A fun challenge for me every month is to keep up with all the new IT technology and terminology. As soon as I boot up my devices each morning, I’m hit with a barrage of emails that tout the next best technology, newsletters marketing cutting-edge virtual platforms, and the list goes on. I enjoy online learning, reading technology news, and Google searches to get an introduction to some of the latest topics. These and other learning opportunities help keep my tech skills up to date so I don’t end up a punch card (please, no hanging chad jokes) in the digital world. While not all-inclusive or necessarily the most critical, I’ve comprised a list five technology areas every IT employee should have some basic knowledge of.

1. The Internet of Things (IoT)

If you haven’t thought much about the IoT then it’s time to refine your game and start taking a serious look. IoT is a flourishing area of technology that will allow for all types of physical devices to be networked to exchange data. It is destined to be a multi-trillion dollar industry. Many large technology stalwarts and startups are vying to become leaders in the space.

Activity trackers (I know many of you may track your steps daily), smoke alarms, home security systems, and small device trackers are just some of the basic everyday devices used in this new technology domain. More advanced applications exist. This includes smart cities that are developing IoT platforms to notify residents of open parking spaces, alerts that notify the Department of Public Works when the streetlights are out, and much more. Don’t fall behind in learning more about this space or you’ll be the person driving the Hyundai on the Autobahn. Oh wait, if you don’t speak German, maybe the Hyundai will be the correct car to drive so you don’t get lost.

2. Software Defined Networking (SDN)

To learn more about SDN I turned to my own employer, Cisco, who has published a book called “SDN for Dummies.” The book provides a nice overview of how SDN technology works and where it’s going.

Traditionally networks are complex and require a lot of smart people to keep them operationally sound and robust. SDN platforms make the enterprise management of networks easier with advanced software applications and controllers. SDN deployments are more flexible and allow a company to take away the tedious overhead of command line configuration and intricate management consoles. SDN also helps to make the network more secure by centralizing administration and policies.

Like me, if you’re not a network magician and you don’t know much about SDN, “SDN for Dummies” is a quick read (not quite 40 pages). You’ll walk away with, at a minimum, a solid foundation in this emerging technology. When you sit down to lunch with your certified wizardly networking friends, you’ll at least have a basic understanding and it will not all sound like Greek (I said Greek, not geek).

3. Application Programming Interface (API)

Open API is the equivalent to last year’s “mobile first” directive. Any new software platform under evaluation must have a published set of APIs that your other applications can integrate with. Open APIs are the building blocks for programming effective applications. They allow your software development teams to get creative and integrate multiple software programs to provide business value. When evaluating products and their Open API capabilities, ensure you pay attention to the various integrations that may be required between your on-premise, cloud, and hybrid-based platforms.

Facebook is one example that is widely used when discussing Open APIs. Facebook APIs allow developers to create an external account on a website while using Facebook credentials to log in. It’s become a widely used mechanism, and your end users don’t have to create another set of sign-on credentials that they’ll eventually forget.

Tropo (acquired by Cisco) is also a great example of an API platform. Tropo allows developers to add many different communication features to websites and applications. Does your website or smartphone application require features such as click-to-call, text messaging, conferencing, or speech recognition? All of these and more can be added to your web or smartphone application using the Tropo platform with just a few lines of programming.

Make sure your developers are vigilant about security when developing with APIs. The last thing you or your company needs is a hacker stealing all of your pertinent customer data.

4. Insightful Data

I’ve recently discussed insightful data in another blog post. I can’t say enough about how much significance is in the petabytes of data that’s being collected by your company. The art of unlocking that business value takes time and investment. Insightful data has led to a relatively new job category called “data scientist.” Having an experienced data scientist (or several) in your company may help you disseminate the data and uncover opportunities where you can possibly add more revenue to your bottom line.

Fear not small businesses if you can’t afford a data scientist. There are various applications that can help you analyze data. For example, many small businesses rely on analytic software tools to provide statistics about their websites such as click patterns or tell you if shopping carts are continually being abandoned. Others rely on widely available tools to measure employee productivity. If you have a need for insightful data, chances are that there will be a tool available or one that’s being developed in the not too distant future.

5. Digital Business

The market for digital business is massive — this could be one of my biggest understatements. Digital business is all about disruption, re-invention by using technology (insightful data/Big Data/IoT/Open API) to keep your company a leader and delivering a seamless user experience for your customers. There are many examples over the past several years of startups that are now multi-billion-dollar behemoths.

If your company isn’t thinking about the digital transformation, then you may find yourself out of business or have a large part of your market share taken away by a relatively new disruptive arrival. By now you probably have thought, “Oh yeah he’s talking about Uber.” Uber has taken the taxi industry to the mat and caused political heartburn in many countries (as a side note on your next vacation you may want to take the train next time you try to get to/from the airport in Paris).

Another example: Anyone out there think that streaming movies didn’t cause all those DVD rental places to go out of business? Many other case studies exist across various verticals, and more are being churned out daily.

In closing, as the technology industry continues to evolve and businesses quickly become digitized, you will have to not only continue to educate yourself in the latest technology jargon but develop new skills to stay essential. What do you think are the most important technology topics? How do you plan to stay essential in the digital economy and provide value? What topics are relevant to you, and how do you plan to stay informed?