Businesses must continue to invest in strategic research and development during the recession, says Kishore Swaminathan, chief scientist at Accenture.
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"This is the time to invent new products," he says. "The recession will change the business landscape. This is the time for R&D to ignore the current economic conditions in order to sow the seeds for when the economy improves."
For his part, Swaminathan believes four key technological advancements will make an impact on business when the recovery comes:
Cloud and internet computing will allow businesses to make better use of their IT resources, he says. The technology will help businesses become more elastic, allowing them to rapidly scale up or down to meet changing business demands, without the need to invest heavily in fixed IT infrastructure.
The second area is mobility. Swaminathan predicts mobile phone use will increase rapidly, particularly in the developing world. "By 2013 there will be more mobile phones than pairs of shoes," he says. An increasing number of people will take smartphones like the iPhone on short business trips instead of a laptop.
Third is collaboration. Community and Twitter-like communications will take off as business tools. Accenture uses a business version of Twitter called Yammer to help different teams working on a project to keep in touch. The same model is used by the Nasa command centre in Cape Canaveral during a shuttle launch. There teams responsible for hydraulics, electronics and other major systems on the Shuttle can listen in on the conversations of the other teams. This helps a team to make more informed decisions, especially if an issue in hydraulics could influence electronics or other systems.
This type of communications Swaminathan terms as "good to know," as opposed to the transactional communications between business people over the phone or e-mail, he says. E-mail is not efficient for many common types of communications. At Accenture, staff ask simple questions such as, "are you free now?" more effectively using instant messaging.
To make the most of social networks, Swaminathan believes IT departments will need to hire usability experts and people equipped with sociological expertise. "Social networks are a function of the front office but few IT departments have the skills to support them," he says.
Finally, Swaminathan predicts business intelligence technologies will become much more sophisticated. Venture capital firms are actively investing in start-ups that allow businesses to visualise data trends in real time. This differs from mainstream business intelligence tools, which rely on the user running pre-built reports. He says: "By the time VCs invest, the risk in a product area is over," which suggests such tools are set to take off.
But IT departments may find adopting some of these technologies an up-hill struggle. IT has traditionally focussed on back-office tasks and reducing risks, he says. This mindset prevents the kind of innovation that allows IT to add significant business value. CIOs should look instead at how they add value to front-office business functions.