The year ahead will bring significant advances in enterprise cloud computing, mobile technology convergence and business analytics as the world begins to recover from an economic beating.
In recent weeks, technology research firms revealed their predictions for 2010, identifying the industry developments likely to have a significant impact on IT and business planning.
According to the trends outlined, next year will bring both revival and radical change, as the industry "witnesses the potent combination of transformation tipping points in a year of economic upswing", according to the IDC http://cdn.idc.com/research/predictions10/downloads/Top10Predictions.pdf it adds that this will have an amplifying effect, for better or worse, on organisations' strategic choices.
At your service
One of the trends topping the lists is cloud computing, which the IDC predicts will greatly mature in 2010, bringing "enterprise-grade" cloud services to support the more demanding security and manageability needs of traditional IT.
According to Gartner, in its 2010 outlook http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1210613, enterprises consuming cloud services will increasingly act as cloud providers, delivering applications and services to business partners and customers.
David Cearley, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, says the recession's impact on cloud computing has been twofold. "It makes people much more interested in the cloud because of its potential for a reduction in costs. If they're developing a new application, for example, they can reduce capital spent on infrastructure, so the financial side is driving interest."
At the same time, notes Cearley, organisations can move to more advanced systems by extending, say, an existing CRM system with Salesforce.com's cloud offering.
Cloud computing involves a major shift in the industry, with various IT-enabled capabilities - infrastructure, platforms, software, information and business process solutions - being delivered as a service.
"The key paradigm shift has been the 'as-a-service' model," notes Cearley.
"IT has originally been an intertwined stack of capabilities, while a key aspect of cloud computing is layers and the separation of concerns between the provider and customer."
IBM SA predicts a convergence of solutions, which will allow organisations to employ a hybrid cloud model. "This model will provide a simplified cloud management layer, enabling the customer to implement a private cloud environment, while also leveraging a public cloud service to address fluctuations in their computing environment, or to offload non-critical applications," says IBM SA representative Bandile Sikwane.
According to the IDC, this will bring a growing number of hybrid cloud offerings for managing private and public clouds, as well as a race to establish public cloud solution platforms, as major tech players battle it out for a leadership position.
Analytics is another one of Gartner's technologies to watch, with business intelligence (BI) being the number one technology priority for CIOs for the fourth year in a row, in Gartner's annual survey of 1 600 CIOs around the globe.
The dominance of the desktop is fading.
The firm predicts organisations will increasingly use analytical tools to maximise business decision-making by examining alternative outcomes and scenarios, before, during and after processes are implemented. "The new step is to provide simulation, prediction, optimisation and other analytics, not simply information," says Gartner.
"We are seeing a shift from reactive analysis to more active analytics," notes Cearley. He explains that the trend is moving data to a point of decision-making, and from an explanatory to a predictive pattern.
This will be a crucial consideration in a world where the amount of data doubles every two years, according to IBM. By next year, it expects the amount of digital information will reach 988 exabytes. "That's roughly the equivalent of a stack of books from the Sun, to Pluto, and back.
"To address these challenges, organisations are increasingly depending on analysing hidden information patterns for a variety of transactions," says Sikwane. "Business analytics help an organisation take control of its data, gain valuable insight from it, and move from sensing and responding, to predicting and acting."
Cearley suggests there will also be a move from structured data to unstructured data, and the convergence of the two. "Increasingly, the focus will shift from internal data to external data and bringing the two together, so meta data will become important."
IT for green
According to the IDC, rising energy costs and pressure from the Copenhagen climate change negotiations will make sustainability a source of renewed opportunity for the IT industry in 2010.
"There will be a continuing and steady focus on carbon issues and energy efficiency," says Cearley. "In some cases, IT is only responsible for around 2% of energy consumption in an organisation, but the ability of IT to tackle the impact of other areas in the business will become very important.
"This trend is being driven by increasing regulation and increasing costs, and is strengthened by the fact that many data centres simply can't get more power because of the grid," explains Cearley.
"In the US, the 'green' in green IT thus far has referred to money, and what's been driving most of the interest is a reduction in costs. The biggest change in the US has seen the shift from simply focusing on green IT and the energy use of technology to IT for green - how it can impact energy usage in companies."
Tim James, director of local consultancy Sustainable IT, says companies can use IT solutions to tackle energy usage in two major ways. "In terms of reducing the footprint of the IT service, you need to look at data centre efficiency, PC and server power management, desktop and server virtualisation, storage consolidation, and print management.
"In terms of the application of IT within a business, you need to look at carbon management software, video conferencing, building management systems, smart motors, teleconferencing, fleet management, and so on, depending on the nature of the business," he adds.
Next year will see the continued rise of mobile devices, not only as access devices, but as software and solution platforms - "challenging for the first time in over two decades, the primacy of the PC", says the IDC.
There is also a focus on multiple cores, rather than single-core processors, notes Cearley. As more applications are written for multiple cores and with mobile devices in mind, greater convergence of the mobile environment and desktop will occur.
A recent In-Stat report http://www.instat.com/press.asp?ID=2601&sku=IN0904447SI predicts single-core processors are likely to become obsolete by 2013, with multi-core processors set to achieve widespread adoption in all mobile devices in three years' time. "With the advent of multi-core netbooks already upon us, ultra-mobile personal computers, multimedia Internet devices and consumer electronics devices will likely follow suit," it says.
Julien Blin, CEO of telecoms consultancy JBB Research, says the consumer mobile space will also see growth. "In developed countries, advanced 3G smartphones, like the iPhone and Android handsets, have become a must-have.
"In developing countries, feature phones with multimedia capabilities have experienced strong growth. Data services like SMS, mobile Web and mobile payment are continuing to gain good traction in emerging markets like Africa," notes Blin.
He foresees greater convergence of mobile and Web technologies. "Look at the mobile app stores. Most of those apps are Web-based. In the future, I expect to see advanced Google Chrome-type mobile browsers capable of pushing Web-based mobile apps."
Environment as computer
A related trend, according to Cearley, is that intelligent handheld devices are driving Flash memory capabilities. While Flash memory is still expensive, Gartner says given the rate of price declines, the technology will enjoy more than a 100% compound annual growth rate during the new few years. "This will see it become strategic in many IT areas, including consumer devices, entertainment equipment and other embedded IT systems," the firm adds.
Also, embedded devices will create the "environment as computer", predicts Cearley. "The increasing number of devices people use daily will result in the entire environment becoming a computer," he says, with an evolution of user interfaces away from an individual user device.
The growing convergence of social and business communication brings a shift to a more distributed, flexible model of work, says Sikwane, adding this has important implications for the future of organisations.
"Technological advances of this nature will create a new generation of mobile workers. For these employees, the car, the home office, the hotel, and the customer site have become the nexus of their working lives," explains IBM. "This includes the way people interact with their colleagues, how employees are managed and evaluated, and how work is coordinated and accomplished."
According to Gartner, companies must focus on the use of social media in the enterprise and integrate with externally-facing public communities. "Do not ignore the role of the social profile to bring communities together," adds the firm.
Business is back
The IDC expects growth will return to the IT industry next year, with mobile devices, virtualisation solutions and software all likely to rake in the profits. The 3.2% predicted growth will bring the industry back to 2008 spending levels of about $1.5 billion, it adds.
Cearley says economic difficulties have shifted the enterprise's focus on the impact of technology. Solutions have been scrutinised in terms of how direct or indirect their effects will be, in relation to the expenses they incur.
"Where impact is uncertain, projects are put off as people are less willing to spend. The timing has been shortened - rather than focus on the impact they'll have one or two years down the road, companies prefer those technologies that have an immediate impact."
In 2010, says Cearley, some of this rigid control is being loosened, and enterprises are willing to look at projects which may have more of an indirect impact.
Consequently, executives expect technology spending to increase in their organisation either selectively (47%) or across the board (10%) in the next 12 months.
"The results of the survey show that firms recognise the need to invest in technology to defend and accelerate their competitive position, even in difficult times, which has not always been the case in the past," said Keith Haviland, Accenture's global MD of systems integration consulting.