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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
5/5/2008
12:12 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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8 Trends In IT CIOs Can't Ignore

Accenture's chief scientist sees several IT trends emerging over the next 36 months that CIOs need to embrace. Hint: One leads to the CIO becoming the Chief Intelligence Officer. If you like the sound of that, read on.

Accenture's chief scientist sees several IT trends emerging over the next 36 months that CIOs need to embrace. Hint: One leads to the CIO becoming the Chief Intelligence Officer. If you like the sound of that, read on.I spoke recently with Accenture's Kishore Swaminathan, the consulting firm's chief scientist, and he shared his firm's outlook on the trends affecting the future of IT. Here are his eight greatest hits:

One: Cloud computing. "The technology is there and reasonably mature," says Swaminathan. The biggest if-factor in this trend, also known as utility computing or on-demand computing, is security, but Swaminathan offers this example to bolster his assertion: Last November a large New York bank decided to move 35,000 seats from its off-the-shelf CRM application, Siebel, to Salesforce.com's online CRM service. The banking firm found that Salesforce.com's security infrastructure was as good or better than its own, Swaminathan claims.

In response to security concerns, though, look for the development of "private clouds" aimed at large enterprises, essentially gated communities with strong security policies. Time frame? 24 to 36 months. In the short term, cloud computing is mature enough to experiment with. "What cloud computing enables you to do is try something," Swaninathan says. "If it works, you can scale up; if not, shut it down."

Two: Light systems. Here Swaminathan is talking about Web 2.0 technologies in the workplace, in particular application mashups. "The same thing exists today, except we don't call them mashups, we call them spreadsheets," says Swaminathan. Time frame? "We expect this to be fairly full-blown in 36 months." The difference between spreadsheets and mashups, he says, is that the data used in a mashup is live, and by using it in a mashup you publish it as an application, so other people can use it, extend it, etc.

What hasn't quite matured in this trend is the security infrastructure, just exactly "how they will be governed by [a company's] privacy policy or compliance regulatory rules," Swaminathan says. Some verticals -- the financial industry, for example -- will probably not embrace this, or embrace it for some data types but not others, he predicts.

Swaminathan makes an interesting point by applying the concept of the "long tail" here. "Up till now, it wasn't economical to build an application unless there were hundreds of thousands of users," he says. "Now, there are small [application] needs, but the CIO can't build such applications." Light systems will enable end users to build small apps, and create a "huge long tail of applications" in corporations.

Three: Business intelligence. Starting with Y2K, then Sarbanes Oxley, the CIO has had 10 years of managing back-end systems --- "mostly so they don't break" -- and it's been almost completely about compliance, Swaminathan says. As power shifts to the user (see #2, above), there's a corresponding shift of empowerment, technology-wise, to the front office. That shift is manifesting itself in the demand for actionable data. The role of the CIO, which has been very application-centric up till now, will change to one that's data centric.

"Instead of building applications, business units will come to [the CIO] with requests for profiling the data, cutting and slicing the data in different ways," Swaminathan says. And with that increasing demand for actionable corporate data, there are two scenarios emerging for the future of the CIO: One, the CIO will become the "commander of the data fort," very good at setting policies around data security and then getting out of the way; two, the CIO will go from Chief Information Officer to Chief Intelligence Officer, the person who will "mine the corporate jewel (data) for value."

One of the reasons this rampant use of data hasn't happened up till now is that it's been hard to get data out of back-end systems, Swaminathan says. However, SOA (service-oriented architecture) "provides a lot of agility for putting together systems at the back end," he says, "SOA makes the plumbing easier. It's the enabler."

Four: The always-connected user. "The notion of the corporate desktop is going to go away," says Swaminathan. That's due to two intersecting developments: the rapid evolution of hand-held computing (i.e., cell phones) and the breakdown of the work/life dichotomy. "My professional and my personal lives are no longer separate." As with most of these trends, security is the biggest holdback. "Companies will have to rethink security policies completely," he says.

Five: Social networking. "Huge trend in the marketplace" that's already being felt in the corporate environment, says Swaminathan. Time frame? Now.

Six: Dramatic growth in user-generated content. Here's where all those Web 2.0 trends you've been hearing about -- blogs, video, YouTube -- come in. "CIOs have stayed away from the analysis of unstructured Web data," Swaminathan says. "Business units want it, but CIOs today don't want to provide it." However, IT departments will have to deal with it, he predicts, because "intelligence from unstructured data is very valuable." Unstructured Web data represents new models in CRM, Swaminathan says. For instance, there are boutique companies that do blog mining and shaping of consumer sentiment by proxy through information placed in blogs. An indication of the importance of this trend is Microsoft's acquisition earlier this year of Fast, a sophisticated search engine for mining unstructured data and the public Web.

Seven: The "forever beta" approach to software. Think Gmail or eBay. These services are really "slowly evolving applications," Swaminathan says, and they will be the model for software development going forward. The forever beta approach has these advantages: With the introduction of new features, there's no new learning curve, you don't lose the audience, and you can quietly retract noneffective features.

Eight: Sustainability (a/k/a green computing). The reason companies are so interested in green computing is because the IT department is where a lot of energy is used. "To the extent that energy is consumed, the IT systems provide the best place for you to optimize that energy consumption," says Swaminathan. Look for companies to try to extend the effects of green computing to partners and customers -- green supply chains, for example, or green logistics.

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