IT directors can't spot next year's big thing

Open-source software, grid computing and voice recognition software are the technologies most likely to succeed next year,...

Open-source software, grid computing and voice recognition software are the technologies most likely to succeed next year, according to delegates at last week's IT Directors' Forum on the Oriana cruise ship.

Andrew Hey, head of application architecture at retailer Boots, said future technology developments would be "evolutionary rather than revolutionary".

He said there were no "big bang" IT developments that would fundamentally change the landscape.

However, he said utility or on-demand computing was an increasingly important trend and predicted that radio frequency (RF) technologies, such as RFID tags, would become mainstream over the next few years.

Hey added that  Linux would become "increasingly mainstream. It's still at the early adopter stage but it's reaching a certain maturity".

Graham Taylor, programme director of open-source software promotion body Open Forum Europe, declared 2003 to be the "year of Linux".

"The opportunity for open source is immense. Nobody can afford to ignore it," he said, adding that OFE had seen increased interest and "a massive growth in confidence" in open-source software at board level.

The main drivers for this interest are reduced cost, followed by security concerns and avoiding supplier lock-in, said Taylor. However, he admitted that issues such as supportability and due diligence still need to be resolved.

Professor Peter Dew of the computer science department at Leeds University tipped high-performance grid computing as the next major trend in IT. Dew predicted it would become increasingly important in the business space and would lead to the creation of "virtual organisations" and a co-ordinated approach to collaboration and sharing resources.

"It really will change the way we do business-to-business," Dew claimed, and urged companies to think about how grid services could impact on their business.

Grid computing is still largely found in the academic community, but Kathryn Bullock, the head of e-commerce at Eurostar, said that was also where the internet started out.

Bullock was enthusiastic about grid computing and suggested the next major growth area would be peer-to-peer technologies that enable organisations and individuals to exploit personal networks, including online communities, in real time.

"It's a kind of extended knowledge management [KM]," Bullock explained. "The value of the network is often in the weakest links. You need to develop a technology that can bridge those links. We're not there yet but that's the next big thing for me. Companies are only just starting to understand the value of their personal records," she said. 

Ben Booth, the IT director of market research firm Mori, predicted an expansion in voice recognition software, but said he wanted to see advances in ''always on" remote technologies such as wireless and 3G that support the use of mobile devices. However, he was unconvinced that open-source software would enter the mainstream.

"Linux is always going to be niche," said Booth.

Howard Smith, European chief technology officer of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), thought business process management (BPM) would be the next big thing.

"BPM picks up where business process re-engineering left off," he said. "Until now the IT industry has failed to develop an effective platform for developing, optimising and analysing processes. Good processes make winning companies and winning companies make good processes.

"BPM pays for itself in the first projects and the first processes."

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