical area where demand and supply are at an imbalance that is likely to hit more significant flash points before solutions are in place for long term growth.  It is our role to understand the demand side of the equation and to place it into the context of the ability to connect it effectively with supply.

BKH:  What technology sectors do you see having the most development and innovation dollars being put into them for 2011-2012, 2013-2015?

TB:  For 2011-2012, we will watch a large number of competitors roll  out a more competitive set of offers in tablet computing, while searching for clarity about their role in the information equation.  We will see some aggressive spending to stay ahead of demand in the mobile communications networking space. 

Continued moves in corporate IT hardware efficiency will also continue to receive significant investment as enterprises begin to catch up from their long delayed IT upgrade cycles.

For 2013-2015, we will see more focus on investments in technology that can begin to reduce the energy use impacts as cost continue to soar, climates show more wild swings, and energy producing nations become more protective of their dwindling resources in the face of unabated demand from emerging markets.

BKH:  Do you believe mobile phones and mobile apps will explode this year and take over as the instrument of choice for Internet access?

TB:  The demise of the desktop computer has been greatly exaggerated.  We see computing uses in mobile environments taking a more significant role in the mix, but for the near-term, much of their impact is in either new or incremental time on the Internet. 

So while their importance in the mix grows, their limitations for many of the basic functions of access-based computing will keep them from stealing much from their less-mobile counterparts, who are being used more often to provide more important roles in the entertainment areas of the home, and in accessing and organising the more complex stores of data becoming available in corporate suites. 

There’s room for every device type in our continually evolving IT marketplace.  While the tablets and smartphones will be the shiny objects of desire for many this year, their impact will likely be more significant in markets where the computing base has not been well formed.  These first-use scenarios will likely be somewhat interim as more appropriate devices for many high intensity tasks will remain aspirational as next steps in the evolution of connected computing.   

BKH:  What do you see as most innovative progress for mobile phones and other technology sectors you work the most closely?  

TB:  In the mobile phone space, it is already apparent that social networking is a near perfect fit with the form.  From meeting up with the help of location-based markers, to taking and sharing visual memories instantly, this “in the moment” form of communication will just not wait until you get home or even until you sit down. 

A more challenged combination has for years been the use of mobile devices to access video content.  While enablement has never been closer to easy, the critical mass of users threatens to bring networks to their knees, while operators work to ensure that no one gets the unfettered access to enough viewing time without paying a steep financial price. 

This will likely stymie the development of significant mobile video on commercial wireless networks.  However, the combination of tablet computing and more ubiquitous WiFi networking may deliver more of this type of streaming and time-shifted contend consumption on less-costly mobile networks where bandwidth limitation can be more easily overcome. 

BKH:  What three social media trends are you following the closest for client?

TB:   The first major social media trend is the move to mobile devices and networks.  Updating is all about here and now.  Related, we see mobile video content on the rise as quality and ease of posting from mobile devices allows for rich media updates that are potentially easier than text (and more revealing, of course). 

The third social media trend involves geo-location markings.  With more seamless integration of locations with mobile devices, it’s now not just about what you are doing with full motion visuals, but where you are doing it.  It is all coming together in less obtrusive forms during 2011.

BKH:  What are the top three technology products you see in sales for 2011? 

TB:   Tablets will be a big area of attention for tracking of IT progress in 2011.  While many products will be introduced, few will meet the test of being viable competitors in the tablet market.  Billions will be spent and lost in the chase to supply the best tablet devices against a strong early leader.   

This category likely has more legs than the Netbook flash-in-the-pan of 2009, although its ultimate impact is yet to be determined.  Smartphones will definitely make their way into many more hands during 2011.  With price points as low as $100 (without subsidy) for a full featured model in the US and other markets,  the only impediment remains the service charges for mobile data and the capacity to deliver it to enough people that want it. 

I also believe we’ll see significant demand for next generation gaming consoles through year-end.  With new interfaces that may extend beyond the current gaming environments and into big-screen entertainments of all types as well as file access solutions, this looks to be the generation for converging gaming devices and computing.

BKH:  Thank you Tom.  (Tom’s international insights will be included in Part 7, Global Focus.)  

For more information on the trends in mobile phones, you can visit the TNS “Global Mobile Life” study launched this March on discovermobilelife.com.

Visit tomorrow for Part 6, Social & Polling.  See also:

Part 1, An Insider View of Market Research

Part 2, Automotive Sector

Part 3, Consumer Product Sector

Part 4, Financial Services Sector

Part 6, Social & Polling Sector

Part 7, Global Focus

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