Predicting IT's near-future, Gartner-style

The analyst firm picks major changes ahead

Social networking and open-source software are both set to become more widespread, while three-dimensional copying will soon be commonplace, and green IT will move beyond just being marketing hype to become an important factor in buying decisions.

In addition, software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service are both set to make big inroads into corporate IT.

These are just some of the predictions that were made by Gartner Australia research director Robin Simpson at the analyst firm’s Local Briefing 2008 conference in Auckland last month.

Simpson says users are starting to ask hardware vendors about the energy used in their production processes, as well as the carbon footprint, and such considerations will soon become a criteria for many customers when it comes to buying equipment, Simpson says.

“Government organisations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, are working on energy ratings for products,” Simpson said at the conference.

“Manufacturers need to do lifecycle energy-use analysis.”

By 2010, Gartner predicts, 75% of organisations will be using full lifecycle energy and CO2 footprint as mandatory PC buying criteria. And, by 2009, more than a third of IT departments will have one or more environmental criteria in their top six buying criteria for IT-related goods and services.

By 2011, suppliers to large global organisations will need to prove their green credentials, via an audited process, to retain preferred supplier status, Gartner predicts.

The use of hosted services — as opposed premises-based software and infrastructure — will also rise, the firm predicts.

Gartner predicts that, by 2012, “at least 33% of application-software spending will be as a service subscription instead of a product licence”.

“[Also], by 2011, early technology adopters will forgo capital expenditures and purchase 40% of their IT infrastructure as a service.”

Open source will continue to gain a foothold in corporate IT, Gartner says.

“Today, open source is making its way into mission-critical systems, and risk-averse adopters are looking at it to meet IT needs,” Simpson said at the Auckland conference, before announcing another Gartner prediction: that, by 2012, 80% of all commercial software will include elements of open source.

Three-dimensional photocopying is an infant technology right now, but in a few years it will be commonplace, Gartner predicts.

“It’s an application of inkjet printer technology,” Simpson. With the aid of glue and plastic powder contained in the copier, a three-dimensional model of the object being copied can be created.

While only early-adopters are using 3D copying today, it has potentially huge applications, Simpson said.

“Organisations with manufacturing plants in China can send a copy, for example.”

By 2011, the number of 3D printers in homes and businesses will grow 100-fold over 2006 levels.

Another of Gartner’s predictions is that communities such as Facebook will play an increasingly important role in end-users’ work lives.

Simpson gave an example from his own work-life, noting that of Gartner’s 4,000 employees, 700 are on Facebook, and “90% of my Facebook friends are Gartner staffers”.

Other organisations are using Facebook for internal information-sharing among staff, he said.

While that can be a good way to disseminate company information, staff need to realise that Facebook is a public channel and “they’re the public face of the organisation when they’re on it”.

Social networking is also being used in new ways by companies, he said. “There are a couple of organisations that conduct real meetings in virtual worlds.”

The use of social networking in corporate settings is an indication of one of the most important trends in business IT in the next few years — that it will become intertwined with consumer IT.

A report co-authored by Simpson and fellow Gartner analyst Steve Prentice notes that social networking and pervasive, easy-to-use consumer hardware “are the catalyst for the ‘IT civil war’ — the growing conflict between the traditional enterprise IT function, which has historically retained sole authority over enterprise IT architecture, and the growing desire, and ability, of individual employees to increasingly influence their personal IT usage.”

Forbidding Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking and consumer IT from the workplace isn’t the answer, they say.

“As individuals move towards more flexible working patterns and environments, they are building powerful ‘personal infrastructures’ and, even when enterprises forbid the use of non-company owned technology, enterprises are facing the need to recognise and accommodate these changing user behaviours and expectations.”

The shift of power from IT departments to users is such that by 2010, Gartner predicts, end-users’ preferences will decide as much as half of all software, hardware and services acquisitions made by IT.

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