Today, we live in a world where half the population has access to mobile devices but not to running water. Soon, more people will have access to cell phones than will have electricity or even shoes.
Technology, more than anything else, has changed consumer behavior as we once knew it. Now, the enterprise world of business sits on the precipice of nearly as dramatic a transformation. Just as it is affecting consumer behavior, we can expect a series of major technology trends to usher in an era of highly flexible and elastic capabilities that will allow businesses to stretch, change and expand at will.
Bridging of Resources
Over time, businesses will be less constrained by localized or limited internal resources. As a result, organizational structures will be increasingly marked by the following traits:
- Workforces will no longer be limited to a fixed group of people and skills but will include a wide range of talent, with organizations capable of bringing in experts from far away to solve a specific problem or respond to a sudden business need.
- Processes will no longer be restricted to what occurs inside a company, but will also include and integrate constantly changing processes - for the organization, suppliers, clients and other business partners.
- IT capabilities will not only be about the hardware and software located in corporate data centers but will also be available dynamically from a number of providers in different geographies to suit local conditions and markets.
- Innovation will no longer be limited to the company's internal R&D but will be augmented by others from outside.
In short, we are moving into a world where everything will be elastic - ideas, processes, innovation, services and labor. Such an era will add urgency to all aspects of data management as a result of the maturing of technologies to extract intelligence from data.
Data and Decisions
Sophisticated use of data in decision-making is more an exception than the rule today in most companies. This lack of leverage comes in spite of the ongoing growth of large databases and even larger data warehouses. We have already identified many of the reasons for this problem: uncorrelated data silos from different systems across different departments, a mishmash of business processes inherited from different companies through mergers and acquisitions, the difficulty in accessing data from back-end systems, the time lag between data acquisition and use, and the changing business processes that are deeply embedded in IT systems.
So, how will this change? Expected changes in an everything- elastic world include:
- Many of the difficulties organizations have faced in accessing data from big and complex enterprise systems will go away as a result of standards, including Web services, that are widely supported by technology vendors.
- The acquisition by every major technology platform of an analytics/business intelligence company suggests a much tighter integration between the data held by the platform and the analytics or intelligence needed to analyze it.
- The advent of new technologies such as mashups will enable end users to access and manipulate live data from multiple sources to suit their unique job needs. They will no longer be forced to depend on standard, outdated reports.
- A number of sophisticated data visualization tools will enter into the market. These tools will be integrated into popular BI software, some of which will support collaborative data visualization for multiple users.
- The maturing of business process management (where business processes are formally described and executed through orchestration), which holds the promise for automated adaptation of business processes in response to patterns detected in data.
- The flowing of data from current employees and potential hires, from customers, competitors, suppliers and other stakeholders as a result of the dramatic increase in the amount of public information that is being generated on the Web through blogging, social networking and content-sharing sites that are waiting to be mined.
Taken together, these advances will result in:
- Analytics that will become a nondifferentiating "utility" available to everyone, where the real advantage will be the data itself and how the organization uses it to make decisions.
- A larger role for master data management, which will involve integrating data from multiple systems and ensuring consistent data semantics, a standards-based approach to data access, a policy of enabling end-user access to corporate data and a gradual ramp-up of business program management to separate business processes from IT systems.
- A decided advantage to those companies that have a comprehensive approach to data governance.
A More Flexible Future
The everything-elastic world doesn't end there. It could also result in the following trends: The Internet becomes the locus of IT-based business capabilities. Cloud computing represents a major shift away from the current IT paradigm in terms of technology, applications and business models. It enables technical capabilities - hardware, software and storage - to be sourced through the Internet across company firewalls and national boundaries. This gives organizations the opportunity to create new best-of-breed applications uniquely suited for their needs on a pay-as-you-go basis rather than depend on cookie-cutter processes provided by large, monolithic software packages. Additional computing capacity can be added as needed. Business processes can be shared and integrated with business partners, and entry into emerging markets can be accomplished without long lead times or large fixed costs. Local and regional companies can be accommodated, and business continuity will be enhanced as the company's IT ecology becomes immune to local catastrophes.
The four Cs - communication, collaboration, communities and content - converge and redefine how we work. Until now, companies have viewed collaboration technologies as an electronic extension of meeting rooms. In spite of the proliferation of technologies, including email, instant messaging, voice-over Internet protocol, process-oriented collaboration, high-end telepresence, social networks, blogs, RSS and free content distribution mechanisms, work practices have largely remained the same. The convergence of these technologies and the market entry of major technology vendors with new enterprise offerings (the consumer Web has until now been considerably ahead) enables companies to rethink their work practices and resource distribution. Businesses can find better ways to deploy experts across multiple projects, reduce the time wasted in daily commutes, eliminate the wear and tear on employees and the cost of travel across time zones. They can cut back on workspace, avoid the stress of large-scale hiring and layoffs in times of great volatility, and augment R&D with outside experts.
Mobile devices begin to dwarf PCs as the electronic channel for businesses and consumers. Today's high-end mobile devices run on 800 MHz processors and have a storage capacity of 32GB. They come equipped with touch-sensitive or OLED screens and add-ons such as Wi-Fi connectivity, near field communications, GPS-based location identification, motion sensors and a wide range of audio and video features. Nearly 4 billion people on the planet - 75 percent of whom live in emerging markets - are mobile customers. Why is this significant? IT departments often view mobile devices as a nuisance, a heterogeneous set of devices with ever-present security risks (such as when they are lost). Yet in dealing with customers, mobile devices present a business opportunity and necessity. In the developed world, they will augment PCs as e-commerce and customer support channels. They're already used for financial transactions, as location devices and even as train tickets. In the emerging world, mobile devices are likely to be the sole electronic channel and are being used in more creative ways, such as the money transfer system widely used in Kenya.
The eventual pace and importance of these trends toward elasticity and flexibility won't happen by chance. They will be determined by three factors:
1. Cybersecurity and IT risk. On one hand, you can argue that Internet-oriented computing increases risk because a company no longer controls its IT ecology. On the other hand, you could also say that Internet-oriented computing reduces risk by entrusting one's systems and data to providers whose core competence is IT management. Yet mobile devices pose their own security problems, and social networks increase data privacy risks as employees divulge sensitive information in social settings. A massive network failure, a deliberate cyber attack or government regulation could certainly divert IT spending toward keeping anything and everything in house.
2. Climate change and sustainable development. Notwithstanding the dramatic drop in energy prices in later 2008 and 2009, fears of global warming and climate change may continue to influence policies and regulations. These regulations could affect the future of efficient data centers, smart power grids, more energy-friendly enterprise resource planning, supply chain management, logistics and various other IT-run processes.
3. The Millennials. The millennial generation, loosely defined as those ranging in age from their midteens to late twenties, represents people who have grown up with the trappings of the digital world. Research has shown that this group wants choice in the technologies they use in the workplace, which is likely to mean bypassing corporate controls in terms of using online tools. They download open source software if they consider it useful and have a more relaxed sense of privacy. Their influence on the direction of IT in the workplace cannot be discounted.
Technology is about to transform business, just as it has changed the developed and emerging worlds. It is no longer sufficient for business and IT leaders to look back to what worked in the past. To properly prepare for tomorrow, they must also think in terms of everything elastic and act to build highly flexible organizations by harnessing powerful technology trends.
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