Preparing for the future typically requires two things: a solid understanding of the present and a healthy dose of foresight about what’s coming next. And it’s no different for technology decision-makers (TDMs) preparing for the next generation of smart technology.

Here’s a snapshot of the present: The customer is king. Mobile and wireless are givens. The number of smart devices and the data volume they generate are increasing. Security is essential. But what’s coming with smart technology—and how to prepare for those changes—can vary, depending on dozens of factors.

IDG reached out to IT and business leaders to gather their advice, and one thing is clear: Planning for the foundational pieces—mobile, open frameworks, security, big data, and integration—will make it easier to roll out and securely manage these new technologies.

“Without a doubt, the age of smart technology is here to stay and is quickly becoming part of our everyday lives, and IT decision-makers must be able to educate, design, and implement with smart technologies in mind,” says Phillip Hodge (@phillipjhodge), regional director of sales at Burwood Group. “A simple example is an organization that has adopted a virtual desktop and application strategy. Implementing tools that can automatically provision resources based on context will be something we must account for, knowing that consumer demand for such technology will only increase.”

Start with Your Workforce

 Although TDMs may be tempted to put technology first, adopting a “people first” approach is a better strategy, says Peter Salvitti (@psalvitti ), chief technologist at Boston College. “Key in this digital transformation to this ‘smart’ enterprise are decisions involving human resources,” he says. “Technology decision-makers must adopt a ‘people-first approach’ in which technology is used as a catalyst to enhance and augment organizational skills as part of maximizing the value of IT investments. I think reorienting staff around ‘new skills’ is a monumental task that is often overlooked in the run-up to adoption of new technologies.”

Table Stakes: Mobile and Wi-Fi

Tech leaders agree: Mobile and wireless connectivity is a given when implementing smart technology. “Companies should have a clear vision for mobile-enabling their products and services. Their solutions should be optimized for wireless connectivity,” says Jonathan Reichental (@Reichental), CIO of the City of Palo Alto, California. “Most importantly, they should architect for their solutions to be open and engaging and be able to interact deeply with users and devices.”

Wireless is table stakes for establishing a deep interaction with users, notes Jeff Aaron, VP of marketing at Mist. “The new generation of smart mobile devices creates an opportunity for personalized, contextual engagement with mobile users. Anyone preparing for this should look at how wireless networks can take advantage of this shift,” he says.

“For example, Wi-Fi solutions should incorporate better visibility into the user experience with automated intelligence so the network can proactively adapt to the needs of smart devices,” Aaron continues. “In addition, enterprises should look at new wireless technologies that introduce location-based services into the equation for a customized wireless experience.”

Open—and Secure

Beyond mobile, “supporting open technologies is the only way to plan,” says James Fee (@jamesmfee), CTO of Cityzenith. “Make sure you can migrate data between platforms without large penalties and be flexible with SaaS [software-as-a-service] solutions over on-premises lock-in.”

“There is no way to predict the future,” he continues, “but making sure you aren’t locked into long-term contracts or proprietary databases that limit your growth gives you the flexibility to be nimble down the road.”

Tobias Buechsenschuetz (@TobBuc), VP of Maastricht Consultancy Day, would agree: “A key issue is the provision of an environment that is both open and secure,” he notes. “Open to leverage quickly evolving technologies and enable employees to work with maximum efficiency. Secure to protect corporate assets as the amount and variety of potential attack points are exploding.”

And with security should come risk assessment, says Kayne McGladrey (@kaynemcgladrey), director of information security services at Integral Partners. “Decision-makers should establish a third-party risk assessment committee that reports to the CISO proactively as their organizations evaluate and deploy new smart technologies,” he notes.

Plan for Big Data

Buechsenschuetz points to another critical step for TDMs: creating a data analytics platform. “Whoever has the best and timeliest insight about market and customer will have a massive competitive advantage,” he notes.

TDMs must also plan for the growing volume of data. “Companies may have a hard time with gigabytes of data designed specifically for classic browsing once the omnichannel drops the hammer,” says Michal Kadák (@MichalKadak), product owner at Kentico.

Ed Featherston (@efeatherston), VP and principal architect at Cloud Technology Partners, agrees: “Smart technologies are fueled by data,” he notes. “Decision-makers need to prepare to ensure the quality, timeliness, and pedigree of that fuel. They must build the infrastructure to support the storage and transport of that data and results across the organization.”

Integration Is Key

The proper underlying infrastructure—with the proper integration in place—is essential, notes Alex Hertel, CEO and cofounder of Internet of Things [IoT] startup Xperiel. “What decision-makers need to focus on is the software and coordination side. All of this [smart] hardware is valuable only if it can work together in an integrated and coordinated way to solve meaningful problems,” he says.

“The key will be to create smart connections among all these devices and a universal layer that is future-proofed for connecting all the smart hardware to come,” he continues. “The full potential of smart technology can’t be unlocked until this major problem is solved, much as how the World Wide Web unleashed the powers of modern computers.”

Michael Sheehan (@HighTechDad), senior manager of content marketing at Riverbed Technology, offers his view: “Being able to understand the full end-to-end journey of data and associated transactions and have full visibility into this workflow will enable IT managers to manage networks and infrastructure more effectively and efficiently.

“Preparation is actually the key point here,” he continues. “IT managers should carefully and fully assess the current state of their infrastructure and networking capabilities. ‘Smart’ technology, in the form of new edge devices such as IoT, will require networks to also be ‘smart’ to understand which devices are attached, where these devices are, what they are doing, and what the end user experience is like.”

Build Around Business Outcomes

As with any other technology investment, determining ROI up front is critical. “With any upgrade or adoption of new technologies, processes, or systems, it’s always important to look at the long game. Just because something is shiny and new, that doesn’t mean it will effectively provide long-term benefits,” says Robert Siciliano (@RobertSiciliano), CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com. “Always ask, ‘How will this benefit us in the short and long term? What will we be giving up? What will we be getting?’ And always deploy a cost/benefit analysis across affected departments.”

James Dellow (@chieftech), a consultant and researcher at Chief Technology Solutions, might agree: “The introduction of smart technology into the workplace is as much a management and organizational culture challenge as it is a technology issue. You need to engage business stakeholders, rally them around a common vision, and then work out the dependencies that need to be addressed.”

Hillel Fuld (@HilzFuld), CMO at ZCast, offers his view. “As far as IoT and smart tech are concerned, they’re not necessarily ready for the mainstream yet, so at this point, what is important for those in leadership roles is to stay on top and ahead of the curve in terms of these trends and how to best leverage them in relevant ways for their respective businesses.”

And David Geer (@geercom), technology content consultant, ties business decisions closely to purchasing decisions. “Check your device inventories and lifecycles to see what devices are coming up for replacement, and then decide which smart devices are available through existing vendor relationships that can make a measurable and significant impact on the company’s bottom line,” he says. “Where smart technology or any new technology is concerned, less change is more.”

The Bottom Line

There’s little doubt that smart technology is increasing—and forward-looking TDMs must plan accordingly. Creating a strategy that includes mobile, open frameworks, security, big data, and integration as key pillars will go a long way toward ensuring success.