CIOs face major technology upheavals

Corporate IT managers have about five years to prepare for a shock wave of technology change that will sweep across the global economy and drive unwitting CIOs crazy.

Any analyst can see that change is swiftly coming to technology segments, from data centres to software to telecommunications, said John Gantz, chief research officer of IDC.

The early stages have already pushed some companies to change, from online stock trading at Charles Schwab & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. to discount airlines like Southwest Airlines Co. and Ireland’s Ryanair Ltd. By 2011 or 2012, the trends will become more severe, forcing companies to adapt or disappear.

“I hope you’re all really good adrenalin junkies,” Gantz said recently during a speech at IDC’s IT Forum & Expo in Boston.

Successful CIOs must learn to predict the unintended consequences of technology change in areas like convergence, software and pervasive computing.

The convergence of the Web and the telephone network will create a new animal Gantz calls “the great Internetwork” that will extend far beyond desktop PCs and telephones to reach cars and other mobile platforms. That will change business forever as it multiplies the number of “customer touch points,” counted as Internet commerce transactions. In turn, that will challenge CIOs as their enterprise systems reach beyond the company firewall, and real-time business demands constant uptime.

The heart of that 21st century system will be the database, creating turf wars between departments, Gantz predicted.

Another area of disruption will be software upheaval, caused by trends like open-source development, SOA (service-oriented architecture), the merger of Web-based and desktop services such as Google Inc.’s Toolbar, and composite applications like IBM Corp.’s WebSphere or software from SAP AG. The entire sector will change as some companies are forced into acquisitions, and others make mistakes, risking an “end user veto” of unpopular features.

A third major disruption will be pervasive computing, spreading beyond PDAs and music players. Entire buildings will be added to the network, using sensors in garbage cans and parking spaces to automate trash collection and speed traffic flow.

By 2015, PC sales will stop growing, at a sustained level of 1 billion per year, while demand explodes for phones, games, toys, cameras, and handsets enabled with VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and GPS (global positioning system), Gantz said.

That change will challenge CIOs to cope with constant bursts in network traffic, managing diverse devices, and a reversal of data flow, as the network’s edge will talk to the center more than vice versa.

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