Looking to the future, Kishore S. Swaminathan, Accenture's Chief Scientist, envisions a series of major technology trends that will usher in an era of highly flexible and elastic capabilities that will allow businesses to stretch, change and expand at will.
He envisions IT capabilities that are not only about the hardware and software located in corporate data centers, but available dynamically from a number of providers from different geographies to suit local conditions and markets.
"We are moving into a world where everything will be elastic -- ideas, processes, innovation, services and labor," says Swaminathan.
Such an era will be impacted by the following technology trends:
1. The Internet becomes the locus of IT-based business capabilities. The advent of cloud computing, he says, enables us to source through the Internet hardware, software and storage across company firewalls and national boundaries. This gives organizations the opportunity to create new best-of-breed applications uniquely suited for their needs on a pay-as-you-go basis. Additional computing capacity can be added as needed, business processes can be shared and integrated with business partners, entry into emerging markets can be accomplished without long lead times or large fixed costs, local and regional companies can be accommodated, and business continuity will be enhanced as the company's IT ecology becomes immune to local catastrophes.
2. The 4C's -- communication, collaboration, communities and content - converge and redefine how we work. Up until now, says Accenture's chief scientist, companies have traditionally viewed collaboration technologies simply as the electronic extension of meeting rooms. In spite of the proliferation of such technologies as email, instant messaging, voice over IP, process-oriented collaboration, high-end telepresence, social network, blogs, RSS, free content distribution mechanisms, twitter and murmurs, work practices have largely remained the same.
The convergence of these technologies and the entry into the market of major technology vendors with new enterprise offerings -- the consumer web has until now been considerably ahead -- enables companies to rethink their workforces and work practices. "This may include finding better ways to deploy experts across multiple projects, reduce the time wasted in daily commute, eliminate the wear and tear of employees and the cost of travel across time zones, cut back on workspace, avoid the stress of large-scale hirings and layoffs in times of great volatility, and augment R&D with outside experts," Swaminathan says.
3. Mobile devices begin to dwarf PCs as the electronic channel for businesses and consumers (i.e. m is the new e). Today's high end devises run on 800 MHz processors, have a storage capacity of 32GB, touch-sensitive or OLED screens, and such add-ons as wifi connectivity, near field communications for interacting with the environment, GPS-based location identification, motion sensors, and a wide range of audio and video features.
Nearly 4 billion people on the planet -- 75% of whom live in emerging markets -- are mobile customers. Why is this significant? From an IT department's perspective, mobile devices present an unnecessary nuisance as a heterogenous set of devices with ever-present security risks (when they get lost). Yet, in dealing with customers, mobile devices also present a business opportunity and necessity. "In the developed world, they will augment the PCs as ecommerce and customer support channels, as we're already seeming them used for financial transactions and even as train tickets," he says. "In the emerging world, they are likely to be the sole electronic channel," (as well as more creative ways, such as the money transfer system widely used in Kenya).
4. Maturing technologies are extracting intelligence from data that helps in making sound decisions. He says that many of the difficulties organizations have faced will go away as a result of the following developments: web services and REST that are widely supported by technology vendors and help eliminate a major impediment to accessing data from complex enterprise systems; the acquisition by every major technology platform of an analytics/business intelligence company that suggests a much tighter integration between the data held by the platform and the analytics or intelligence needed to analyze it; new technologies, such as mashups, that enable end users to access and manipulate live data from multiple sources to suit their unique job needs rather than forced to depend on standard, outdated reports; the entry into the market of a number of sophisticated data visualization tools; the maturing of Business Process Management, which holds the promise for automated adaptation of business processes in response to patterns detected in data; and the dramatic increase in the amount of public information that is being put out on the web through blogging, social networking and content-sharing sites that is waiting to be mined.
The real advantage to all this will be the data itself and how the organization utilizes it to make decisions. Companies that have a comprehensive approach to data governance will have a decided advantage.
The eventual pace and importance of these trends, however, says Swaminathan, will likely be determined by these three factors:
1. Cybersecurity and IT risk. "On one hand," says Accenture' chief scientist, "you can argue that Internet-oriented computing increases risk since a company no longer controls its IT ecology. Yet, on the other hand, you could also say that Internet-oriented computing reduces risk by entrusting one's systems and data to providers for whom managing IT is their core competence." Yet, the proliferation of mobile devices pose their own security risks and social networks can pose data privacy risks as employees divulge sensitive information in social networking situations. A massive network failure, a deliberate cyber attack or government regulation, he says, could certainly divert IT spending toward keeping anything and everything in-house.
2. Climate Change and Sustainable Development. Fears of global warming and climate change, says Swaminathan, may continue to influence policies and regulations. This ranges from efficient data centers to smart power grids to more energy friendly ERP, SCM, logistics and various other IT-run processes.
3. The Millenials. The millennial generation, loosely defined as those between mid-teens and late 20s, represents those people who have grown up with the trappings of the digital world. "Research has shown that this group wants choice in the technologies they use in the workplace, which is likely to mean bypassing corporate controls in terms of using online tools," he says. "They download open source software if they consider it useful and have a more relaxed sense of privacy. Their influence on the direction of IT in the workplace cannot be discounted."
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