For the past two years, every project that came down the pike was an extremely high priority, and being first to market with a new IT-driven business capability meant your organisation could achieve a hugely substantial competitive edge over your rivals.
Although this is still a fundamentally true statement, the people funding these projects are taking a more measured approach given radical changes in the economic landscape. As a result, there is a concerted effort across the board to set IT priorities around projects that will deliver more tangible results in the short term. Topping the priority list are 10 technologies that, to one degree or another, will stand out in the coming year.
- CRM (customer relationship management): In a down market, generating more revenue from each customer engagement becomes a higher priority. In fact, some folks on Wall Street may begin using this metric as the primary way they measure corporate value.
- Supply-chain automation: The next big thing to do in a down market is reduce your costs. Automating supply chains to drive costs out of the production process is always popular with the board, but in a down market, it becomes an extremely high priority.
- Knowledge management: To get more out of employees, you need to give them better tools. As workers come and go, you need to retain the knowledge they create. Whether it's an up market or a down market, people realise that intellectual property is really their core asset, and right now, the primary storage mechanism for that data is organic and mobile. As a cousin to knowledge management, e-learning will be a crucial element of a knowledge management strategy. After all, in business, the speed at which you learn something is just as important as learning it.
- Content management: Determining what an organisation actually knows is only half the battle. Getting that knowledge to the right place at the right time is the other half. We're just now exploring the potential of technologies such as XML, which will fully emerge this year as the dominant data format in corporate computing.
- Peer-to-peer networking: This is an old idea whose time has finally come. Most servers today are an impediment to collaboration and create a huge amount of overhead for IT. The more users get in touch with each other directly, the lower the support costs for IT.
- Business process integration: We will only see business-to-business e-commerce really become the true dominant business model if the industry as a whole takes enterprise application integration to the next level. Integrating applications is still too time-consuming relative to the scale of the task at hand. New tools in this area should make a huge difference.
- Mobile commerce: With millions of internet appliances ranging from phones to handhelds and pagers now in the hands of consumers, the opportunity to completely reinvent tarnished business-to-consumer e-commerce models is great.
- Optical computing: Right now, much of the internet core is being revamped with optical networking technologies in order to meet increasing bandwidth demands driven by the need to deliver richer content to websites. As the cost continues to drop, much of this technology will find its way to the edge of the internet in 2001.
- Application utilities: The costs of supporting any large scale internet presence across multiple customers, distributors and suppliers are beyond the ken of most IT organisations. With more complex business requirements, IT executives will increasingly look to data hosting centres and application service providers to provide and manage all the resources needed for a major online presence.
- Application frameworks: The widely used three-tier application development models in use today will rapidly give way to n-tier models where multiple servers act in concert. Technologies in support of this are still in their infancy, but by the end of this year, the next big step will be clear.
As we start 2001, we are all a little wiser having lived through the dot-com phenomenon. Many of the principles that were developed from that burst of activity are sound; they just need to be applied with restraint. And oddly enough, the most important thing in the year 2001 won't be how many hours you work or how young you are. What will matter is how experienced you are.