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Info-Tech's Big Six for 2011

 

Each year there are numerous technology developments that provide IT with opportunities to offer extended value to the organization. Some simplify IT’s work. Others are just plain cool. And some create challenges for IT in its traditional role as the custodian of IT decision-making, standards, and delivery.

While many technologies get included in various “Best of” lists, Info-Tech has selected six that we believe will be key game-changers of tomorrow. While none of this technology was invented in 2010, each should be at the top of every IT department’s watch list in 2011, and in many IT plans. Info-Tech has written about these technologies in 2010 and will continue to do so in 2011.

Here then is our list.

1.       Virtual Desktops

All IT departments have long adopted a strategy of installing and supporting application software on each employee’s desktop. This approach has made new and useful individual and business functions available to staff. However, IT often does a poor job of installing, maintaining, and supporting all of these applications, especially if there is a large variety of them. By moving the application software to a central server, VDI solutions dramatically simplify the software maintenance task for IT and can reduce problem calls to the Help Desk.

Why now? First, VDI depends on a cleanly operating server environment. IT departments have achieved a higher level of competence in server and storage operations since the very broad, recent, and successful adoption of server virtualization. Second, in many organizations the number of special applications requested by end users has created deployment and support challenges that were previously not as significant.

VDI is not for all. If IT is not experiencing challenges supporting PC applications, there may be little benefit, unless the organization is planning a major deployment of new PCs, in which case there may be potential cost savings. And it’s too early for organizations that are still challenged by server management issues.

2.      Enterprise Content Management

Decades ago, database management systems enabled organizations to deal successfully with an increasing variety and volume of application data. Today, Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions create order out of the “new” data that IT collects but fails to manage well. This data includes the exploding volume of documents, e-mails, videos, and so on in many organizations. The real benefit from ECM is the ability for staff to find relevant material. There are examples of organizations spending $1 Million to find relevant documents required in legal proceedings, money which could have been saved with a proper ECM system.

For many organizations, the volume of information collected continues to grow, but it provides little value to the organization when it cannot be easily found or retrieved. Info-Tech believes that many organizations will hit the tipping point in 2011 where the need for a thorough information spring cleaning and reorganization will become essential. ECM solutions will provide an answer.

Not every organization has this problem, of course. And if IT has little visibility into or control of the application portfolio, the process refinement that is the foundation of every successful ECM system will fail. Unlike some of the Big Six changes, this initiative is expensive, long in duration, and requires broad business process changes.

3.      Simple Business Analytics

IT stands for INFORMATION technology, of course, but IT has rarely done a great job in making the vast amount of organizational information it collects and manages available for decision-making. One solution has been available for decades: the Information Warehouse and Business Intelligence Tools. Some organizations, by using their data effectively for decision-making, have gained strategic advantage over those competitors who are not. But these solutions are complex and expensive, two show-stoppers for many candidates.

A recent focus on simple analytic tools has opened up opportunities for those who missed the sophisticated Business Intelligence solution. Microsoft, recognizing the organization’s hunger for simple analysis, has extended features in Excel, SharePoint, and SQL Server to make simple analytics available, in familiar ways and for little investment.

Tools are not the only prerequisite to successful analytics. IT must have understanding and control of key information sources. In addition, decision-makers must have confidence in reports as the basis for decision-making. Inaccurate or inconsistent data quickly dampens even a passionate appetite for analysis.

4.      Applications for Mobile Devices

Smartphones and tablets definitely fit the “cool” category. Consumers and bloggers alike eagerly await the next chapter in the mobile device wars, initiated by Apple with its iPhone and iPad. It’s about the apps, really. As these devices become used more than traditional home computers and laptops, their apps have turned into a means for organizations to differentiate their services and build customer loyalty. The new app becomes the new loyalty card.

Organizations with extensive mobile staff can use apps to improve their productivity. The opportunities are very broad. Doctors retrieve information on patients in hospitals, maintenance staff order parts on a repair job, and salespeople take orders from customers.

The good news is that mobile app development is low cost. The bad news is that after building an app, promotional and marketing investment is required to get customers or prospects to install and use it.

5.      Social Media

Social media has captured market attention and has high consumer adoption. Like mobile devices, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have achieved very high levels of adoption and media buzz. But while many Marketing organizations have moved quickly to leverage Social Media, IT is lagging behind. Only 21% of respondents to a December 2010 Info-Tech survey had a social media strategy either in progress or implemented. Info-Tech expects this number to increase significantly in 2011 as IT realizes that ultimately it will be responsible for integrating all of the independent initiatives being carried out by the rest of the organization.

IT may be reluctant to interfere in current Marketing initiatives related to Social Media. However, it should at least be planning how to use Social Media approaches to improve collaboration, when the organization (not necessarily IT) has teams distributed over various locations.   

6.      The Cloud

The Cloud is another hot topic in the media and an important trend in 2011. The Cloud is increasing Management’s expectation of what is possible in IT and how much less it should cost than in-house solutions. While the real value of the Cloud may be less than those expectations, Cloud services increasingly set the standard for what is available and for how much. IT professionals should think of the Cloud as the benchmark for their work. Info-Tech doesn’t believe that the Cloud will take over IT any time soon, but IT services that are provided internally at a higher price or lower quality than a Cloud vendor can challenge the business-IT relationship.

The vendors providing various Cloud services are increasingly relevant by allowing IT departments to quickly extend the services they provide or to deal with capacity limitations. When there is a need for new services or additional capacity, there may be a Cloud alternative.

As with all of the Big Six, the Cloud is not for everyone. There should be a clear benefit in capability, timing, or cost. And good vendor management skills are essential, especially for significant services. But avoiding the Cloud can be dangerous to IT’s health.

The Status Quo Is Not an Option

As organizations move out of the recession, they recognize the importance of competitive advantage. IT professionals must consider how they might leverage the Big Six opportunities to help their organization become more competitive. The Big Six should be omitted in the IT Plan because they don’t fit, not because they have not been considered.

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