Slow, steady approach keeps Canadian technology ahead

The evaporation of many high-profile dot-com start-ups and the NASDAQ crash should not be mistaken for the end of e-business, according to a recent report.

Now that the digital gold rush is over, the annual “Pricewaterhouse-Coopers (PWC) Technology Forecast 2002-2004” suggests that the IT industry is tackling the pick and shovel work of creating the tools and infrastructure to open up inter-enterprise capabilities such as collaboration, mobility, portals, real-time computing and usability.

Although in much of this research Canada simply gets lumped in with the United States, Terry Retter, director of events and outreach with PWC’s Global Technology Centre in Menlo Park, Calif., said that there are a few interesting differences north of the 49th parallel.

To start, Retter noted that the “irrational exuberance” of the dot-com frenzy did not catch on entirely in Canada. As a result, this county’s high-tech sector has not had as far to fall during recent lean times and, with a few high-profile exceptions, Canadian companies are chugging along and are probably in a little bit better shape than the companies in the United States.

“Also I think in the software business in Canada you don’t see the giants like Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP dominating the market space to the same extent. I think we see innovation on the up-curve in the software industry, and a little ahead of the U.S.,” Retter said.

Retter also said that infrastructures in big Canadian IT users are ahead of their American counterparts because companies “don’t get caught up in the hype so much and they seem to be a little smarter in the deployment of their critical resources.”

“Quite frequently it’s not about the technology. It really is about the culture and adoption rates of technology (through) both cultural and behavioural shifts. When you look at (your) economy versus the U.S. economy, Canadians tend to do things with a broader view of how technology is going to impact not only their business, but also their relationships with other businesses and their customers.

The PWC report also explored the ongoing evolution of application integration, componentisation and Web services – three software architectures used to satisfy the technical integration requirements of enterprise applications.

According to Eric Berg, Menlo Park-based managing director of PWC’s Global Technology Centre, easier application integration has been the most critical problem facing organizations.

“The result over the last couple of years has been that with the maturation of some of the major component frameworks such as Java 2 Enterprise Edition and Microsoft DNA, and with the increasing importance of Web application servers from companies like IBM and others, you are starting to see a lot of software being turned into components,” said Berg, who is also the editor-in-chief of the PWC study.

“We’re really in a transition from the world of using EAI (enterprise application integration) middleware to connect packages to a world in which the packages themselves become decomposed into smaller units of functionality components that will then be possible for enterprises to assemble (and) create the application portfolios that they want,” Berg said.

Finally, the technology forecast also suggested a number of important trends that are “expected to influence the future of software.” These include the rise of open source software as an alternative to commercially licensed products, the potential for intelligent software agents able to act without constant human supervision, and the impact of application using peer-to-peer (P2P) architectures rather than the client/server architecture that has been widespread for the last decade.

“P2P is an interesting approach to taking advantage of idle resources at the client edge of the network in some useful fashion,” said Berg. “That’s particularly true of some of the distributed computations, for example the SETI@home screen saver that runs radio telescope data … but if I’m a company that does a lot of computer simulation and modelling there’s no reason why I shouldn’t use idle PCs to do that processing as opposed to going out and buying a supercomputer.”

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