North Bay Business Journal

Monday, December 30, 2013, 6:30 am

2014 Trends: Technology: ‘Modest improvement’ buoys tech

By Loralee Stevens, Special to the Business Journal

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    For the three largest technology companies in the North Bay, skies are clearing after a stormy period.

    “Sequestration” took its toll. Uncertainty held back long-term investment, and the inability of federal lawmakers to nail down a budget has eroded trust in the government.

    “Economic indicators suggest a modest improvement in the global economy,” said Ron Nersesian, CEO-in-waiting for the new stand-alone company to be formed from Agilent Technologies’ Electronic Measurement Group based in Santa Rosa.

    The company, due to spin off from Agilent by November 2014, makes test instruments for the semiconductor, aerospace/defense and communications industries.


    Ron Nersesian

    Mr. Nersesian feels that the group, suffering from sequestration-related cutbacks in the semiconductor industry in the U.S. and weakening of communications markets overseas, will see a turnaround in 2014.

    “Longer-term growth drivers for the industry remain intact,” he said. “And we are seeing signs that orders are picking up in the semiconductor sector. For the fiscal year 2014 we expect EMG to return to growth position.”

    Paul Nahi, president and chief executive officer of Enphase Energy in Petaluma, sees power issues coming to the forefront as the economy improves.

    Enphase is a fast-growing developer and provider of microinverters for the solar industry.

    “Hard economic times always necessitate a tightening and integration of power sources,” Mr. Nahi said. “Now we can expect to see lots of development in the power storage and local energy management sectors.”

    He predicts big changes in the way utilities balance their energy input, whether it’s from fossil fuel-fired plants, solar, wind or geothermal.

    “The utilities will change more in the next five years than they have in last 100, as they adjust to distributed generation,” Mr. Nahi said. “Net metering — buying back energy generated by rooftop solar systems — has been a challenging issue with them, but I think we can all work together to help the utilities evolve into stable, profitable agencies.”

    Mr. Nahi, like Mr. Nersesian, has his eye on the semiconductor industry. He expects a growth cycle there as new energy storage products and the smart grid are developed.


    Amar Hanspal

    According to Amar Hansal, senior vice president of products and technology at Autodesk, times have never been better despite the lingering recession — for designers and engineers, that is.

    The San Rafael-based company is the global leader in design software for entertainment, natural resources, manufacturing, engineering, construction and civil infrastructure.

    “Right now, they have the tools that enable them to solve global challenges like never before: cloud computing, mobile and social networks, 3-D printing and ‘big data,’” Mr. Hansal said.

    Mobile, cloud and social computing technologies are driving a fundamental shift in computing, equal to if not larger than the shift that occurred as the industry moved from the mainframe to the PC in the 1980s, giving users unprecedented opportunities for collaboration, he said.

    “Competitive advantage is on everyone’s mind, not just locally, but across the country and even globally,” Mr. Hansal said. “And I think we’ll start to see more and more small businesses competing on a global scale.”

    Technology developments such as 3-D printing coupled with crowd funding are giving small manufacturers a platform to actually compete in a global market, Mr. Hansal said.

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