In Florida last week, at its annual jamboree, technology analyst group Gartner spelled out 10 predictions for the next five years.
Bandwidth will become more cost-effective than computing.
Gartner believes rapid developments in optical technologies will ensure that network capacity increases much faster than computer processing power, memory and storage capacity for the next few years. This will result in:
- More thin client computing
- Less replication of data and more accessing of data held in a single repository
- More consolidation of datacentres
- More applications spread across many, smaller servers.
Gartner recommends that IS departments shift priorities in the enterprise architecture towards systems that reflect the future reality of cheap bandwidth.
Most major new systems will be inter-enterprise.
Gartner sees an extension of the trend that has seen businesses move from automating specific tasks to implementing suites of software, such as enterprise resource planning products, which co-ordinate the entire back-office production process. Firms will increasingly implement systems that go beyond the enterprise boundary, involving customers, suppliers and partners.
At present inter-enterprise systems are mostly hard-wired, linking pre-arranged groups of organisations. But Gartner says that firms will build systems that are more dynamic, linking with external organisations on an ad-hoc basis, supported by technologies such as Web services and XML (Extensible Markup Language).
This will create new headaches for businesses, such as conflicting priorities between organisations and incompatible network and system management tools.
These inter-enterprise systems will deliver a clear, measurable macro-economic boost.
Inter-enterprise systems will eliminate much of the waste generated in the gaps between businesses, for example, by cutting inventories and increasing utilisation levels of production equipment such as manufacturing machinery. This will happen across whole industry sectors, resulting in improvements in overall economic results - for example, in labour productivity figures.
Successful firms in strong economic conditions will lay off millions of employees.
This is perhaps the most controversial prediction.
Gartner says that until now the increased productivity delivered by IT investments has not resulted in firms employing fewer workers because they have found new things to do with their new IT infrastructures.
For example, putting PCs on desks in the 1980s made traditional tasks such as document creation and financial planning less labour intensive, but spawned a vast new set of office activities that were simply not possible before the PC arrived.
But Gartner believes that we have now exhausted most of the "low-hanging fruit" of additional functions. Increasingly, doing new things with IT investments demands changes to business processes and other social and political changes that are much harder to bring about - and much slower.
As a result, says Gartner, in future we will see growing businesses with healthy profit margins requiring fewer and fewer employees, and hence making redundancies in times of plenty.
Supplier consolidation will continue in many sectors.
Gartner says that the tough market faced by most IT suppliers will result in a serious reduction in the number of suppliers in many industry segments, including network and system management; business applications; network products; servers; databases; integration middleware; and IT services.
Many small or weak firms will disappear and Gartner says that even major players will merge or be acquired, with the result that some well-known brands will disappear.
The problems caused for many companies by the collapse of telecoms providers WorldCom and KPNQuest may just be a foretaste of things to come.
Moore's Law will continue to hold true for the rest of the decade.
The law formulated by Gordon Moore of Intel in the late 1960s, which says that the power of chips doubles about every 18 months, is a fundamental driver of the whole IT industry, delivering faster processors, more memory and more complex functionality. Continuing developments in the way chips are made will support this relentless improvement for the foreseeable future.
Banks will become the primary provider of "presence" services by 2007.
As the number of computing devices used by individuals escalates, Gartner sees a growing demand for services that track which employees are available and through which device, and support employees as they move from device to device. Instant messaging applications make use of presence services, showing who is online at any given moment.
In future, says Gartner, presence services will hold key links and private information such as credit card numbers and personal preferences.
The security, privacy and availability requirements of these services will drive them from corporate network service operators and software suppliers to banks and other similar organisations that have established the required trustworthiness.
Business activity monitoring will become mainstream by 2007.
Gartner sees the effect of increasing availability of real-time information on the operations of a business and the market in which it operates enabling businesses to push decision-making down the organisation, closer to the point of contact with customers.
Some decision-making could be completely automated, says Gartner, by software that applies algorithms to real-time information to make the best decisions for the business under the prevailing conditions.
Business units, not IT, will make most application decisions.
Gartner says that as IT becomes more and more important to business, business managers will demand a greater say in decisions about the IT applications that support them, based on the value they deliver to the business and their cost.
Firms should view applications in three ways, according to Gartner:
- Utility applications - practical necessities that deliver no return on investment, but are simply requirements of doing business
- Enhancement applications - those that generate some value, for example by increasing margins or supporting additional revenue
- Frontier applications - ones that redefine the market, coupled tightly to overall business plans and involving significant changes in business processes.
The pendulum will swing back towards decentralisation of IT control by 2004.
The current trend for central IT departments to claw back control, enforcing enterprise-wide standards, is driven largely by the need to cut costs, says Gartner.
By 2004 pressure from individual business units to win back the freedom to make local decisions will reverse the trend, starting a swing back towards decentralisation.
Ironically, says Gartner, this will come just as many of the initiatives to centralise, such as server consolidation, are due to start to deliver paybacks. Gartner says firms should implement projects now in a way that minimises the disruption that will be caused when the pendulum starts to swing back.