What’s next? Reaching out to customers

What's next? What emerging companies and technologies will be hot for the next six months? Think wireless, B-to-B, B-to-C, managed services and self-healing systems.

What’s next? What emerging companies and technologies will be hot for the next six months? Think wireless, B-to-B, B-to-C, managed services and self-healing systems.

There’s an easy rule of thumb for the short term: “What’s hot today will be hot in six months,” says Ray Paquet, a vice president at Gartner Group in Stamford, Connecticut.

“There’s no radical event in the next six months that will force change, like Y2k,” Paquet explains.

And according to Computerworld’s Emerging Companies 2000 update survey, that means vendors whose technologies help organisations reach out to their business partners — in areas such as e-commerce and supply chain management — will continue to do well.

On the other hand, emerging companies that are focused on information technology-shop functions and internal business processes — areas such as security, knowledge management and business process automation — won’t be growing nearly so fast.

It’s not just because e-anything is hot. Those outward-looking capabilities are aimed at bringing in new business and more revenue. On the other hand, tools and technologies designed to improve businesses from the inside are mostly for making an organisation more efficient — and for cutting costs.

And right now, generating business beats cutting costs hands down.

So what technologies will drive the success of emerging vendors for the rest of this year?

Wireless applications and tools for building them. The tidal wave of handheld devices that connect to the Internet won’t slow down anytime soon. Conventional application development tools are designed for users with a big screen in front of them. Any tools that make it easier to give users information on their tiny cell phone or palmtop screens will find a warm welcome.

Business-to-business applications, especially for managing customers and supply chains. Sure, B-to-B exchanges and portals will get lots of fanfare, and they’ll be backed by corporate giants. But emerging vendors will provide products that help those organisations jump-start their use of XML or smooth out the wrinkles of customer care.

Business-to-consumer tools. E-commerce was supposed to be so simple — an online store, a little personalisation software and every bricks-and-mortar retailer was going to rule the Web. Nothing’s turned out to be that easy. Emerging companies whose technologies can bring retailers up to speed will be hot, especially those with track records — and some of the best will be selling technology that has already been proven by e-commerce leaders.

Service monitoring and managed services. The dark, dirty underside of the Internet is still its lack of reliability. Maybe customers and suppliers can connect to do business with you; maybe they can’t. Services that can quickly spot Net bottlenecks on the way to your Web site — or even guarantee that business partners can punch through to make their B-to-B connections — will continue to do well until big Internet backbone providers improve the Net’s performance.

Self-healing systems. Once business partners or consumers are connected, they want response times measured in microseconds. Tools that keep e-commerce and supply-chain systems working on a 24-by-7-by-right now basis — especially if they clear problems without requiring a human to respond — will drive business for the emerging companies that offer them.

But young companies may not be the only players in the emerging-technology game. “Old, established data-centre companies are remaking themselves for e-commerce,” says Patrick Dryden, an analyst at Giga Information Group in Dallas.

While large vendors may not be as nimble as start-up companies, they have stability that appeals to corporate IT shops — and resources to buy out start-ups. In fact, 15% of Computerworld's 1999 Top 100 Emerging Companies were acquired — most of them by established vendors.

Acquisition is no guarantee that a young company’s products or technology will thrive, or even survive. But it may compensate for fears that a small supplier may be a flash in the pan — or not steady enough for the long haul.

“IT operations people are more comfortable with people in white shirts from the established companies,” says Dryden, “not people from start-ups in black T-shirts, sandals, tattoos and piercings.”

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