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.
By Alexander Wolfe, InformationWeek
October 23, 2010 06:00 AM
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,
Maintenance fees will remain a point of contention. The largest single sunk cost for businesses, after personnel, is software. Tens of thousands of dollars here, tens of thousands of dollars there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money — money enterprises resent paying. (Jeopardy question: Who am I paraphrasing?)
Almost a year ago, Global CIO guru Bob Evans brought to the industry’s forefront the subject of sunk costs spent on, as Seinfeld might put it, nothing. (OK, software updates and support which you may or may not use in an amount commensurate with what you’re paying.) Check out the columns which got the debate started: Global CIO: Will SAP Move To Tiered Maintenance Fees? and Global CIO: Oracle’s Incredible Profit Machine: 22% Maintenance Fees.
At InformationWeek 500, I heard from Rimini Street, which has carved out a business model based on undercutting maintenance-contract fees by as much as 90%. Currently, Oracle and Rimini are in a court battle. Oracle sued Rimini for intellectual-property theft and Rimini countersued; read Bob’s Global CIO: Oracle’s Dazzling Profit Machine Threatened By Rimini Suit, for more details.
This is a legal drama which bears watching, because if Rimini prevails, it means the market for cut-rate support is just beginning. This is Rimini’s conundrum. If it loses, it’s probably out of business. And if it wins, it’s just opened the market up to dozens of competitors.
For CIOs who might be pulling for Rimini, there’s also some angst, because opting for cheap maintenance could come at the cost of ticking off your primary software vendor. Rimini suggests that perhaps you don’t want to be pulled along into product upgrades you might not want just because they’re needed to get you aligned with a vendor’s support cycle. So I’ll cut it off here, but the outro is that this issue will be a big one during the next 12 to 24 months.
Enterprise 2.0 is a way of thinking as much as it is a product(s). I’m a big supporter of social tools in the enterprise, but not so big that I can’t see there are some issues attendant to the mad adoption rush. (I’ve recounted some of these in my column, Wolfe’s Den: Top 5 Enterprise 2.0 Roadblocks.)
The biggest impediment towards E2.0 surviving beyond the hype phase is that its quantifiable benefits remain unclear. Perhaps that’s more true when you’re talking generalized usage — such as an activity stream for everything you’re doing — than it is for social tools directed at specific, tightly targeted, purposes.
Here, the canonical example is what Salesforce.com has shown can be done on the customer-relationship front by smartly monitoring Twitter.
At the InformationWeek 500, I saw a second interesting example, in a meeting where SuccessFactors discussed its acquisition of social-collaboration software provider CubeTree. SuccessFactors is tightly integrating CubeTree’s tools into its own business-execution software. The latter is itself something of a new category, in that SuccessFactors is working to raise traditional human-resources-planning tools onto a more strategic plane. So in some sense you have a dual-pronged attack here, with two new areas combining to potentially deliver more value than simply the sum of the component parts.
The Internet Is making us stupid. Sitting down to write this column, I initially thought my riff on Nicolas Carr’s new book, “The Shallows” was going to be simply for the purpose of stretching out this article so I wouldn’t have to headline it “Four Trends. . .”
I speak of Carr because he spoke at the InformationWeek 500. His talk wound its way through the not-very-disruptive thesis that rampant multitasking has rendered us all incapable of tending to any task which takes longer than the making of instant oatmeal. However, his discussion was engaging, perhaps because he peppered it with quasi-academic references — the invention of the printing press, blah, blah — or maybe because he seemed like a thoughtful and decent guy.
So why am I mentioning this? Well, as the infamous Imus once said about rapper Eminem: “If we’re talking about him, it means he’s over.” Similarly, if everyone now accepts that the short attention span fostered by the Internet is having deleterious effects, then maybe we’re all ready to step back from our Blackberrys for a bit and do some longer-term thinking.
Speaking of which, I already detect rising social approbation for obsessive e-mail checking in meetings; this wasn’t the case only a year ago. So maybe there’s hope. And, hey, if this isn’t a message to Google to rethink Instant Search, I don’t know what is.
What’s Your Take? Leave A Comment
What are your top tech trends for late 2010 and 2011? Let me know, by leaving a comment below, which will in turn stoke the discussion with your fellow readers.