Technology is an industry, a science and an art that is changing so rapidly that staying on top of it sometimes feels like trying to race a lightning bolt across the sky: You lost the second you saw the flash.
Looking forward to 2016, technology stands out as something that seems to already be there, a force of the future that the present must try to catch up to.
But that’s how the tech industry works, even for those in the industry.
“Technology is a disrupter,” said Mike Lomonaco, director of marketing and communications for Open Systems Technologies, a technology firm in Grand Rapids.
“As it relates to business here in West Michigan and around the world, technology — and specifically digital business needs — are forcing IT to adapt and interact differently,” Lomonaco said.
Technology is changing the way business is done and will continue to do so, Lomonaco said. IT is a major part of a business’s focus, regardless of whether it’s a large or small business. And all businesses must know how to navigate a landscape that is now very much digital, he said.
“While the traditional roles of focusing on stability and reliability still must happen, we are also seeing huge movement toward IT serving the lines of business (marketing, product development, finance, etc.) by focusing on agility, flexibility and being able to operate in an area of uncertainty and innovation,” Lomonaco said.
“The new opportunities of the digital economy are forcing organizations to focus on fast, flexible, collaborative innovation. CIOs are improving their strategies to provide a needed boost to the agility of their organization. In turn, they can deliver greater benefits across the entire business,” he said.
In 2015, Lomonaco identified the computerization of pretty much everything as the top tech trend. Thanks to smartphones essentially serving as computers and the constant access to social media, the digitalization of the business world has never been more obvious.
“As mobile devices proliferate, OST is seeing an increased emphasis on serving the needs of the mobile user in diverse contexts and environments, as opposed to focusing on just the devices themselves,” he said.
In 2016, the most important trend will be The Internet of Things, Lomonaco said. The Internet of Things refers to the network of physical objects that are embedded with things such as software sensors, electronics and network connectivity that make them able to collect and exchange data.
“It is big and it will continue to grow along with user-oriented computing. The Internet of Things will be the focus of digital business products and processes in industrial and operational situations. Expect technology to continue to be embedded everywhere at an accelerated pace,” he said.
He reason for this is “the combination of data explosion and the services created by digitizing everything. For example, the pay-per-use model can be applied to assets such as industrial equipment, pay-as-you-drive insurance, parking spots and systems such as cloud services.”
West Michigan could see major growth in the tech industry next year, said Aaron Schaap, founder of Grand Rapids-based Elevator Up and the main organizer and voice for The Factory, a downtown startup hub that houses a number of tech businesses.
Many of these tech companies are looking to hire, he said, but there’s not enough local tech talent, which is why Schaap started coLearning courses through The Factory to train and find talent.
“I probably have three to five positions right now that I could hire for, but people don’t want jobs. … They ask why they should want to work for your company. It’s not enough to just say, ‘We’re hiring,’ or ‘Hey, we can provide health care,’ because — who cares? (They) can get health care through Obamacare,” Schaap said.
Lomonaco also stressed the importance of West Michigan being able to attract more tech talent in 2016.
“We can certainly use more talent as well as continued focus and collaboration across business and education. West Michigan has made tremendous strides, but we must keep our foot on the gas and find new and creative ways to attract, retain and develop our talent pools,” he said. “This also means looking to traditional business roles and leveraging the talents in those roles into ‘tech.’”
Attracting tech talent must include a conversation about diversity, said Jason Reep, director of learning and inclusion at The Employers’ Association, a Grand Rapids nonprofit that provides HR solutions to its business members.
The attraction of people to West Michigan is a challenge sometimes, he said, noting “all tech struggles with diversity, and many employers are looking to fix the diversity problem in the workplace.” The local tech industry is still struggling with that, and in West Michigan, it’s an ongoing problem, he said.
The area may not be able to match all its technology demands with homegrown talent, he said, so West Michigan will need to find ways to be seen as a destination for technology talent, he said.
“The ability to attract in the skilled talent for, specifically, tech, in the sense of being able to write whatever needs to be written, because I do think there’s absolutely going to be growth there.
“West Michigan will benefit. Employers will also benefit because artistic creativity will come with the diversity,” he said.
As for concerns for 2016, Lomonaco said he hopes more tech businesses will locate in the area.
“The fact is that West Michigan is home to amazingly talented tech companies. Therefore, our hope is that existing businesses throughout the region, as well as those who may look to relocate or invest here, are aware of that,” he said. “In addition, that organizations such as The Right Place and others continue to leverage this fact as a differentiator and strategic value for West Michigan.
“In short, don’t be so quick to look outside the region when, most often, the talent, skills and services are right here in our own backyard.”