Trends that will change the roles of IT folk

Arguably, this year's event was the first Comdex of the post-PC era. That's not meant to say that the PC is going away anytime soon, but rather that the PC is now just one of many devices we use to interact with services on the internet.

The annual Comdex trade show held in Las Vegas is similar to a medieval fair, inasmuch as it's one part freak show, one part meeting place for the industry elite, and one part showcase for coming technological innovations. The freak show element of Comdex is usually provided by companies with a background in the consumer electronics industry.

In fact, this year's event, held a few weeks back, was pretty hard to distinguish from similar shows in the consumer electronics industry. But even old line companies such as Electronic Data Systems (EDS) were not immune from indulging in some excess. EDS went so far as to sponsor an evening concert with both Macy Gray and Barenaked Ladies just to prove how hip they can be in the digital age.

But behind all the glitz lie some interesting trends that will change the role of IT people in corporate environments.

Arguably, this year's event was the first Comdex of the post-PC era. That's not meant to say that the PC is going away anytime soon, but rather that the PC is now just one of many devices we use to interact with services on the internet.

Today, those devices, all of which were in great abundance at Comdex, consist primarily of mobile phones, handheld systems and the latest generation of two-way pagers.

In the immediate future, these devices will be joined by a broad range of appliances, including the new Sony PlayStation 2 game platform.

Even Microsoft is beginning to show off future technologies with a strong mobile theme - namely a tablet device with support for wireless connections and a new screen display technology that allows people to input data in the same way they use a pen on a piece of paper.

We'll also soon see a broad number of ASPs (application service providers) using technology from companies such as Viair or BmyPC to integrate these devices. As a result, people will have the ability to manage and manipulate files from their device of choice, regardless of whether that application resides on a PC running Windows or a handheld running Palm OS.

This will be a big leap forward because rather than having to do the integration work themselves, IT managers will be able to use service providers to weave all these devices into a unified IT fabric. In addition to integrating these devices at the server level, individual users will also see these devices integrated at a personal level.

For example, at Comdex, a company called SyberSay Communications showed off an earpiece that makes use of wireless technologies and noise reduction algorithms to control various personal devices.

Eventually these capabilities will be provided in cars so that drivers can interact with the web without having to worry about whether a passing truck will block out what they are saying or hearing. And best of all, it comes in multiple colours for the fashion conscious.

This will probably all get to the point where nobody will need to carry anything more than a wallet-sized device that can be used to manipulate any and all data - regardless of its location.

Of course, most of the new technology at Comdex is still years away from becoming an everyday part of mainstream computing environments. But if you're in IT today, you need to stay on top of what is happening with consumer electronic devices. Nothing saps the confidence of the average end-user more than an IT manager who doesn't know the difference between a two-way pager and a handheld computer.

So although it may seem like some faraway event full of the latest and greatest in hype, the reality is that events such as Comdex have a tendency to set expectations.

And as we all know, expectations create perceptions, and perceptions often become reality sooner or later.

Michael Vizard is the editor in chief at InfoWorld. Contact him at michael_vizard@infoworld.com.

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