Predictions 2012: Bring on the format wars

Salvation Army IT manager Mark Bennett looks forward to the creation of a single repository that all applications can store data in

Mark Bennett, IT Manager for Salvation Army in New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga, and winner of the Computerworld ICT Manager of the Year in 2011, considers the challenges for IT in 2012 - and beyond.

The promise of ICT is smooth and fast systems that melt the chaos and frustration of business process and bureaucracy. Supposedly we should be spending less and getting a whole lot more.

I'm told that ICT is less disruptive and less complex while being more capable and more integrated into what I've already got (well, maybe). Sound familiar? ICT promises so much yet mostly leaves me feeling underwhelmed when the 'whizzy-ness' and 'shiny-ness' wears off. Then I'm left with the same process (often inefficient) that slowly winds its way through the bureaucracy (but at least I could fill in the form online).

The challenge of 2012 is not that technology is becoming more disruptive (which it is) nor is it the cloud services or device integration (that undoubtedly will increase). Ok, it is all those things but they aren't what is going to be the biggest challenge for me in 2012.

I think there is a battle coming that will shatter our current paradigm.

We currently ask: "Will I complete this task using email, document, spreadsheet, or a presentation?"

What we will (eventually) ask is: "What tool is best for what I'm doing now (like a builder uses a combination of hammer and nails, screws and glues, a multitude of saws and a variety of other tools just to update my bathroom)?"

These format wars haven't started yet (because we're still obsessing over what device we're going to use), and until there is a single repository that all applications (whether server, desktop, web, or mobile) can store data in, they won't.

But imagine that? Your choice of application on your choice of device working with the same data I am on my (different) application and my (different) device.

The biggest challenge in 2012 for me will still be transitioning IT from a department that hands out stuff and talks (in another language) about what is being done to one that is business focused.

I'm not providing services (power and phone companies do that), nor am I getting you stuff (Dell, The Warehouse and NZ Post do that). I'm trying to understand how we do business and whether we can do better. In fact I already know that, so truth be told I'm not going to focus on that. My biggest challenge is going to be helping others (especially the people with the power) understand the capability of ICT and the ramifications if we get it wrong.

* This fortnight Computerworld is featuring a series of opinion pieces by leading ICT professionals in which they look at what's in store for 2012. Tomorrow: Chorus CEO Mark Ratcliffe.

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