NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When it comes to the technology industry, we're in the midst of something historic: the beginnings of persistent growth, record-setting and leadership-changing M&A trends, and, yes, sustained long-term value creation for winning tech vendors.
Technology as a sector created over $4 trillion in shareholder value -- almost quadrupling in size -- in the relatively short period since the internet boom of the 1990s. If that was the first such major inflection point (in an industry that is less than 40 years old, by some definitions), what we're witnessing today is orders of magnitude more impactful.
Let me give you an example of how this is already happening.
One longer-term trend that we're seeing today is the commercialization of the internet of things (IoT) and the emergence of potential new leaders outside of what is traditionally considered that technology. We are seeing, for the first time in 2015, real investment, development and deployment of IoT solutions in the world. The premise of IoT as a value proposition is finally being made real in vertical industries like health care, oil and gas, and industrial manufacturing. It's still early, but forecast revenue for IoT solutions providers take into account 2015-2016 growth, and not just the outer years of five-year plans.
This is a trend to watch because it may become a new battleground where traditional tech players (who have approached solutions more typically on a horizontal basis) will vie for market share with adjacent vertical industry players (who may never have considered themselves tech vendors -- or been considered such by Wall Street). It could either be another major headache strategically for tech incumbents, and even narrowly focused technology upstarts, or we may see another revolution in technology as new combinations of players work together to tackle the huge IoT opportunity.
Innovations like the cloud and smart mobile devices have already become the requisite choices among the "mission-critical" solutions adopted by enterprises and consumers today. Noting them in a discussion on innovation seems almost dated now. For a real-world example, look no further than the age (and price) of your current desktop, or the number of just-downloaded apps on your mobile device.
The impact of the cloud and mobile rippling through the industry, though, is very clear and present. What this has meant for the old guard of tech leaders has been enormous disruption in their business models and businesses. We've described that disruption, in part, by two trends: moving from "Stack to solution (S2S)" and "Being in the crosshairs." Many companies are endeavoring to be more solutions-oriented by attempting to replace technology stacks with cloud-integrated solutions. We may still see a mega-merger or two to achieve this. But they're somewhat at the mercy of Wall Street skeptics who question whether such transformations are doable, or doable in a short enough period of time to make those companies relevant again. Failure to transform -- or the perceived risk of failure -- has put many companies "in the crosshairs," exposing them to shareholder dissent, aggressive activists and, in many cases, unwinding consolidation strategies that were considered strategically sound earlier in this century.
Two other relatively short-term trends are also at work. As you typically see at moments of tectonic shift in technology, security requires re-imagining and redefining. It's happening now in spades. In our view, the cloud and mobility have morphed security and privacy into multifaceted concepts, exposing new vulnerabilities and threats that often multiply amid technology transitions and business transformations, but also providing opportunities for new vendors to create value quickly. Second, reactive actions by strategic incumbents include -- where they can -- the identification of "hidden gems." These bright spots allow some assets (tangible in the case of divisions, or intangible in the case of intellectual property or even big data) to be exploited. However, doing so requires difficult separations to isolate standalone value or radical innovation to leverage content that existed but was never before used within a vendor's value proposition.
But it's the look forward that's most compelling. It bears emphasis, in spite of the current loss in Americans' 401(k)s. As technology innovations become more mainstream -- causing changes in user behavior and enterprise business processes -- we'll see relatively rapid changes unfold in the broader technology landscape. There will be potentially dramatic leadership changes in what we would count as "top" or leading vendors (including new entrants from adjacent industries); more creative types of M&A and corporate development activities; and, yes, probably more "unicorns" -- that is, start-ups valued at $1 billion or more -- but also more clearly defined winners and losers in this next tech century.