Hand-helds get high five: technology study

Hand-held computers will face an uphill battle for user acceptance, Web-based customer self-serve tools will become more prevalent, and CRM systems will make their mark alongside existing ERP suites.

Those are three of the predictions etched in what some consider to be technology’s bible – an annual publication put forth by professional services organization PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) titled Technology Forecast 2000.

“It’s not exactly earth-shattering stuff, but it does confirm what we’ve been saying all along,” said Bill Cross, the partner responsible for systems integration in Canada with PWC in Toronto.

In addition to foretelling the progress of technology over the next three years, the 750-page, 11th edition of the Forecast provides basic background information on how a specific technology evolved, an explanation of how it works and a discussion of recent events and trends. Moreover, the Market Overview section summarizes products developed by major vendors from various marketplaces.

This year’s rendition addresses developments in processors and platforms, communications, and software technologies and applications.

More power

Terry Retter, the Forecast’s contributing editor and a director for the PWC Technology Centre in Menlo Park, Calif., said the most significant finding in this year’s study is the continued growth of computing power.

“Hand-helds are powerful enough that they’ve become increasingly useful,” he said. “In a sense, I see them as an extension of the desktop computer. I see these devices merging into Web-enabled appliances. The capabilities these devices offer will have an impact on how we live, it will affect our behaviour.”

Other notable findings in the Forecast include:

There will be competing approaches to accessing Web content from mobile/wireless devices: Web clipping vs. pass-through-gateway vs. pre-selected content. The selected approach will depend on the screen size of the mobile device. User acceptance of all these alternatives will be delayed by the lack of compelling Internet applications for low-resolution, small screen devices.

Web-based customer self-service tools, such as Web-based interfaces for billing, followed by interfaces for network and performance monitoring, will make an impact. Comprehensive customer network management that allows customers to dynamically configure their networks will not become a reality until after the end of the forecast period (2003).

Deployment of third-generation cellular systems will be delayed by a number of factors, but 2.5-generation cellular will be well underway by the end of the forecast period. Adoption of different interim data technologies by different carriers will lead to market fragmentation.

CRM systems will be implemented alongside existing ERP suites by organizations attempting to shift the focus of their applications from back-office to customer-facing.

An organization’s ability to search and mine unstructured data will become essential. Companies will also begin to appreciate the worth of their digital media assets, such as video and audio, and will integrate those files into their knowledge bases.

Retter added that despite the fact PDAs and hand-helds will become more commonplace, the traditional PC will still play an active, albeit reduced, role in our daily lives.

“It certainly changes the topology of our home or small office,” he said. “But the computer won’t be going away in the near future. Why does all your work or Internet surfing have to be done in the office on the PC? We will see a shift in our building processes and shifts in behaviour processes.”

Desktop decline

The Forecast’s view under the Emerging Platforms chapter that the desktop computer will cease to become the centre of gravity for the end-user is certain to garner some attention.

“The PCs relative importance will decline as other platforms become established,” the study said. While that may cause some concern for Michael Dell and Bill Gates, the Forecast reasoned that a variety of home-based devices will rival the PC for Internet access, such as e-mail terminals, non-Windows-based information appliances and electronic tablets embedded on mobile flat-panel displays. Thus, as the Forecast explains, new operating systems are evolving to facilitate these emerging platforms.

Not wishing to downplay the significance of the hand-held computing phenomenon, Cross said his excitement stems from the business applications space.

“Based on the Forecast, technology infrastructure is not a problem (in Canada),” Cross said. “Our biggest challenge will be on the applications side…what I’ve seen is a fair amount of work on the middleware side of things, building new solutions and connecting old technologies to new technologies…applications are evolutionary rather than cataclysmic.”

Cross added he’s not surprised by the focus shift to customer relationship management (CRM) as it too confirms the Forecast’s earlier findings.

“With the infrastructure laid down, the barriers that exist are political, technology can open up so much that we have more to play with,” he said. “This is in Canada’s favour…it’s far easier for SMEs (small and medium businesses) to play in the bigger game.”