“The easy problems in the world are solved, the hard ones are left, and we’re going to need software to fix them.”

That’s how GitHub co-founder Tom Preston-Werner characterized the technological challenges ahead at a roundtable discussion of predictions for the enterprise in San Francisco Thursday.

Sounds a hell of a lot more important than “discovering and sharing your favorite sepia-filtered photos of location-based interests with your friends,” doesn’t it?

The other people at the table were Patrick Collison from Stripe, Christian Gheorghe from Tidemark, Suhail Doshi from Mixpanel and Aaron Levie from Box. These are names you’re going to hear about a lot in the next year or so.

Talking About Real Money

The media is just starting to realize that actual business problems involving actual money make for much more interesting applications of software than consumers’ desires for playthings. And next year is poised to be huge for companies in the enterprise sector.

Github is building the infrastructure companies need to collaborate on the software it’s writing, and even to hire new engineers based on their work and experience. It’s like Linked In for geeks, only better because you can actually see their work.

Box is building a service for companies to sync their files and data to their employees’ numerous and increasingly mobile devices. “Stripe is building new economic infrastructure for the Internet,” as Collison said, by making payments through the Web easy to implement.

Look! It’s enterprise software solving exciting problems!

Revolutions At The Edge

Panel moderator Peter Levine of venture capitalists Andreessen Horowitz says 2012 was the year of the enterprise “renaissance,” when the demand for better solutions to workers’ problems emerged. He says 2013 will be the year the buying starts to catch up with demand. Price per unit has gone down as these technologies have scaled up, so more and more companies — and even individual departments and workers — are able to buy in.

“Revolutions happen at the edge, not at the center,” said Gheorge. The panelists all pointed at the trend of individual departments eclipsing CIOs as the buyers of technology for companies. “A lot of the embedded relationships [with traditional enterprise vendors] aren’t very strong right now,” Levie noted. “So many CIOs have been burned by that process.”

Instead of being locked into inflexible relationships with outmoded technologies, the idea is for companies, departments and employees to be empowered to pick the best tools for the job. “The employee gets fired if they can’t do their job,” said Levie. “They don’t care about IBM, they care about doing their job.”

Since so many of these new tools are free for personal use, individuals are able to find their own best ways to work and then make decisions or recommendations about them. Freemium actually works here. In fact, it works for so-called “consumer” applications that are for doing work, too. There isn’t really a line between “consumer” and “enterprise” software anymore. It’s a line between playing around and getting things done.

2013 Enterprise Predictions

Aaron Levie of Box predicted that the next year will see the rise of an enterprise app economy. For example, companies will begin to buy applications for some specific thing because it uses Box for syncing, and the company already runs Box.

Patrick Collison of Stripe predicted that over the next five years, the social and collaborative nature of the next wave of enterprise software will begin to create powerful network effects, just like consumer social software already does. For the same reason a newcomer would have a hard time dislodging Facebook — because everyone is already over there — it will be very hard for a competitor to dislodge GitHub as the social coding infrastructure.

My favorite prediction came from Tom Preston-Werner of GitHub. He predicted that companies who can attract the best talent to write world-changing software, and who can give them the tools to do it, “are going to be the companies that succeed.”

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.