What are the Top Trends for 2006?

By John McCormick Print this article Print

It's never easy to predict the future. Our best guide is often the past.

The end of the year is often a time for reflection. We tend to look back and review the last 12 months, seeing what we might have missed or basking in the glow of a project or mission well done. But, for better or worse, what's done is done. The more interesting exercise, in my view, is to take this time each year to look ahead, to try and make an educated guess as to what the next 12 months might bring and then, while there's time, plan as best as possible for the future's arrival.

So, what will next year bring?

As 2005 comes to a close, we at Baseline are seeing two technologies with increasing frequency—mobile computing and business intelligence systems.

In the last issue of Baseline, for instance, there were stories about two organizations—giant armored-car company Loomis, Fargo & Co. and deli-food distributor Musco Food—rolling out cell phone devices to their field workforces.

Loomis was planning to give its guards wireless phones so the company could track its armored-car crews in real time. The key benefit would be to gain increased visibility into its operations and to be able to immediately pass information about pickups and deliveries to customers.

Musco was giving its sales reps cell phones that could act as order entry devices. The key benefits here are that the sales force doesn't have to lug around expensive laptop computers and, with orders being sent as soon as a sale is made, the company's inventory is updated immediately.

But they aren't the only companies picking up cell phones that can double as data processing devices. The market for "converged mobile devices"—handheld units with both voice and data capabilities—is taking off. In May, IDC put the market's year-over-year growth at 135%, with 8.4 million units sold in the second quarter of this year.

One reason for the rise in mobile computing's popularity is that companies are looking for faster, more accurate information on which to make decisions.

Which brings me to the other technology that's getting embraced by corporations—business intelligence software.

Competition is getting tougher. Business is moving faster than ever. And rising economic powers like China and India are making the world smaller.

To stay ahead, executives are demanding immediate, accurate information. Business intelligence systems allow companies to pull together and analyze information from disparate operations, providing the data managers need to make decisions.

The technology, which encompasses all sorts of data reporting and analysis tools, has been around for years. But its standing is growing. Deploying business intelligence systems is now one of the top three priorities of CIOs, research group Gartner said last month. Gartner also pointed out that companies using or planning to use business intelligence software expect to spend about 5% to 10% of their software budgets on these tools.

Those results were seconded by other CIO surveys. The Society for Information Management, a national group of high-level corporate information chiefs, said business intelligence, along with security and business process management, was a top concern of their members. And for good reason; a survey by CIO Insight, another Ziff Davis publication, found that 4 out of 5 companies using business intelligence software say it's had a measurable, positive impact on their bottom line.

The magazine cited, among other companies, information provider LexisNexis, which said it was using the software to help better segment and identify customers and, as a result, has produced $40 million in new revenue and cost savings.

There are other technology areas that are sure to be hot next year, including security software; virtualization, which can be roughly defined as techniques for consolidating technology resources; and service-oriented architecture, a software design strategy aimed at improving systems integration.

If there's any theme, it's that the driving force behind these technologies is growth. After years of technology belt-tightening, companies appear poised to target information technology in ways to make the company more effective, not just more efficient.

And that should make 2006 a very interesting year.

This article was originally published on 2005-12-06
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