UPDATE: Please also be sure to check out Part 2 of this series, which lists the #6 through #10 most influential IT vendors. You can view Part 2 here.
Cloud computing, mobile, analytics, people-oriented apps, virtualization, revising the stack, flipping 80/20, coping with information explosion, the social enterprise, and more: CIOs have had to turn numerous conceptual challenges into business solutions this year, and I suspect the global business climate in 2011 will only accelerate that pace of change.
In that context, my list of the 10 most-influential IT vendors from 2010 and into 2011 isn't based in sheer mass or market cap or history but rather on the influence those companies have had not just on IT organizations but on how businesses and other large organizations think about technology, how they deploy it, and how they are using it to transform their organizations.
So the 10 companies I'm proposing include some surprises because some IT vendors from outside the traditional enterprise bubble have come crashing in with unconventional ideas that have jarred conventional thinking and approaches, while some other longtime enterprise stalwarts didn't make the list or fell to the bottom half because they have done more following than leading.
Among the reasons I feel this list can be useful—or at least interesting—is that this industry has been absolutely brutal in flushing out once-dazzling companies that first lose their willingness to be great, then lose their focus on their customers, then become overwhelmed with cutting costs, and then get acquired by someone who wants only their various assets and not the brand itself.
That's a dynamic that is continuing and will continue, and that pace of change noted above is becoming more of a factor in determining competitive advantage and business success for the customers that run their businesses on all that technology.
That's because it is increasingly important for CIOs to be sure they're creating powerful relationships with not necessarily the biggest but rather the best and most-influential IT suppliers: the ones that are driving and creating the ideas of tomorrow instead of just reproducing the products of yesterday.
And for CIOs who want to keep their jobs—and not succumb to the type of involuntary separation I described in a column called Global CIO: 10 Reasons CIOs Will Get Fired This Year--the knack for picking the right IT suppliers to lean on for the future will be absolutely critical.
(Please note: In drawing up this list, no surveys, polling firms, robocallers, or psychics were used. So if you've got complaints about this list, direct all hate mail to me, but if you think it's brilliant and wonderful, send all bundles of cash to my standard offshore account.)
Numbers 6-10 will come in a column later this week, but for now here's my list of the top 5 most influential IT vendors: