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A collection of stories and ideas from vendor executives and business-technology professionals who look forward to the future.
Greg Butterfield, CEO, Altiris, on the future of systems management
"Systems management will face very different challenges in 25 years. With hardware and memory becoming much more affordable, the 'talking refrigerator' and other smart devices will finally become a reality. Most of these smart devices are not complex enough to justify a real operating system like UNIX or Windows. New standards will evolve to interface with millions of smart devices, such as a museum painting that talks to you through your cell phone, to literally deliver information to your fingertips. To keep all of these devices up to date and running, systems management will be relied on much more heavily, in a broad array of products, and must be cross-platform and vendor independent."
Gerald D. Cohen, President and CEO, Information Builders Inc. on the perennial need for information:
Surviving for 25 years in any industry is a good track record. In the information technology industry, it's an outright rarity. Technology by its very nature breeds new ideas and start-up ventures, many of which never reach adolescence as successful technology companies are often snapped up by larger firms as soon as they show promise. A handful of companies carve out a lucrative niche on their own merits—only to discover the market has taken a new direction, forcing the organization into obscurity.
The same thing is true in the publishing business. As the media follows trends, there is a tendency for trade magazines to align themselves with whatever is big at the moment, whether it's object technology, e-commerce, or client/server. The lure is an instant critical mass of both readers and advertisers, coupled with a technical concentration that inspires focused editorial. However, this approach can be a recipe for disaster as well, because just as quickly as computing practices change, so do the interests of readers.
InformationWeek has survived through it all because of the prescience of its founders to cover broad issues and trends, in addition to ephemeral technical developments. Think of all the IT magazines that followed specific technologies and platforms. Most of them generated a flurry of interest, struggled to remain relevant and then went under. Yet InformationWeek has persevered. Readers enjoy the weekly frequency, the unbiased tone, the range of topics and the constantly evolving format, which now includes both print and electronic versions. Clearly, InformationWeek has never seen itself as just a magazine, but as a purveyor of industry news and information.
Information Builders has followed a similar course during our 30 years in business. If you asked me what kind of company I was founding in the 1970s, I would have answered "a mainframe reporting software company." As Information Builders grew I realized we weren't just in the reporting business, we were in the information delivery business. That perspective has allowed us to thrive to this day, adapting to the many changes in the market.
I like to think of it as the Law of the Unintended Consequence. Software companies succeed through their ability to generalize the value of what they offer. To prosper over the long term, they can't merely create products for a specific platform or a specific architecture, or even a specific technical need. Instead, they must learn to solve specific business problems, and to become adept at perceiving the anticipated needs of customers.
It's fun to ponder the history of our industry, but the ways in which people use computers really has not changed dramatically since these computational devices were invented more than 50 years ago. Today's computers still collect, manage, store and distribute information. They are great at performing complex calculations, monitoring and controlling processes, and helping us communicate with each other, whether it's a wireless Blackberry or IBM's latest iSeries server.
Of course, the user base has grown exponentially during that period. When Information Builders was founded there were maybe a million people in the world who were involved with information technology. During the era of the mini-computer in the 1980s, the user-base jumped 10-fold, to about 10 million people. When PCs hit the market and the personal computing revolution took hold, the user base quickly jumped by a similar magnitude, to more than 100 million people. Today, with the advent of the Internet and the spread of low-cost computing devices, we have easily exceeded 1 billion users.
What does the future hold? In the next 25 years we will be putting intelligence in places we never anticipated. Computing is bursting out of the IT world and into our every day lives, and it won't stop at automobiles and cell phones. The decreasing cost of producing integrated circuits in tandem with greater miniaturization is enabling applications that once belonged solely in the realm of science fiction. Technological movements supporting these goals are already well underway under the rubrics broadband wireless and nanotechnology, which involves the creation of computer components on an atomic scale.
Computers will soon completely permeate the life of the user, a trend called ubiquitous computing. According to Mark Weiser, a researcher at the venerable Xerox PARC institute who coined the term, ubiquitous computing's highest ideal is to make a computer so embedded, so fitting, so natural, that we use it without even thinking about it.
Business Intelligence vendors such as Information Builders are seeing the impact of these trends in what we call operational Business Intelligence systems, in which traditional "pull" oriented data warehouse applications are supplemented by event-driven systems. These advanced information systems use real-time information to automatically monitor a business process, whether it's spotting defects in a manufacturing line or identifying fraudulently coded medical claims. As computers get smaller, smarter, and more ubiquitous—and the software evolves in tandem--we will gradually see humans removed from the decision making process.
We can't always envision the consequences of these trends, but my hunch is that business users will always have a need for software that can handle operational reporting, analysis and information delivery activities. Just as InformationWeek has discovered through its long history as a respected publication, the need for timely information isn't going to go away any time soon.
Scott Kriens, chairman and CEO of Juniper Networks, on how technology will impact the way we interact with machines, people, and our own bodies.
"From the social to the nano level, technology will deeply impact the way we interact with machines, people and our own bodies. The way we communicate will be transparent--driven by voice-activated appliances that respond to natural language commands. On the move, we can stay connected to home and work via wireless networks that are triggered by thought or a push of a button. When making mental notes, we are really booking dentist appointments or ordering groceries complete with delivery service. Doctors, by using chips embedded in the human body, can better understand and work with organ functions, extending and improving our quality of life. We see technology, over the next 25 years, both linking us closer to our immediate environment and extending our sense of self beyond a mere physical presence."
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