Cloud-based platforms and developer tools are set to revolutionise the IT industry
There is a major structural change afoot in the IT industry - one in which slow-to-modernise legacy systems are being superseded by more innovative, lightweight and nimble on-demand approaches. What began with simple software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings has exploded into a full-blown technology movement in which companies are able to build and manage a whole suite of business applications "in the cloud".
Innovation has finally and irrevocably taken precedent over infrastructure in the minds of CIOs. They are supported by teams that can now tailor bespoke applications in weeks or even days. These applications are deployed on top of web-based platforms rather than being physically rolled out over several months or even years.
In a climate of leaner IT budgets and squeezed margins, being able to quickly take a business tool from concept to execution is more vital than ever.
The ease and familiarity of the consumer web experience has bled into the enterprise. Workers have come to expect the same reliability and streamlined functionality in their work applications that they receive on Facebook and eBay.
Developers are increasingly looking to the web to deliver the mobility and flexibility they require - instead of Java and .net, the web is becoming the runtime environment of choice. Acceptable timeframes for upgrade and innovation are shrinking and executive expectations are rising.
It is time, therefore, that CIOs stopped thinking in terms of information and infrastructure and began thinking in terms of innovation and greater economic and strategic efficiency. It will be the defining trend of 2008, and the determining factor in the ascendance of the CIO to the boardroom.
Analyst house Quocirca claimed that software suppliers that "have adopted the SaaS model are not looking back. Their customers like it, their suppliers are supporting them, and there are long-term gains on all sides."
You only have to look at one of the biggest technology news stories over the past weeks to find evidence of the paradigm shift.
Microsoft has finally woken up to this movement beyond its traditional comfort zone and the need to grow its web-based channel.
Adobe on the other hand, with its release of Air, is looking to fill another increasingly important niche: how to migrate the highly functional web applications we have come to rely on from the browser to the desktop.
It is clear that the pursuit of seamless, lightweight and mobile functionality is what will usher in a revolution in enterprise computing.
For the likes of salesforce.com, we have been evangelising this shift for longer than almost anybody, starting with the clear message that core business apps such as CRM could make the leap to SaaS, but our horizons always extended far beyond that.
Now the industry is in the era of Platform-as-a-Service, where the reach and scope of innovation is restricted only by any theoretical limitations we might put on the internet, which continues to evolve at a dizzying rate.
This marks a major change. CIOs used to be limited by company culture, cost, infrastructure, skills and time. Now the only thing that needs hold them back is their company's ambition and the almost infinite potential of the web.
Lindsey Armstrong is EMEA president at salesforce.com