Despite stronger than expected GDP growth figures, for many next year will be when they really start feeling the impact of the Government’s austerity measures, as we move from a painful recession to a vulnerable recovery. The reality is that we are in for ongoing periods of change and market instability, but the greatest danger for organisations is not change itself; it is to tackle it as they might have done two or three years ago.

The legacy of the last two painful years must be that it has forced businesses to reflect, rework and realign themselves for the next decade. Two years ago when management teams planned for the next twelve months there was lots of stability, but in the face of such ambiguity organisations need to be more flexible and more fast-footed in order to seize opportunities to set themselves apart from the competition.

Earlier this year, we spoke to 500 senior executives across a range of public and private sector organisations, and half told us that while the recession brought about the toughest of times, it provided an opportunity to make some major decisions with regards to operational strategy. They are now focused on becoming smarter, more agile, and better networked. It is this desire to look at things with a fresh perspective that will set the winners apart next year, and emerging technology has a major role to play.

Converged solutions will reach a tipping point 

As the worlds of data and voice continue to collide, we expect converged communications solutions to take a dramatic leap forward next year. It’s now extremely rare for communications teams to work in separate silos to IT departments, and 30% of the corporate bids my company receives are looking for solutions that span mobile, fixed and data.

I expect the converged market to evolve and develop still further in 2011. Already we are winning more than 60% of bids when the customer is able to accept a joined up solution. The ICT market in particular is a huge opportunity area for communications companies. Technology is making its way into the cloud and users are becoming savvier and systems more cost effective.

Working smarter not harder

Corporate firms are beginning to realise that they need to arm their people with devices that provide more than just email. We’ve seen a marked rise in the use of smartphones by businesses in the UK, with around 30% of companies providing employees with access to handsets offering the latest in mobile computing. This increases by up to 70% in the financial sector, and among traders in particular, due to a flood of new applications for Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone.

Typically, over a third of traditional office-based tasks now take place outside of the workplace. This makes smartphones that offer rapid access to emails and the web, from anywhere, fundamental to truly flexible working. Customers are motivated by ease, decreasing costs and the exceptional power we’re seeing in handsets.

Developments in web browsers have also meant that smartphones now support richer formats, allowing large firms to build powerful web systems that integrate voice and data. Despite this surge in the use of smartphones for business, research tells us that there is still some way to go before we see adoption across the board, but we expect to see a marked increase next year.

Offering flexibility to stay ahead

Transport strikes and extreme weather conditions have brought home why offering flexible working should be an important consideration for businesses. Excessive snow and flooding often force people to stay at home, and highlight the benefits to businesses of proactively choosing to be able to operate this way.

There are now an estimated 4.3 million remote workers in the UK today, and Government proposals to extend parents’ rights to request flexible working come into force from April 2011, increasing numbers further still. As a result, in 2011 I expect to see a stronger than ever demand for telecommunications tools and solutions to encourage people to work on the go. The right technology can make all the difference between staff being productive on the road or at home and being ineffective away from the office.

The rise of a ‘smarter’ world

The Government has committed to rolling out smart meters in 26 million UK households by 2020, and many energy providers have already started to select communications partners to provide the connectivity behind the machines that will allow them to respond to consumer needs. Smart meters and the technological infrastructure that sit behind them will help to create a ‘smarter’ world, built on connected sensors and wireless networks, which will take in information and automatically act on it.

If the temperature in the room with the open door falls below a certain level, the digital world automatically turns on the heat. It is a future where people will be able to use their mobiles to turn off their boiler and as such offers a wealth of new revenue opportunities for businesses. It might feel to some like a long while off, but smart meters, coupled with increased investment by operators in building and enhancing their networks, will start to make this a reality in 2011.

And finally… the environment can no longer be an afterthought

While energy efficiencies have historically been a happy bi-product of flexible working, in 2011 the pressure will be on to push sustainability up the agenda. Business now have to measure, manage and report on their energy consumption and emissions data in line with the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme. However, with budgets still under ever increasing scrutiny, sustainability will only gain traction when boardrooms are given the technology to prove its commercial benefit. We expect an escalation in demand for technologies and services that monitor carbon footprint next year.