Six Business predictions for 2013

Michael Hendrix
Research Manager
National Chamber Foundation

Now that we have survived the Mayan apocalypse, we are now ready to enter a new year. 2013 will undoubtedly have a number of surprises in store, but a few key trends are due to shape the New Year. Here then are a few predictions, compiled with Eduardo Arabu, of what will happen in 2013. You can say you read it here first.

Robots will be the talk of the town.

As Sam Grobart wrote in BloombergBusinessweek, “The robots are coming. Resistance is futile. From car factories to fulfillment warehouses, a single robot can now handle tasks that once took hundreds of man-hours to complete.”

Hand-in-hand with the robots will come challenging questions of exactly where the balance will be found between man and machine. The ideal result is a somewhat drawn out process where machines will take on more mundane work while we humans scale up our education in order to tackle more interesting tasks. What remains to be answered is whether, as MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee posited, technology is moving too fast for us to adapt.

2013 will be a year in which we’ll begin to face these questions head-on as robotic technology takes off. Look for the April 2013 First Tech Challenge world championships in St. Louis to be a touch point for glimpses of the future in robotic technology.

Energy independence will become a (near) reality for North America

We’re finding more oil and gas in North America and using less of it, thus a perfect recipe for energy independence to become something like a reality. Natural gas production in the U.S. alone is predicted to hit an average 69.6 billion cubic feet/day, according to the Energy Information Administration, which roughly puts us on par with domestic demand. Oil demand in America will still far outpace production (though not for long), but with Mexican and Canadian resources the North American supply/demand picture looks far more balanced in 2013.

Whether this prediction comes true is ultimately up to Washington, D.C. and other capitals around the world. We must realize the essential role that geopolitics plays in energy production and the possibility that it will somehow disrupt supply. All of the potential geopolitical hiccups are laid out in Foreign Policy’s recent survey of energy experts. Closer to home, a successful energy marketplace depends on the construction of pipelines and terminals that thus far have remain mired in red tape.

A significant addendum to this prediction is that it ignores the debate over whether energy independence should be a desired goal and whether fossil fuels can or should be a driver of this.

Online education will become much more institutionalized

Two groups will be leading higher education to put down stakes on the digital frontier. Brick-and-morter institutions will begin purposefully integrating online courses into the pursuit of a traditional on-campus degree. Up until 2013, online education was generally the redoubt of smaller, independent groups or for-profit institutions. By making significant moves in this space, the brand names of established institutions will lend online education an air of legitimacy and permanence that hus far been found wanting, all while providing new sources of innovation. Moreover, these institutions will begin to map out exactly who among their student base will best be served online, what this will mean for college finances, and why these courses should be offered in the first place.

The other groups that will pioneer the online space in 2013 will be the so-called “MOOCs,” or massive open online courses, such as edX or Coursera. These are essentially open-source education outlets, and are often backed by brand name institutions like Harvard and MIT. Others, such as Marginal Revolution Online, are based on the name identity of specific professors or business leaders.

As Alex Tabarrok gets at in a recent blog post, the real boost from online education will be in upping the productivity of a sector that has lagged the rest of the economy.

Mobile devices will drive the Internet for the first time

Smartphones and tablets together will outnumber desktops and laptops on the internet for the first time ever in 2013. Internet pages and connectivity will begin to cater directly to mobile users, rather than seeing them as the poor cousin. Mobile ad revenues will increase dramatically (especially for social networks), which will also help change the poverty of attention directed to handheld platforms. Internet retailers and PC hardware makers will see their prospects dramatically changed in 2013—for good and for ill, and all because of the tremendous worldwide growth in Internet-enabled mobile devices. The real game-changer will come if we see a large drop in the price point for tablet devices (beyond just with e-readers), especially those with a 7-inch screen size. Finally, keep an eye on wireless power, or the ability to recharge mobile devices using ultrasonic guided waves. This is one technology due to make a breakthrough in 2013, thus reducing another barrier to the mobile Internet (namely, that pesky battery).

Economies will continue to muddle along

Economic growth will generally be unremarkable throughout the world, except for some pockets that will enjoy solid returns from commodity wealth. Asia, Europe, and the Americas will all see growth slow to levels at or below what’s needed to keep up with population growth or to recover to pre-recession growth trends. Apart from whatever may arise from the extended drama in America over the fiscal cliff, sequestration, and the debt ceiling, there will be no large-scale blow ups or crises. Rather, the appropriate buzzword may very well be “stagnation,” which may not be that much better. If an unexpected shock does occur, developed economies will be highly vulnerable.


“Big Data” will mean even bigger business

[Eduardo:] Big data is in for a big year in 2013, says Gazzang, a Linux data security firm in its predictions covering emerging trends in big data, the cloud and open source technology adoption. But a serious big data security breach may also be in the cards.

Buoyed by increasing adoption of and trust in cloud technologies, big data will move out of the shadows and start to creep into the boardroom,” said Larry Warnock, CEO of Gazzang.

“While big data is already a conversation topic at most enterprises, it’s traditionally been relegated to IT and development projects. Next year, these organizations will start to see big data as a solution for driving better business intelligence, product innovation and customer service.”


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