This year will separate winners from wannabes

1999 may be litmus test for future of computing. Well, we have finally hit the big year in computing -- 1999. After we get through all the hype, unfounded folklore, and astral speculations, the coming year will truly prove to be a time that will fundamentally change the world of computing. Not because of apparent 'Chicken Little' fears related to the year-2000 crisis, but rather because of the continuing evolution of Web technology.

1999 may be litmus test for future of computing

Well, we have finally hit the big year in computing -- 1999. After we get through all the hype, unfounded folklore, and astral speculations, the coming year will truly prove to be a time that will fundamentally change the world of computing. Not because of apparent "Chicken Little" fears related to the year-2000 crisis, but rather because of the continuing evolution of Web technology.

Yes, there will be some glitches related to year 2000, but the Armageddon scenario is sensationalised. And I do not really fear the possible Sept. 10, 1999 risk because most programmers did not test their applications for values beyond 9-9-99. In fact, the only positive thing about this issue is that it brought IT back into the boardroom, but it will be the blossoming of Internet commerce that will keep IT there.

The biggest event in 1999 will be the core changes that the Web and related technologies will have on business worldwide. How else can you explain the hype surrounding Amazon.com? (The editors at InfoWorld want to point out that InfoWorld, like most publishers, has a business relationship with Amazon.com.) Here is a 4-year-old company that has a market worth that nearly exceeds the sum value of every competitor in its initial business of book sales. Of course it has seamlessly, almost methodically, expanded into CDs and videos so one would have to presume that this company's value will continue to grow.

This whole phenomenon is very reminiscent of the early days of Sears. Sure, eventually K-Mart and Wal-Mart took it down, but for decades Sears was America's largest store. It was able to sell whatever products it wanted by merely including those products in its widely read catalog. No different than Amazon.com.

Clearly, all this is the result of a few fortuitous events that were aligned in the company's favor. First there was Amazon.com's early stake in the Web market. This allowed the company to learn about the pitfalls of the Web ahead of the curve. Second, the phenomenal economic value proposition resulting from Web-oriented businesses gives them capital to burn. Sure they have lost money due to their aggressive expansion, but the largest factor driving their stock value has been public acceptance of the Web. This will only continue at a pace well beyond most expectations.

The acceptance of Web shopping by consumers will do more than create companies like Amazon.com or allow companies like Charles Schwab to recast themselves into this new space. It will also continue the acceleration and acceptance of Web computing. We are just on the cusp of this transformation. It isn't clear where we will go during this change. One thing is certain: all existing "givens" are up for renewal during the next two years. This includes the type and usage of computers -- for both servers and clients. The role of software purchasing will probably migrate toward a model that looks more like software leasing or software rental. Even our industry's historical desire to know every component in the computing food chain should change. Just like you don't know who makes your car's engine, we may even get to a point where you don't care who makes your operating system or provides the central processing unit.

This huge shift will be the catalyst for major change among the industry players. For example, as Microsoft and Intel fight to identify their space in this New World, the two companies' perspectives may lead to a schism in their historically symbiotic relationship. And it is anyone's guess what will happen to computer makers such as Compaq, Dell, and Gateway should that fracture take place.

Of course, the large server demands of the Web may significantly enhance the value proposition of Sun Microsystems and Oracle. This may finally create a general acceptance of Sun as an alternative to Microsoft and Intel which enjoy equal stature with corporate computing customers all around the planet.

So while many predict that 1999 is going to be a real challenge, few people really understand the major transformation already underway. For many, this transition will be volatile. So welcome to 1999 -- now strap in and let's enjoy the ride.

Are you preparing for this business transformation? Do you see new approaches to systems within your corporation driven by new business models? Send me your opinions via e-mail.

(Mark Tebbe is president of Lante, an electronic-commerce consulting and integration company that serves clients worldwide, including several high-tech companies. Send e-mail to mtebbe@lante.com.)

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