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.
10. BI from the outside in. Whereas once the main thrust of business intelligence software was to analyze a company's internal operations, the most interesting BI thrust right now is taking place outside the corporation. Companies are using BI to analyze the social network conversations customers and potential customers are having about their products and brands, influencing their product development, pricing strategies, marketing campaigns, and sales approaches.
9. IT as a service. The service concept has been around for awhile. But when internal IT was the only service in town, a company's options were limited. Now the options include internally offered services, hosted services, and services offered as a cloud-based application. Competition from outside providers will put more pressure on IT organizations to justify charge-backs.
8. Social networks go enterprise. The endless updating of likes, dislikes, locations, and petty discussions has no place in the enterprise. How wrong can an assumption be? The large established social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google +, are developing a corporate stance, while social business software such as Yammer, Socialtext, and Salesforce.com's Chatter are gaining corporate traction. The goals: Help employees collaborate better internally and with partners; and help companies connect with and understand their customers better.
7. Steve Jobs' death. The person who had the greatest influence on business technology in 2011 (and arguably in business tech for the past 10 years) was also the executive with the most disdain for the business sphere. Jobs created a model of perfectionism, consumer-orientation, and truly personal computing that will be near impossible for another executive to replicate. The prosumer movement (see trend No. 5) is largely Jobs' doing.
6. P/C/S. As noted in some of the other trends, privacy, security, and compliance are the three obstacles any application or service must surmount to make it onto the corporate network. These issues became even more acute in 2011 as state and federal regulations made privacy leaks not just embarrassing but financially costly. Expect these regulations to be tightened in 2012.
5. Prosumer. What a great idea: Your employees bear the cost of buying computing hardware, and you simply hook them into the corporate network. But not so fast--user-purchased devices present some profound security and compliance challenges, which companies are just starting get their arms around.
4. The economy. Even as the economy starts to grow modestly, the C-suite, including CIOs, will remain cautious with spending. Every dollar will require an ROI justification, and CIOs will weigh their lease-versus-buy and temporary-versus-fulltime-staffing options. CIOs are under intense pressure to develop IT spending plans aimed at outgrowing the competition rather than cutting costs to match a slowing economy.
3. Mobility. Your employees have left their cubicles. Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones are all the rage. The app store model is making its way into the enterprise, and mobile devices connected to location and payment systems will reorganize how companies manage their workforces, deploy their services, and get paid for their products. How will you manage and secure those mobile devices and applications?
2. Cloud computing. Depending on your perspective, the cloud is the most important or hyped or abused term in the technology lexicon. It's probably all three. Cloud computing does represent the biggest expansion of IT functions beyond the corporate confines since the first glassed-in data center was created. Clouds, parsed into public, private, and hybrid varieties, are here to stay.
1. IT is too slow. When this cover story came out in InformationWeek magazine earlier this year, I was working at a competing media business and was envious that InformationWeek had put the issue so succinctly. Complaints about IT operations being too slow and unwieldy have always existed, but the rise of cloud computing, software as a service, and all-encompassing social networks makes the option of doing an end run around IT all the more plausible. The transformation of IT into a service business (see No. 20) is just now unfolding. It should be a wake-up call to IT organizations everywhere.
VP and Editorial Analyst, InformationWeek
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