Business software faces transformation in new web world

enterprise apps are becoming consumerised, says Chris Shipley

The enthusiasm and energy at last month’s DEMOfall conference made one thing very clear: the ICT market is in the early days of an important new growth cycle. While mega-deals, such as the Google-YouTube marriage, grab the headlines, it is enterprise ICT that will be most profoundly affected in this next phase of technology evolution.

Over the next few years, we will see a remarkable transformation in the enterprise workplace. From creative media sites to mobile information services to radically shifted economics of long-distance communication, we now have few barriers to experimenting with a plethora of applications for personal and professional use.

On the business front, applications such as collaborative wikis, process-management tools and marketing services are available as web-delivered services. These applications exhibit the same design values that make consumer web services and applications so appealing: they are easy to buy, easy to use and easy to share among colleagues. Enterprise software is rapidly taking on the characteristics of consumer software, and individual line-of-business managers are taking charge of the tools that help them reach their business objectives.

Forgoing formal review and approval processes, business managers are using their clout and their expense accounts to purchase web-based software and services that deliver immediate benefits to the workgroup. While organisations will establish policies for such purchasing and data management, over time we’ll see the role of the user-application specifier move from the ICT organisation to the business user.

This shift is empowering to those responsible for driving business and liberating to an emerging new ICT role. In the new ICT department, software is an operating expense paid for by business departments, not a capital expenditure weighing on the ICT budget. ICT will drive policies around data management within web-based applications, gone will be the days of software licence management, user training, application support and piracy patrols.

The need for user system support will not go away, but little by little the ICT organisation will transform from end-to-end systems manager to infrastructure architect and provider. In this new role, ICT will focus almost exclusively on the platforms that deliver application and data services, rather than on the applications and services themselves. This transformation will occur over time, and some core back-office functionality may never fully move out of the ICT portfolio. Still, the majority of user business software will make the migration from glass house to corner office — or cubicle farms.

When that happens, the term IT will be redefined to mean not information technology but infrastructure technology (as well as being renamed ICT [see page six editorial] — Editor).

Shipley is a technology writer and analyst

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