2010: Big Year For Business Technology

In the coming year, as the economy begins a protracted recovery from the deepest recession since the Great Depression, technology will play an unprecedented role in helping businesses pick up the pieces. As leaders decide what hardware, software and services they’ll need to remain competitive, they will increasingly realize just how fundamentally the tech landscape has changed.

This brave, sometimes frightening new world of business technology is evolving for the following key reasons:

•    Workload: Post-layoff, organizations have fewer people left to manage the same — or heavier — volume of work. Those that fail to become more efficient will be left behind.
•    Budget shock: Businesses will remain gun-shy about making major capital investments in technology. If IT can’t make the business case, the financial decision makers won’t sign off. Projects that survive will be far more restrained in size and scope and will be inextricably connected to underlying business needs.
•    Competitiveness and agility: In any given market, there are fewer customers to be had. Hungrier vendors mean unprecedented levels of competition as everyone fights for a piece of a shrunken pie. More volatile market conditions compel companies to respond faster than ever before. They’ll need to know more about their internal and external environments, and they’ll need to know it sooner.

As 2010 dawns, revenue-starved, cash-strapped companies are challenged to leverage their data and squeeze more productivity out of their people and systems. They need better ways to manage their information, to allow everyone in the organization to easily see it and to work with it to make better business decisions. The goal: greater insight, no matter what role you play, to identify and pursue opportunities and drive the bottom line.

Psychology Remains a Factor

These drivers place the average organization’s technology road map for 2010 and beyond into stark relief. Although indicators are turning positive, the psychological impact of the recession will continue to stunt investment through the year. Despite the fact that most companies have shied away from technology investments as they’ve tried to weather the storm — and are living with older infrastructure as a result — many won’t willingly dive back in as they maintain a tight grip on their corporate purse strings.

Recently released figures from Gartner bear this out. According to the research firm, global IT spending slid by 5.2 percent in 2009. Enterprise IT spending took an even bigger hit, with a 6.9 percent drop. While Gartner expects those figures to turn positive in the coming year, it’ll take until 2012 before spending returns to 2008 levels. Indeed, Gartner’s survey of CIOs indicated half of them project zero-growth or shrinking budgets in 2010, with only slow growth into 2011.

The era of the big bang, capital-intensive technology project is clearly over. Even if the business case can be made, companies in all sectors are no longer willing to bet the farm on technologies whose ROI is measured in years. If 2010 is remembered for anything, it will be the year that Web-based services — also known as software as a service, or SaaS — come into their own.

Web-Based Services Loom Larger
Google Apps is a highly visible example of the inevitable shift away from traditionally purchased-and-installed software toward Web-delivered, subscription-based solutions. While its feature set is still tiny compared to the market-dominant Microsoft Office, constant updates are slowly closing the gap. The introduction of solutions like Google Gears, which syncs content locally and supports offline productivity, similarly addresses some of enterprise’s most pressing performance and usability concerns.

Microsoft is already responding to this changing landscape, and it has modified its own product road map accordingly. Its upcoming Microsoft Office 2010 productivity suite will include free Web-based applications that further blur the line between conventional software and Web-based services. The notion of buying a new box of software every few years will likely be permanently retired in 2010 as budget-friendly — and easier to cost justify — subscription-based offerings gain traction.

Major paradigm shifts aren’t limited to the desktop. Increasingly powerful mobile platforms are redefining what gets done on portable devices and how companies should be considering their implementation. So-called 2G devices based on CDMA and GSM standards are giving way to faster 3G units. It’s analogous to the transition from dial-up to broadband Internet access a decade ago, and it’s driving a shift toward sophisticated applications that extend far beyond the original smart phone’s rather basic messaging, scheduling and contact management.

While many organizations are reluctant to invest in yet another new category of technology, enhanced mobility — which will only get hotter as next-generation 4G wireless starts to appear in the coming year — can, when combined with ever-growing bandwidth in the home, serve as the basis for enhanced telework possibilities. Companies looking to reduce their real estate footprint and leverage human capital regardless of geography will increasingly rely on these new classes of solutions to drive innovative ways of getting work done.

For the average business, 2010 holds major promise, with technologies that do more and cost less. The challenge remains convincing recession-shocked decision makers to make the leap.

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