Cloud computing, the rise of enterprise social networks, a revolving door at Hewlett-Packard, and the passing of Steve Jobs all had a major impact on the business technology sector in 2011. What follows is my list, in reverse order, of the most important themes, events, products, and people in business technology of the past year.
20. Consultant nation. The technology and business skills an IT professional needs are changing constantly, and companies are struggling to keep up. Enter the era of highly skilled, highly paid temporary workers willing (and sometimes able) to take on your most pressing business technology projects. The challenge is to assemble teams of those workers on schedule and within budget, and keep them working toward a project's successful conclusion. Lots of startups will emerge to help companies find and assemble those teams.
19. Musical chairs at HP. Hewlett-Packard once stood for a calm, measured (and somewhat boring) approach to business technology. There, R&D experts would cook up great new products and features and hand them over to the sales and marketing folks. Former CEO Carly Fiorina shifted that focus, trying to make HP more like Apple, which didn't work for her or the company. Her successor, Mark Hurd, was a relentless cost cutter. Leo Apotheker failed to build consensus in a consensus driven company. Meg Whitman now has the opportunity to reassemble HP's considerable strengths into a compelling set of business services. I don't think she can wait until 2013 to deliver the goods.
18. New development platforms. One way to look at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google + is as development platforms with their own APIs, development languages, and design capabilities. Your company probably spends a lot of time and effort on website design, search optimization, and newsletter outreach. But what is it doing to develop applications on the big social media platforms?
17. New boss at IBM. If almost every change at Hewlett-Packard is marked by upheaval (see No. 19), IBM transitions are seamless and controlled. So it was with Virginia Rometty, a 30-year IBM veteran named in October to succeed Sam Palmisano as CEO come January. The ability to identify, train, and promote executives is one of IBM's unheralded strengths, and it should be one of your company's core strengths.
16. Big Data. Another buzzword worthy of the cloud hypesters, big data is nonetheless a critical trend. Big data describes data sets that can include population trends, weather patterns, and just about anything else that makes the world work. Analyzing those kinds of sets in combination with company, supplier, customer, and other data to make more informed business decisions will grow in importance in 2012.
15. Stuxnet. That was one sophisticated piece of malware. While digital investigators may never know the origin of Stuxnet, how long the malware remained dormant, or exactly how it was activated, the sophistication of the attack heralded a new era of digital hacking. Hackers are moving from targeting PCs to a far broader mandate, including mobile devices, social networks, and corporate infrastructure. The security lessons Stuxnet taught businesses in 2011 need to be carried over to constant monitoring defenses in 2012.
14. CMOs as techies. Chief marketing officers are challenging CIOs and CTOs for their share of the IT budget. Social networks, marketing software as a service, business intelligence for brand and product management, and real-time customer sentiment analytics are creating a new tech-involved CMO.
13. NBA. The lockout is over! Wait, no, not the National Basketball Association. In this case NBA stands for new business applications. Location and payment systems that let Zipcar, for example, do on-demand car rentals, or sports venue systems that let fans make purchases from their seats.
12. Virtualization. A year ago, virtualization would have made the top of this list. It's as important as ever, but it's getting subsumed into the greater cloud discussion. Managing all those virtual servers, clients, and networks is now the big virtualization topic for IT.
11. Vertical ingenuity. Healthcare, financial services, and retail companies are leading the way in taking the biggest technology trends (see Nos. 2, 3, and 13 for starters) and turning them into applications that provide a strategic differentiation. Here is a list of 12 mobile healthcare applications that are changing the medical business. Amazon's strategy to bring price comparison to local shopping is a game changer in retail and has resulted in a local shopping uproar. Companies could learn a lot about new technology applications by looking at what companies in other industries are up to.