What Can IT Expect in 2009?

What can we expect in these uncertain times of 800-point stock index swings? Well, when it comes to IT, my pick for the top 10 trends we can expect in 2009 are ?Green Expense Cutting Cloud Virtualization Mobility SaaS Wireless Process Management Architecture Investments.?

That about covers it?unless you?re interested in understanding the forces that drive these trends, affect our business decision making and power IT innovation.

These three forces drive a lot more than just IT. By December 2009, you?ll look back at these forces and understand why trends come and go, but not these prime movers. They are tightly coupled, inter-related and, coincidentally, they all start with ?E?: energy, economy, employment.

Energy: Here?s something we can bet the ranch on: Oil will run out. It may happen slowly at $200 a barrel or quickly at $50 a barrel, but it will run out. That?s actually good for us, because the way we?ve been generating and using energy has kicked off significant changes to our planet?s ecosystem.

The bright side is that we are embarking on the greatest period of innovation the world has known. What does this mean for IT? Consolidated and more-efficient data centers (virtualized storage, processors, desktops and cloud computing), smart-grid energy-use alternatives and a push toward Internet-based work-anywhere options (which affect employment).

As economic incentives and energy policies kick in, business will quickly begin to take advantage of credits or incentives to think differently about its energy use. This will continue to put pressure on wireless and mobility options, new technologies in unified communications and innovations such as tele-presence video systems. IT is center stage in these innovations.

A primer on this force is Tom Friedman?s book Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Friedman calls this IT meets ET: Information technology meets energy technology. He sees IT innovation as integral to meeting our energy and environmental challenges.

Economy: Continued turmoil in the financial sector is driving cutbacks, as well as a push for more efficiency and regulation. Smarter, more-focused business investments that have quick returns on investment are the battle cry, along with strong IT governance and due diligence. Pressure for cheaper labor feeds the offshore market, but not as much as in the past, especially as the recession flattens the financial playing field.

Many countries, including the United States, have been taking advantage of international business opportunities to generate more local growth. The same symptoms and trends we saw with energy forces apply even more here, since a prolonged slump will also increase unemployment?and that may extend, in spot industries and geographies, to IT. Because of energy and population growth, commodity prices will continue to rise, adding further cost pressures.

The bright side? Unlike prior downturns, most senior managers recognize that IT is a way to help get out of this slump?not a nice-to-have function that?s a prime source for cutbacks. IT can provide stronger processes, a renewed commitment to business process improvement and architectural approaches to system development.

Employment: The economy?s impact on employment is obvious, but what I am talking about here is much broader than just the jobs report. It concerns a culture that has changed from a lifetime employment ethic to entrepreneurial freelancers. Europe, once thought to be the bastion of socialized capitalism, is changing even faster than the United States, prompted by aggressive former Eastern European countries that have seized this economic opportunity. Add to that mix the Millennial Generation, which knows how to use technology, and you?ll find workforces that fight back when a company shuts down IM or access to Facebook.

The security issues are still present, so the friction between traditional company cultures and open, collaborative and data leakage-prone cultures will continue. With an accelerating trend toward a diverse workforce enabled by the Internet, we see continued pressure on collaboration technologies, such as Enterprise 2.0, and unsolved frustration with security and identify management issues, for which there are no silver bullets.

We need to consider the three ?E?s? when we architect our IT future. So think about forces, not just trends, and base your decisions on these forces rather than on this year?s fad.