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Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Top 5 Tech Trends For 2011

Big ideas heard at the InformationWeek 500 conference include a renewed focus on innovation, the importance of data visualization, and the ongoing agony of maintenance fees.

My top-level take away from the recent InformationWeek 500 Conference is that the economic doldrums may not be completely over, but people are working as if they are. I sensed more pent-up enthusiasm in the conference hall than at any time during the past three years. CIOs are chomping at the bit, not just to keep their business in the game, but to pull ahead of competitors.

I can't tell you how many times I heard the tired saw, "Nobody ever shrunk their way to success." Well, nobody's in shrink mode now, though peoples' budgets don't necessarily match their developmental ambitions. Perhaps that's why the ideas floating about the collective industry subconscious as we wrap up 2010 all seem to have a heavy ROI component. Here they are, in no particular order.

Innovation Is back. OK, maybe it never left. But what's different this time is that some companies are attempting to codify the processes through which innovation can be nurtured. More important than ideas, which quite frankly are cheap, is the ability to pick which concepts are worthy of the heavy investment of time, money, and corporate mindshare required to take them to productization.

Leading the pack here is Dell. At the IW500, I spoke with Chief Innovation Officer James Stikeleather, who is working to establish and spread a methodology for innovation throughout the computer powerhouse. More on that to come in future columns.

Business data is the answer. (And it doesn't matter what the question is.) I'm being glib, but only to spotlight what's perhaps the greatest unacknowledged challenge facing everyone in business from tech folks, through marketing, to accounting.

It used to be that if you couldn't measure it, you couldn't manage it. While that truism still holds sway, it's obsolete when it comes to the modern, multivariate world. Indeed, there's so much data that it's impossible to even know what to discard so that you can begin to makes sense of the numbers.

Enter data visualization, a field which used to be the province of supercomputer scientists. Now, it's beginning to resonate with CIOs, who see it as a method for delivering useful data dumps to users. How do I know that? Well, at the InformationWeek 500, I saw a presentation, which started off as a head-in-the-clouds tour of a visualized "brain," resonate with the audience when the presenter let on that her data-representation techniques could be applied to real-world business situations.

Of course, market usefulness in this realm will require a company to lead the way, analogous to what, say, iRise has done regarding visualizing software process flows. For now, you can read more about what JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, is doing at the AlloSphere Research Facility at the University of California at Santa Barbara, here.

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