This year will see the impact of several slow-developing technologies, such as RFID, virtualization, and advanced graphics.
Several technologies that have been percolating around the edges of mainstream business will bubble up to the surface this year, and CIOs and IT managers need to be prepared for the opportunities they represent--or risk getting burned.
Radio frequency identification will begin to ramp up the data loads IT centers must handle, as the tags become more pervasive. Web services will present workaday challenges, as managers are tasked with integrating Web-based apps into enterprise computing systems. The cost savings promised by server virtualization will be too compelling to pass up. Graphics processing will get a boost from the advent of Microsoft’s Vista operating system. And as far-flung workforces face new and more troubling threats, mobile security will be more of a challenge.
RADIO FREQUENCY IDENTIFICATION "What ERP did to the enterprise, RFID will do to the supply chain," says Marlo Brooke, senior partner at Avatar Partners, a systems integrator. "It’s all about centralization, visibility, and automation."
RFID isn’t new, having been around in one form or another for more than a decade. Over the last several years, Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense have helped move RFID into the mainstream, using the technology to track everything from pallets to people to pill bottles, and insisting that their partners adopt it as well. RFID standards are solidifying, making it easier to develop applications and interoperate various pieces. Products such as Reva Systems’ Tag Acquisition Processor make it easier to funnel RFID data directly into inventory, manufacturing, and supply chain systems.
There are challenges. An RFID deployment needs to take into account potential radio frequency issues and how wireless networks are deployed across an organization. Also, warehousing and inventory experience are needed to collect the scanned information and integrate it into existing supply chain applications. The IT shops that embrace RFID will have to be able to handle the massive data dumps the technology generates, route this data to the right places within their applications infrastructure, and be able to act on this information as part of their decision-support systems.
WEB SERVICES Last year saw plenty of buzzwords describing the "Webification" of business applications: blogs, mashups, the rewritable Web, RSS feeds, software as a service, social networking spaces, Web 2.0, and wikis. Buzzwords or not, the Web has become a solid delivery platform for applications, and Web services will change the way we deploy enterprise software.
The trick is in paying attention, because the Web services movement is producing better and more capable enterprise-class applications that can be deployed in a fraction of the time more traditional apps can. IT managers can use combinations of Web-based applications to piece together what they need. For instance, you can take a mapping service such as Yahoo or Google Maps and tie in the location of your current sales leads to determine where to deploy your sales force.
Utilize that RFID data--fast
Many of these begin with one or more hosted applications. There’s Zimbra for hosting enterprise-class E-mail, Amazon.com’s S3 for off-site disk storage, Concur for expense reporting, and Jive Software’s Clearspace for document and workflow management, to name just a few.
"Hosted applications [give me] a new and more flexible opportunity for providing application solutions to my clients," says Dan Parnas, a director at online brokerage Charles Schwab. "They have significantly lower up-front cost and the ability to bring the application online relatively quickly."
The good news about software as a service, says Doug Neal, a research fellow with Computer Sciences Corp.’s Leading Edge Forum executive program, is that it provides a software architecture and business model that can meet the growing need for agility. "We’ve seen this movie before with the invention of the PC," he says. "Resistance was futile then and it’s futile now."
SERVER VIRTUALIZATION (FOR FREE!) The concept behind virtual machine software is simply stated but hard to implement: Divvy up a single server into separate virtual machines, each with its own memory, virtual hardware, drive images, and other resources. It also isn’t new--IBM has been doing this on its mainframes for more than 30 years. What’s new is that the power of VM technology now can be exploited on Intel-based servers, an underutilized asset in most data centers.
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