Top 10 Tech Trends of 2011

By Guy Currier  |  Posted 2010-12-09

What’s a trend? You could look at it as one of two things: a comparison of numbers, separated by time, or a tale about something that’s happening in the market. Which would you choose?

We all enjoy a good yarn, and certainly when it comes to media coverage, trends seem to be more of the latter variety. And that’s the approach we take with our annual survey of technology trends. What we’re trying to do is predict the near future—so you know what to prepare for, what to look at and what to avoid.

When it comes to trends, this process comes down to one simple question: What IT stories are going to be told next year? Finding the answer is a devilish proposition.

In September, we fielded a detailed survey to just under 400 managers in organizations having at least 100 employees, across all sectors in the United States and Canada. We asked them what their expectations were for various strategies and technologies at their workplace in 2011. We asked whether technology commitments were going to rise or fall, and, if so, by how much. We also asked which technologies the various stakeholders (IT, users, executives and finance/budget departments) supported most strongly.

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By comparing the results for each strategy or technology—both against one another and against last year’s responses—we gained a fairly clear picture of the 2011 landscape. And what we’ve done in the following pages is to relate what tales these comparisons tell.

1 Security Roars Back

We’ve been concerned for some time about corporate vulnerabilities, as recession-driven spending cuts drove many organizations into a wait-and-see mode about information security. Well, perhaps Facebook has cured them of this complacency. Its numerous privacy breaches in 2010 created headlines, but in more general terms, the explosion of social networking use in the workplace has combined with increasing use of mobile technology as a source of risk to create renewed interest in security deployments for next year.

Nearly half of the organizations we surveyed are expecting significant investment in security in 2011, with the vast majority of them increasing their investments from 2010 levels. (See chart 1) There’s also marked interest in continuity initiatives, backed by significant support from executives and finance groups.

In a recent survey by Deloitte & Touche LLP, 36 percent of tech-exec respondents indicated that their companies had increased security budgets by up to 10 percent this year, and 10 percent of those respondents had increased these budgets by more than 10 percent.

But Irfan Saif, principal at Deloitte & Touche, suggests asking whether these designated budgets are enough. “The adoption of cloud computing, social media and mobility solutions is on the rise,” he says, “both in the enterprise and in consumer realms. These solutions introduce some new challenges from a security perspective.”

It’s clear from our survey respondents that North American business will be responding to security issues in 2011. Consider BGMX Retail Solutions, which faces the challenge of securing its enterprise operations while still using valuable social networking, Web 2.0 and smartphone tools—all of which can increase the potential for a virus/malware intrusion.

Based in Vestal, N.Y., this provider of retail IT solutions and services runs its operations on two networks with many remote clients, so security needs are a top priority. To meet these needs, the company is using SonicWAll network security appliances that provide application intelligence, control and visualization capabilities.

“Because of the architecture of our system, a centralized management system was put in place for our primary firewalls, as well as all of our customers’ firewalls in different areas of the country,” says Erin Desko, BGMX CTO. “I can monitor any firewall at any given time, change rules, see who is connected and apply changes—all from one screen—and not have to remember different IPs, log-in screens, etc. It now takes less time to ensure that everything is working correctly and allows more time to focus on our customers.”

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2 Business Intelligence Tops social media

In 2010, organizations recognized the enormous, valuable data resource social networking had unleashed. In 2011, they expect to takestock of this resource, making sure their analytics fall into line. The development of social networking and collaboration applications for the enterprise will continue: Roughly 30 percent of the organizations we surveyed expect new or increased deployment of each in 2011. (See chart 2) But the enthusiasm is for business analytics and knowledge management, where nearly two-thirds of new commitments are expected to be at a strong or very strong level.

Business intelligence (BI) systems are likely to see deployment growth: Our survey showed about 9 percent more organizations expecting significant deployments in 2011, compared with last year’s survey. And it’s high on end-users’ and finance’s wish lists. The driver of this interest seems to be the need to corral all these new, usually disorganized information sources.

“Some social networking techniques will clearly impact all users, and deployments will continue at their own pace—independent of corporate intent,” says Bill Bosler, CIO at Texas Consultants, which recently designed an ambitious BI tool as part of a new oil refinery project in the Middle East. “There will be plenty of action on the analytics side, crunching all the new real-time data collected by both new and traditional means, and anticipating and mitigating challenges before they occur.”

3 VDI Adoption Takes a Breath

In another example of a market pausing to take stock of a promising new development, the speedy pace that virtualized desktop infrastructure (VDI) showed in 2010 should slow somewhat. But this is not to say that growth will not continue: A good VDI system offers management, security and energy advantages, particularly in organizations with a large, disparate user population, such as those in the education sector.

For example, the Dougherty County School System in Georgia deployed 1,500 seats in classrooms and computer labs in seven schools, using solutions from NComputing.

“Buying new desktops would have cost too much,” says Les Barnett, who oversees educational technology for the school system. “We saved tens of thousands of dollars just on the initial hardware and software investment.”

Nevertheless, while we do see increased deployment growth of VDI in 2011 (see chart 3), many other areas of virtualization are likely to get more attention, so we don’t expect VDI to be the shooting star it was this year. 2011 is the time for a good, sober assessment of this technology, to plan and strategize in order to take the best advantage of it.

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4 Infrastructure Virtualization Resumes a Fast Pace

Is virtualization the answer to everything? It certainly seems that way. Cost-reduction—check. Growth—check. Business flexibility—check. Following a bit of VDI- and cloud-induced distraction in 2010, we see tremendous activity levels for the more mature virtualization types in 2011. (See chart 4)

All Covered, a Redwood City, Calif.-based regulation, compliance, business continuity and strategic planning services company, has deployed enterprise virtualization to both cut costs and increase flexibility.

“We’ve been fortunate that our business has been expanding,” says CIO Tim Crawford, who is also a past president of the Society for Information Management’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter. “However, there may be times where some services contract. Given that, the virtual model can save between 25 and 75 percent on operating costs, depending on how efficiently the servers are used today.”

It’s clear that server and storage virtualization are only now hitting their stride, as most organizations have at least one production environment and are beginning to move aggressively to expand. Application virtualization may also be taking advantage, though that’s unclear from our study, which didn’t separate it out from the other two. Network virtualization, however, was looked at separately and still seems to be several years away from meaningful deployment levels.

5 Organizations Go Ever More Mobile

Mobility, remote user access and telecommuting continue to show remarkable levels of employee-driven deployment. Of the organizations that took part in our study, 27 percent say they are seeing significant end-user demand for these technologies—more than any of the other 45 trends we tested. Though the pace of adoption for telepresence (virtual video-based meetings) is almost the same this year as it was last year, both wireless networking (for building, campus and remote-office connectivity) and all forms of mobility should have strong growth in 2011. (See chart 5)

Fordham University in New York has made mobile-initiative expansion one of its top priorities, says CIO and Vice President Frank Sirianni. There’s a challenge to fulfill disparate communications needs for a number of separate communities that a university supports, and enhanced mobile solutions are often the best way to meet these needs.

“Parents need emergency information and updates,” Sirianni says. “The faculty needs various Web-based applications. Furthermore, our faculty, students and donors have all been ‘spoiled’ by the consumer experience, which is able to deliver more, better, faster.”

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6 Interest in Cloud Computing Refocuses on SaaS

Last year, we saw the private-cloud wave coming before it hit the mainstream. This year—in line with what may be the meta-trend of better-established technologies getting more attention in 2011—we see a return to the speed, familiarity and cost savings of software as a service. The fact is that two years ago, SaaS had reached a kind of assessment point, as concerns about service levels, security and especially availability mounted.

SaaS has weathered this gale well, has matured and is now ready for more widespread adoption than any of the other cloud options currently bandied about. (See chart 6) We believe in strong futures for both private and public cloud computing, and even for platform as a service (PaaS).However, in this story, we’re in the business of predicting next year’s trends, not those farther out.

For New York City government agencies, expanding into the cloud for software as a service will provide greater access to collaborative solutions for multiple departments, while saving significant costs. The city is finalizing a deal with Microsoft that will unify dozens of software agreements within one cloud-based solution structure, and expand the current supply of tools for e-mail, message, collaboration and live-meeting needs.

More than 100,000 employees in about 100 agencies will be affected, and at least $50 million is expected to be saved during the next five years. Also, employees who currently don’t have access to these tools, such as mobile social-services employees, will be able to access them via the cloud.

“This will allow us to move more quickly while reducing overall costs,” says Mike Bimonte, deputy commissioner for IT services for the city of New York. “This is especially true in this economy, which has forced us to analyze our licensing and software spend and quickly identify lower-cost solutions that are more efficient.”

Added Paul O’Brien, executive director of IT systems: “With this agreement, we’ll also have greater opportunity to try out different software solutions offered within the cloud to see what works best for our employees.”

7 IT Angles Toward Profit Growth

We’ve been tracking IT’s alignment with business and business goals since our first issue nearly 10 years ago. To add to our pleasure in the renewal of interest in security, we are also happy to see IT, and certain applications in particular, in strong demand in 2011. (See chart 7)

Forty-one percent of the organizations in our survey are looking forward to increased use of technology or IT processes specifically to increase their organizations’ revenue; 45 percent say they expect increased engagement in business-process improvement in the coming year. BPI, in fact, is far and away the most-often supported technology by finance (31 percent) and corporate executives (35 percent), and it’s nearly as much in demand from end-users (26 percent).

Bottom-line applications such as CRM and ERP—though a bit less popular than BPI—are favorite investments in most companies where they are being used next year.

Chartis, a New York-based insurance company, has invested in IT solutions to increase profit and growth for more than a decade. Recently, it launched its OneClaim system with technology from Pegasystems to manage the claim life cycle from the initial customer call through adjudication and payout. “We can standardize and automate claims processing no matter what the regulatory jurisdiction,” says Alla Krasnopolsky, a manager of informational systems for Chartis. “Regardless of how small or how large the project is, we try to incorporate these technologies.”

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8 Hardware Investment—and Consolidation—Continue

Moving slightly up the charts—last year it was at #9—is the ongoing hardware refresh, spurred by aging systems, reduced inventories and the release of Windows 7. We expect this trend to continue into a second year, possibly even stronger than the numbers here indicate.

For one thing, hardware infrastructure was the area cited by our survey respondents as being least likely to experience reduced investment at their organization, even with the continued business emphasis on reduced capital investment.

Another thing is simply the continuing extent to which firms expect significant investment in hardware next year. (See chart 8) Forty-three percent of organizations said so, and most of them expect that investment to be bigger than 2010’s by a wide margin. Storage systems (not shown) look similarly strong in 2011.

If these figures don’t quite impress, consider this: Thirty-seven percent of the organizations we surveyed are going to increase their hardware consolidation efforts as well, something you’d normally expect to be a drag on new equipment deployments.

“It’s a good thing to do as leases run out and you get the chance to consolidate while replacing the old with the new,” says Stephen Pickett, CIO at Penske in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “Passing the disaster recovery test is an important part of the process because you don’t want to have a service manager in California who has work to do but can’t do it because the server isn’t working.”

We figure that hardware is going to get outsized attention for some time.

9 End Users Gain More Control

Where there’s challenge, there’s opportunity, or so the old trope goes. Surely the idea of masses of end-users managing their corporate computing environments could send an IT manager running for the hills. But one fascinating trend that bubbled up in our study last year, but didn’t make it into the list until this year, is end-user centricity as an IT management technique. (See chart 9)

How’s that, you ask? Won’t decentralization of technology into the hands of the (usually untrained) masses lead inevitably to lack of control? Well, it really depends on what gets decentralized.

Management and control can continue in the back office, as applications are built, tested and vetted. Users, in turn, can install and run when needed—especially in mobile environments. Client monitoring and application management systems round out the strategy so that wildcat client applications can be identified and contained.

One area in which both management and users are working together is in social networks. Employees are allowed—or even encouraged—to participate in social networking sites to increase interaction with customers and enhance brand recognition. Management, in turn, develops policies and procedures to ensure those interactions generate positive results for the business.

Varsity, a Memphis-based cheerleading/dance apparel and instructional-clinic company, wanted to expand globally, but first it needed to take control of its e-commerce execution—its brands were scattered in various e-storefronts—and make better use of social networking sites.

Using IBM’s WebSphere Commerce solution enabled the company to route all customers to a central Varsity Web location, where all brands are represented. It also increased the use of “share” features during product sales, so customers can spread the word about products they like on Facebook and other social sites.

“We have 240,000 fans on Facebook, and we wanted to do a better job of connecting to our social-media audience,” says Shannon Ahern, executive director of e-commerce for Varsity. With this solution, management can get more of its products into the flow of the conversations taking place on social networking sites, and employees and managers can make better decisions based on what customers are saying.

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10 Unified Communications Starts to Show Life

We don’t want to get too enthusiastic, but all signs are pointing to a revival, finally, in this long-promised merging of disparate corporate digital streams. This year was a fallow year for unified communications (UC), doubtless because the up-front investment can be great, and the current economic environment demands quick returns.

But comparing this year’s survey results to last year’s, we see an increase in expected UC deployments coming. (See chart 10) And the benefits, certainly, are likely to be significant in the long term.

Penske (see trend 8 earlier in the story) has invested heavily in UC tools from a number of vendors, including Avaya, Cisco and NEC. “These tools allow us to run our businesses with our Verizon devices,” says Pickett. “We can access our voice mail, e-mail and desktop data as if we were in the office.

“The drivers and crew chiefs will use it too, because they’re constantly on the track or out and about, and they depend on their handhelds. With unified communications, you can get all you need in one place.” "

How We Conducted the Research

A multiple-choice questionnaire was fielded by Ziff Davis Enterprise Research from August 26 to October 6, 2010, asking those involved in technology decisions at their organizations what expectations they had at their companies in 2011 for 46 technology and IT strategy areas. Responses were collected from 386 managers and higher titles in organizations with at least 100 employees: 129 in firms with 100 to 499 employees, 123 in firms with 500 to 4,999 employees, and 134 in firms with 5,000 or more employees.

Of the 386 respondents, 104 had vice president or higher titles, 95 had director titles and 151 had manager titles. Several questions were asked of this group about each technology and IT strategy area to gauge the relative strength of each, as well as to understand 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.

Guy Currier is executive director of research at Ziff Davis Enterprise. Dennis McCafferty also contributed to this article.