10 Trends for 2010: Piecing Together a Technology Strategy

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2009-12-08

As technology marches forward, IT and business executives face new opportunities and challenges. 2010 is no exception. Although a brutal economy and tight budgets have created new pressures, underlying business and technology trends remain in place—and some are picking up momentum. For example, the evolution of the Internet, Web 2.0, networking and mobility are changing the stakes and ushering in a new environment based on collaboration, communication and connectivity.

Following are the 10 most significant technology trends for next year, based on a survey of almost 1,200 technology and business managers, conducted by Ziff Davis Enterprise Research.

1 Green Computing and Energy Efficiency

In only a few short years, green computing and energy-efficient IT has morphed from an appealing idea into an essential practice. Skyrocketing energy costs and tight budgets, coupled with growing public and government pressure, have forced companies to put this issue on the front burner. “We’re seeing enormous changes across the computing spectrum—from PC and server manufacturers to data center and building design,” observes Larry Fisher, research director for Next Gen Research, a division of ABI Research.

This trend will gain steam in 2010. An overwhelming 87 percent of Baseline survey respondents indicated that they are increasing or greatly increasing their spending for green IT systems. Better energy auditing tools, a more thorough understanding of carbon footprints, improved engineering and design, and a developing ecosystem for managing equipment from cradle to grave all make green computing more feasible.

In addition, organizations are adopting new and improved tools for managing computers and ensuring that they’re in sleep mode when they’re not in use. Many organizations are also getting serious about training employees to switch systems off when they’re not needed.

Fisher adds that manufacturers are beginning to place data about energy usage on their products, and companies are accelerating refresh cycles to take advantage of technology advances and energy savings.

Sharon Nunes, vice president of Big Green Innovations in IBM Systems & Technology Group, which provides consulting services, says that an effort is under way to standardize assessment methodologies and develop consistent guidelines. No less important is a growing emphasis on recycling and waste disposal. “Organizations are taking a more holistic view and understanding that green IT makes business sense,” she says.

2 Public and Private Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has taken the business world by storm. Two-thirds of Baseline survey respondents plan to expand the use of public clouds, which reside on the Internet, provide access to shared computing resources and are operated by third-party providers. Sixty-four percent said they’re interested in private clouds, which, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, are “owned or leased by a single organization and operated solely for that organization.”

Tech research firm IDC expects spending on IT cloud services to grow almost threefold, reaching $42 billion by 2012. “We’re finally seeing a level of standardization that makes cloud computing entirely viable,” says Mark Lobel, a principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services.

A growing number of organizations are turning to clouds to manage various applications, including basic word processing and spreadsheets through Google, CRM tools, ERP and databases. Indeed, most major enterprise application vendors have adapted their applications to run in the cloud—or they are planning to do so.

Organizations are also turning to clouds to keep mobile data in sync. Apple, Research in Motion and other vendors have simplified syncing contacts, e-mails, notes and calendar items across multiple devices.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) allows organizations to access resizable virtualized compute capacity across multiple operating systems, including Windows, Linux and Solaris. Microsoft recently introduced Windows Azure, a platform that lets developers create new Microsoft-compatible tools and applications in a cloud-based environment. And Unisys announced the Secure Private Cloud Solution, which optimizes storage virtualization and provides enhancements for internal data centers and business continuity.

Chuck Mills, director of IT at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, a Baltimore-based not-for-profit organization providing services to the poor at 13 offices across the state, says that the bureau benefits from a private cloud that allows the organization to “create resource pools across the WAN.” This approach has helped the bureau trim its servers from 24 to 12, while also boosting availability and improving disaster recovery.

“Public and private clouds aren’t for every organization and every situation,” concludes PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Lobel, “but they will play a key role in IT.”

3 Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

It may not have the appeal of server virtualization or the name cachet of cloud computing, but VDI is beginning to make inroads into the enterprise. Thirty percent of the executives participating in the Baseline survey expect deployment of VDI to increase at their companies.

Nevertheless, “VDI isn’t so much about immediate ROI because it requires a significant investment,” explains Chris Wolf, senior analyst at consulting firm Burton Group. “But it does create significant opportunities to boost connectivity, improve security and build better business continuity.”

Interest in VDI is growing rapidly. The technology virtualizes a desktop and stores it on a remote central server. By making desktops and data more uniform and available—across various platforms and devices in the enterprise—it’s possible to weather a natural or human disruption with minimal downtime or loss in productivity.

Wolf says that the technology surrounding VDI has matured dramatically. Networks and servers are better equipped to handle this technology. As a result, many organizations are able to realize immediate benefits, including a reduction in support and help-desk demands.

So far, many companies have experimented with VDI, but few have adopted it on a widespread basis, says Anil Desai, an independent consultant based in Austin, Texas. “One thing holding back many organizations is that VDI is often a more complex installation than server virtualization,” he notes. In addition, a standardized interface doesn’t always work well for organizations.

Nevertheless, Burton Group’s Wolf says that thin-client—and, in some cases, zero-client—configurations are here to stay, and 2010 may serve as a turning point. As organizations look to improve administration, manageability and security, VDI can play an important role, particularly until more advanced cloud architectures arrive over the next few years.

4 Mobility, Telecommuting and Virtual Meetings

After years of false starts and niche uses, technologies that untether the work force are racing forward at light speed. Wireless networks are becoming ubiquitous, devices are advancing rapidly, and an array of tools and technologies are making virtual meetings, collaboration and telecommuting a seamless proposition. Thirty-five percent of Baseline survey respondents said they’re expecting the use of these tools to increase in 2010.

BlackBerrys, iPhones, netbooks and a spate of other devices are reshaping the landscape. “Businesses are cutting costs and improving their productivity through mobility initiatives,” observes Dan Shey, mobile services practice director at ABI Research. However, at the same time, workers are demanding control over what devices they use and how they use them. “The consumerization of IT is in full swing,” adds Sean Ryan, mobile research analyst at IDC.

A bigger challenge for 2010 involves managing mobile devices and ensuring tight security, Ryan explains. Most organizations need to address these issues in a more comprehensive and holistic way—through better device administration technology and policies. In fact, telecommuting barriers have completely broken down due to the widespread and common use of mobile tools that work across platforms.

This connected and collaborative environment also promises to usher in better desktop video conferencing, along with more advanced telepresence capabilities. The widespread availability of high-bandwidth networks, along with more sophisticated and less-expensive technologies, makes it possible for organizations to work virtually and seamlessly. After years of hype, tools such as Skype, WebEx and Cisco TelePresence—along with widespread high-bandwidth connections—make cross-platform group connectivity and, in some cases, HD video an attractive and viable option.

5 Centralization, Standards and Governance

The “Great Recession” and increasingly fragmented computing resources have forced many organizations to address IT centralization, standards and governance issues head on. “IT executives are taking a closer look at the components of IT and how IT is supporting the enterprise,” says Bob Zukis, national IT strategy and operations lead partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “They’re recognizing that a governed, standardized, well-managed approach to IT drives a lower-cost basis and greater value.”

Baseline’s survey of IT executives indicates that 85 percent of organizations will boost their investment in governance processes and applications in 2010. Mobility, managed services, cloud computing, virtualization, Web 2.0, security, SLA management and an array of other initiatives—often revolving around more effective asset management—have prompted organizations to focus on developing better governance and standardization strategies.

In addition, businesses find themselves facing a growing array of government and industry regulations. As a result, governance, risk and compliance (GRC) play an important role in corporate strategy.

John Shepard, director of global IT infrastructure services at Starbucks Coffee in Seattle, believes that the business world is beginning to recognize that “there’s an entire process framework required for effective IT governance.” Many organizations, including Starbucks—which uses Apptio software to manage costs and provide business intelligence and reporting—are turning to specialized applications to gain a holistic view of desktop and mobile devices, peripherals and goal-based provisioning. Shepard believes that in 2010, cloud computing may play a role in simplifying asset management by reducing provisioning and licenses.

6 Knowledge Sharing, Business Intelligence and Social Networking

Not long ago, knowledge management was a business strategy in search of a viable approach. Organizations struggled with how to capture, store, and put information and knowledge to use. Web 2.0—including blogs, wikis and social networking—has transformed the landscape and made knowledge sharing a reality. At the same time, XML-based tools and service-oriented architecture (SOA) components have made it easier and simpler to share documents and data.

These tools are rapidly moving into the mainstream and redefining the way the business world interacts. More than two-thirds of Baseline respondents indicated increased interest in social networking at their firms, and 60 percent said their companies are gravitating toward knowledge and document management applications.

“Organizations are looking at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other services, and are beginning to recognize the tremendous value there,” says Deniece Peterson, principal analyst at Input. These cloud-based Web 2.0 tools are ushering in entirely new ways to think, share and interact.

In some cases, organizations are adapting social media and combining these tools with business intelligence to provide real-time analytics on how data, information and knowledge are flowing throughout the organization—and beyond. BI is now being embedded in an array of applications and is being widely used to guide a variety of decision-making processes. Other enterprises are tapping social media to assemble teams, document practices and expertise, and to identify subject matter experts who would have fallen between the cracks in the past.

Murry Christensen, director of learning technologies at JetBlue Airways, says that the ability to consolidate documents and data is paramount. The airline has turned to an XML-based content management system from Mark Logic in order to move to a distributed authorship model and push ownership of content out to those creating it—without regard to the device. JetBlue is also looking to use social media tools to stay in touch with its highly mobile, distributed work force via mobile phones.

Meanwhile, many other organizations are using social networking to handle everything from sales to customer support.

7 Security, E-Discovery and Business Continuity

Cyber-security, business continuity and managing risk are all core issues for any organization. Although the Internet and increasingly sophisticated technology have created enormous business opportunities, the risk of a security breach and the threat of downtime are growing. Worse, the cost of a failure can prove catastrophic.

“Security risks are growing exponentially,” says Leonard Eckhaus, the founder of the Association for Computer Operations Management (AFCOM), an organization for data professionals. Botnets, insider threats, social engineering and new types of malware are proliferating. “The data center is more vulnerable than ever,” he says. According to AFCOM, 20 percent of data centers don’t even take the time to screen employees.

Unfortunately, as the calendar rolls over to 2010, this laissez-faire attitude about security and other risk-oriented issues—including business continuity and e-discovery—could prove costly. Baseline found that 70 percent of companies expect little or no significant investment in security, and 71 percent expect little or no significant investment in business continuity.

“There’s a growing need to develop robust security policies and manage them centrally,” says Michael Chapman, director of digital security for Santa Monica, Calif.-based Ascent Media, which handles film distribution and postproduction for film studios. Software such as LogRhythm SIEM 2.0, which Ascent uses for integrated log and security event management reporting, will likely play a prominent role in the coming year and beyond.

More advanced security tools and techniques are gaining traction, too. These include data loss prevention (DLP), which monitors data flow and identifies and blocks unauthorized data sharing; whole-disk encryption; and double-factor authentication. Savvy organizations also recognize that a down economy is no time to back off from mission-critical needs such as business continuity and e-discovery.

“The growth of records and the demand for storage are making e-discovery imperative,” says Brandon D’Agostino, electronically stored information counselor at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, headquartered in Columbia. “Organizations must place a greater emphasis on the life cycle of documents and identifying all the copies out there.” The health care provider uses software from Clearwell Systems to manage a growing mountain of data.

Cautions AFCOM’s Eckhaus: “The stakes have never been higher.”

8 Advances in Application Infrastructure

The enterprise has long been dominated by large and somewhat unwieldy applications. But the Internet is changing things dramatically and in ways that no one could have imagined only a few years ago. One of the biggest trends is the widespread use of open source code. From running operating systems to handling Web programming, it has changed the face of computing.

Anne Thomas Manes, a vice president at Burton Group, says that open source will continue to gain followers in 2010. And Baseline found that 22 percent of IT executives expect increased investment in application infrastructure next year.

At the same time, Manes sees ongoing interest in software as a service, SOA and business process management. Major enterprise applications are also opening up through APIs, and many of them are moving into the cloud as well. Not surprisingly, mainstream software providers are tweaking and adapting their applications to keep pace with the growing demand.

Tight budgets and an attempt to move away from costly, monolithic products have also led many companies to adopt smaller, niche solutions, says Paul Clemmons, lead for emerging technologies at Deloitte Consulting. For example, Google’s cloud-based desktop applications are creeping into the enterprise. And new players are offering niche solutions for an array of tasks, including CRM, BI, financials and e-mail. In addition, rich-application platforms such as Adobe AIR are emerging.

“These apps promise to extend the life of current investments and provide a better user experience,” says Clemmons.

9 Investments in Hardware Infrastructure

The last few years have brought enormous changes in hardware and how organizations manage their data centers. But no technology has made a bigger impact than virtualization, which has moved into the mainstream and helped organizations consolidate servers.

Many organizations are already using server virtualization in production environments, and the use of storage, desktop and application virtualization is growing as well. According to industry surveys, more than half of mission-critical tasks will take place in a virtualized environment within the next 18 months.

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president at Yankee Group, says that virtualization will continue to gain momentum in 2010. Driving the trend is more mature software, more advanced processors and IT departments that have gained experience with virtualization.

“Intel’s release of the Nehalem processor is spurring greater adoption,” he says. “It is the first CPU optimized for virtualized environments.” Kerravala believes that Nehalem could accelerate server refresh cycles as well.

To be sure, organizations are looking to step up hardware and networking investments. Approximately 43 percent of respondents to the Baseline survey plan said they expect their companies to spend more on hardware, and 42 percent said their firms will increase spending on storage or storage systems.

In addition to virtualization, organizations are looking at Fibre Channel over Ethernet to build a more unified computing infrastructure. They’re also seeking more advanced management tools and investigating ways to integrate cloud computing into the internal IT environment.

An emerging trend is the use of solid-state drives, which offer greater dependability and energy savings. Prices are dropping, and hardware vendors are incorporating them into systems, including notebooks, and these drives are likely to appear soon in storage devices and other systems, Kerravala predicts.

10 Collaboration, Workflow and Productivity

Collaboration and workflow certainly aren’t new concepts. However, rapidly maturing technology and a changing business landscape are introducing a spate of new challenges, says Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

The extension of productivity and workflow to the mobile environment is a huge trend. Thirty-five percent of Baseline survey respondents said that mobility systems will expand at their company in 2010.

“The use of smartphones to manage and extend productivity, collaboration and workflow is altering business,” Schadler says. “We are rapidly moving beyond e-mail and into content and collaboration applications.”

In fact, mobile access to SharePoint, BI, reporting dashboards, document viewers, databases and CRM apps is fast becoming the norm.

Ad hoc real-time collaboration is also gaining traction, Schadler notes. As social networking features merge with applications like WebEx, Adobe Acrobat Connect and GoToMeeting, a more spontaneous, flexible approach to collaboration and project development will unfold. Likewise, services such as Google Wave represent a next-generation tool kit for communication and collaboration.

Document and file sharing are advancing in other ways, too. About 25 percent of the survey respondents said that workflow apps will be more prominent at their companies. Thanks to technologies such as SharePoint and Adobe Flex, paper and static forms are bowing to workflow automation, data capture, e-forms, e-signatures and collaboration tools.

“Workflow and data capture are coming of age,” observes John Rigg, chief of the Bureau of Automation for the State of Illinois Department of Human Services in Springfield. For example, using Adobe LiveCycle Digital Signatures, the agency has converted more than 1,000 paper forms into interactive PDF forms, thus automating data capture and storage, as well as eliminating redundant business processes. The initiative has resulted in approximately $6 million in annual savings.

Savvy organizations should take notice, says Forrester’s Schadler. “The value of productivity and workflow tools is proven, but they have not been widely adopted yet,” he points out. “2010 may be the year businesses turn the corner.”

How We Conducted the Research

A two-stage study was conducted for this article by Ziff Davis Enterprise Research. In the first stage, 300 technology and business professionals and managers involved in technology at organizations of all sizes were polled using an open-ended questionnaire. This survey asked which technology-related tendencies, changes or movements these individuals expected to see at their firms in the coming year. Respondents wrote in their answers, so they were not prompted in any way and were free to identify whatever came to mind.

These responses were then analyzed, so that the trends that were mentioned most often could be tested in the second, quantitative stage of the study. The trends list arising out of the first stage was supplemented with input from the editors and experts to ensure completeness and clarity. In the second stage, a multiple-choice questionnaire was fielded to 878 technology and business managers in firms with at least 100 employees: 248 in firms with 100 to 499 employees, 398 in firms with 500 to 9,999 employees and 232 in firms with 10,000 or more employees. Of the 878 respondents, 230 had vice president or higher titles, 236 had director titles and 412 had manager titles.

The second-stage survey asked a series of questions about each trend in order to gauge the relative strength of each, as well as the chief factors that might be driving or potentially hindering it. The trends covered in this story are the 10 that received the strongest results because of widespread adoption, intense (highly committed) adoption or both.