IT World Canada predicts the way ahead

As technology professionals, we move in unpredictable spheres of innovation. But early this year, the editors and staff of IT World Canada gathered around, blew the dust off the old crystal ball and took a murky peek inside. Here are seven meaningful insights into what we believe will matter IT-wise in 2006.

Getting IT means understanding technology’s purpose in business. And it’s safe to say that in 2006, IT and business will work far more collaboratively.Text

Outsourcing at the fringe of new future

The practice of handing off a range of IT infrastructure and IT-enabled processes to third-party service companies is poised to move significantly down market to smaller business customers. This is the new frontier for outsourced IT services in 2006.

However, that service delivery will need to come through a range of new and unique types of service offerings and approaches. Companies like IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have been among those championing the concept of IT infrastructure delivered as a sort of computing “utility” service, similar to providing electricity.

Late in December, Hewlett-Packard Co. joined the crowd, announcing infrastructure- and application-provisioning services for businesses that need the use of servers and applications to handle temporary surges in computing demand. It’s the rise of the utility types of IT infrastructure and business services – an evolution of outsourcing, away from long-term engagements to “pay as you go” computing.

Expect traditional IT service providers, communication service companies and potentially a new breed of IT utility service provider to push hard on a concept that’s been much discussed but marginally executed.

A fraction less of IT-business friction

Getting IT means understanding technology’s purpose in business. And it’s safe to say that in 2006, IT and business will work far more collaboratively. Business Intelligence – scorecards, metrics and performance management applications used to make more intelligent business decisions – has been experiencing a consolidation trend as vendors pull their disparate BI applications into one platform.Text

With competition in almost every sector growing increasingly fierce, and the number of players dwindling, this cross-fertilization between IT and business has become a prerequisite for survival.

Companies able to collect and act on data in real-time, for example, are the big winners. Real-time analytics is one area that demonstrates the opportunities inherent in IT-business alignment, and the dangers when that alliance is absent. This is clearly a space where business and IT must work together, where the CIO and CEO must join forces.

The stats indicate that folk on both sides of the divide are getting this message loud and clear. Last year, 75 per cent of CIOs surveyed by CIO Connect said they were the source of new ideas for business products. Likewise, two-thirds of business managers asserted that their knowledge of IT was improving.

BI ripe for consolidation

Business Intelligence – scorecards, metrics and performance management applications used to make more intelligent business decisions – has been experiencing a consolidation trend as vendors pull their disparate BI applications into one platform.

Users want to standardize their BI tools with one vendor across the board and SAS Institute and MicroStrategy could look to expand their offerings in 2006, as more companies are jumping into the space to challenge the incumbents.

As spending on intelligence increases, look for one of the IT heavyweights new to this market to gain an immediate foothold through the acquisition of or merger with one of the incumbent, pure BI players in 2006.

Enterprise vendor SAP is moving into the space, as is Oracle, which adopted a clear growth-through-acquisition strategy in 2005. Both IBM and Microsoft are also expected to move more boldly into BI.

Smarter tools for mobile workers

Enterprise mobility has redefined the way businesses operate and drive productivity among employees. Technology that can transform the handheld into a virtual mobile workspace will be the direction for enterprise mobility in 2006.

Mobile technology has evolved from a telephone system into a converged communications tool, offering much more than e-mail and Internet access.

Field service agents are plagued with forms and reports to be submitted to head office for invoicing and database updating. The handheld devices of 2006 enable mobile workers to accomplish all these tasks wirelessly.

Late last year, Rogers and HP announced mForms, an iPaq-based mobile tool that transforms paperwork into electronic forms. Expect more telecom companies to partner other vendors such as RIM and Palm.

Mobile technology will be focused on transforming enterprise mobility into measurable productivity tools. Wireless broadband networks like cellular 3G and Wi-Max are pushing the pace of the mobile evolution.

Faster data on the fly

The wireless market – with two emerging high-speed technologies set to take off in 2006 – holds promises of innovation and invention over the next 12 months.

The new Bell, Telus and Rogers 3G cellular networks, offering peak speeds of 2.4Mbps (average rates of 400Kpbs-700Kbps), will give mobile workers broadband access to more data on the go, as well as videoconferencing over cell phones and other handheld devices.

In the fixed wireless market, Wi-Max is delivering high-speed Internet connectivity to rural communities that don’t currently have access to DSL or cable broadband. Eventually equipment providers will offer devices that can roam between Wi-Fi, Wi-Max and 3G networks, giving business users wireless services in almost any given geographic area.

Umbrellas for spit storms

The one constant about security threats is the perpetrators will always move on to new means of creating havoc once the victims begin to catch on to their current methods.

IT environments in 2006 will need broader umbrellas for a safer shelter. Viruses have typically wreaked havoc to desktop PCs and laptops – now cell phones and PDAs are also being targeted. As mobile workforces and business agility push the WLAN to an ever-widening network, we expect an outbreak this year of the mobile virus, commonly referred to as a “spit storm.”

Another developing threat is that of the router worm, which can be embedded in the routers residing on networks and cause considerable damage to traffic even before it reaches an end-user’s system. As hackers and virus writers begin to exhaust their traditional avenues of attack, they will increasingly turn towards these relatively untapped points of entry.

And the usual worms, viruses and large-scale spam attacks aren’t going away in 2006.

Government adopts Three-P partnerships

Public-private partnerships (P3s) will give a distinctly competitive edge to government IT contracts in 2006. P3s are arrangements between government and the private sector to provide public infrastructure, community facilities and related IT services.

P3s are characterized by the sharing of investment, risk, responsibility and reward between the partners.

Government enters into a P3 when it lacks a specific capacity, when that IT function is not a core government business or when it can be outsourced. For example, IBM is working with aboriginal communities to create opportunities in IT skills development, investment, youth mentoring and fuller economic participation by aboriginal businesses.

These 2006 technology trends and predictions were compiled by the editorial team of IT World Canada Inc., publisher of ComputerWorld Canada, Network World Canada, CIO Canada, CIO Government Review and IT Focus.