The year ahead in technology trends

 Elizabeth Millard, The Daily Record Newswire

With the pace of technology change, predictions can be tricky. Who would have anticipated that a room filled with case files would one day shrink to the size of a zip drive? Or that tablet computers — which have struggled to find adoption for over a decade — would now be used for in-court presentations, client meetings, and legal document access?

Regardless of a firm’s focus, most are now technology driven, making tech changes more important than ever. With that in mind, here are some expert views on what to expect in the year ahead:

Wearable devices will proliferate

Mobile fitness devices and other wearables like watches and glasses will start to become more mainstream, especially as it relates to fitness and consumer heath care, predicts Mike Bollinger, founder of Minneapolis-based mobile product design & development firm Livefront. “These wearable devices, and the apps they run, are going to get even smarter and more context-aware to better understand what we’re doing, where we are, and what they can do to help us,” he says. For firms specializing in patent law, that might mean more clients will come in with plans for wearable devices.

More training and technology around collaboration

Technology topics like security, compliance, mobile access, and storage will all continue to be crucial for firms, but there will also be increasing focus on collaboration, predicts Billy Cripe, CMO of Minneapolis-based Field Nation, provider of online work platforms. Content sharing, real-time communication, and high availability networks are critical, Cripe says, for helping harness the kind of collaborative technology that’s fueling business growth.

“It’s not just more technology that is needed, but rather analysis and training,” Cripe says. “Helping users both identify their actual needs and then understand how to use features and functions is vital.” Companies will need to consider increasing their training around communication and collaboration, he adds, and have patience through the process.

Coding schools will continue to grow

“Numerous coding schools and ‘dev bootcamps’ have sprung up across the country, in part to address the ongoing challenge of IT recruiting everywhere,” says Bollinger, who also co-founded Smart Factory, a software design and development school that opened in Minneapolis this fall. “Coding schools offer a unique, hands-on learning experience with instruction from experienced mentors in a fast-paced environment, and more and more companies are starting to take advantage of these programs to help their people expand and evolve their skills.”

For law firms, it’s worth the time to keep an eye on these schools when moving toward IT recruitment. Particularly for firms that need more coding work — creating mobile applications, revamping web sites, going paperless — a tech-savvy recruit who still has contact with mentors could be a smart hire.

Responsive web design will gain traction

Currently, most web sites are built in separate chunks — one version will be geared toward desktop computers, while another will be optimized for mobile devices — but the era of “responsive web design” is upon us, believes Terry Low, CEO of Byte Technology, a web design firm in Bloomington. That’s because Google put out a mandate last summer, announcing it would penalize sites that aren’t mobile-compliant.

That will change the way that sites are developed even for law firms, Low predicts, and 2014 will be when this fresh design approach really takes off. “Google’s announcement was a red flag for web developers and business owners,” Low says. “We really had to change the way we deliver the product.” Firms should take the time to talk with their web development professionals now, he advises, with an eye toward deciding which parts of a site need to be rebuilt. Strategic design that brings together capability for mobile devices, tablets, and desktops will be big in the year ahead, so make sure you’re staying on top of the tech.

Startups will get more love

“Many large companies are frustrated in their inability to innovate at the rate of speed that is necessary these days,” says Don Ball, founding partner of CoCo, a coworking and collaborative space with offices in St. Paul and Minneapolis. “Thus, I believe we’ll see more large companies funding and shepherding technology startups that, if successful, could be potential acquisitions down the road.” That means a possible uptick in merger and acquisition activity, as well as legal protections put in place during investment rounds.

More tech equals more techies

In general, the level of activity in the local tech community has grown dramatically within the past few years, and that’s likely to keep increasing, believes Andrew Wittenborg, Director of Outreach at the Minneapolis-based Minnesota High Tech Association. “People regularly tell me they could attend events every night of the week,” he says. “That says something about the energy and enthusiasm in the local scene. The more collisions and collaboration, the better.”

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Elizabeth Millard writes about technology. Formerly senior editor at ComputerUser, her work has appeared in Business 2.0, eWeek, Linux Magazine and TechNewsWorld.

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