Change is the only constant for CIOs: analyst

Convergence, open source and pervasive computing are some of the challenges IT managers will face in the next few years, IDC's research chief says

Corporate IT managers have about five years to prepare for a shock wave of technology change that will sweep across the global economy and drive unwitting CIOs crazy.

It’s obvious that change is swiftly coming to technology segments from datacentres to software to telecommunications, says John Gantz, chief research officer at analyst firm IDC.

The early stages have already pushed some companies to change, such as stockbroker Charles Schwab & Co, which adopted online share trading early.

By 2011 or 2012, the trends will become more severe, forcing companies to adapt or disappear.

“I hope you’re all really good adrenaline junkies,” Gantz told the crowd during a recent speech at IDC’s IT Forum and Expo in Boston.

Successful CIOs must learn to predict the unintended consequences of technology change in areas like convergence, software and pervasive computing, he says.

This is how he sees things unfolding: first, the convergence of the internet and the telephone network will create a new animal he calls “the great internetwork” that will extend far beyond desktop PCs and telephones to reach cars and other mobile platforms. That will change business forever as it multiplies the number of “customer touch points” counted as internet commerce transactions. In turn, that will challenge CIOs as their enterprise systems reach beyond the company firewall, and real-time business starts to demand constant uptime.

The heart of that 21st century system will be the database, creating turf wars between departments, Gantz predicts.

“Everyone will want to connect to the database, like a wildebeest wandering through the Serengeti, where everyone wants to feed on it,” he says.

A second area of disruption will be software upheaval, caused by trends like open-source development, SOA (service-oriented architecture), the merger of web-based and desktop services such as Google’s Toolbar, and composite applications like IBM’s WebSphere and software from SAP.

The entire sector will change as some companies are forced into acquisitions, and others make mistakes, risking an “end user veto” of unpopular features.

Microsoft has just made such an error, Gantz says, by announcing that its pending Vista OS will allow system administrators to block users from copying data onto USB memory sticks. While memory sticks are a security threat to networks, they are already an indispensable part of doing business today. Microsoft has reacted too slowly, and could see a backlash from users, he says.

The third major disruption, he says, will be pervasive computing, spreading beyond PDAs and music players. Entire buildings will be added to the network, using sensors in rubbish bins and parking spaces to automate rubbish collection and speed traffic flow.

By 2015, PC sales will stop growing, at a sustained level of a billion per year, while demand will be exploding for phones, games, toys, cameras and handsets enabled with VoIP and GPS, Gantz says.

That change will challenge CIOs to cope with constant bursts in network traffic and they’ll have to manage diverse devices, he says. There will be a reversal of data flow as the network’s edge will talk to the centre more than vice versa, he predicts.

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