The final destination, part 1: technologies and concepts enterprise IT will have to adopt

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In the past years, we've witnessed a very important transformation: the consumerization of information technologies. Billions of connected users living their life online, overwhelmed by millions of information systems that have been tailored to suit their every need and desire. Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon came a long way with their products and infrastructure, but the enterprise isn't losing any time. Learning from the new paradigms and adopting new funky technologies, that have traditionally been developed in corporate laboratories. Can the Fab 4 also predict where enterprise IT is headed? And what will it become?

A few weeks ago I participated in a panel for PI-PL on Ljubljana's Faculty of Economics, where I was asked this exact question: where do I see corporate IT in 10 years. A very hard question indeed, but the more I thought about the it, the clearer it became. Enterprise data, software and technology will sooner or later integrate everything. Simple as that. But to fully understand how this will happen, we must first try to identify the most important trends that have shaped information technologies as we know them today. Yes, most of them don't have that much to do with the enterprise. But things are changing.

Cloud technologies

While cloud computing may have been present in the enterprise for quite some time, it's still pretty much dominated by web players like Google (mail, docs, etc.) and Amazon (hardware), who are also flirting with the enterprise. Who wouldn't? There are massive benefits for businesses to move their stuff to the cloud, from scalable physical Infrastructure to higher level Platform or Software as a service information systems.

Perhaps the most important thing the Cloud achieved was to render technology infrastructure irrelevant. It doesn't matter any more, what kind of environment you use. What type of security, infrastructure, servers and network you have installed. You can outsource these things to others, and it will be much easier and cheaper, while all your migrating-to-a-bigger-thing problems will be solved with a swipe of a credit card. I was fascinated that Microsoft now offers Linux based servers on their Azure cloud services, which can be changed to Windows with a click of a button. Architecture doesn't matter anymore, and this fact helps IT departments to focus on more important things than system administration.

APIs, mashups, platforms and ecosystems

Heavily connected with the whole Cloud concept, data and information never had it easier to travel from one place to another. System migrations (moving data from one information system to another) and system integrations (connecting multiple information systems into one) have always been one of the biggest challenges of IT. But the web didn't have as much resources as the enterprise, so it had to simplify things. By offering APIs (Application Programming Interface), web applications allowed others applications to work with their data in an easy way. Mashups, hybrid information systems built on top of others, were born.

Pretty much every noteworthy web service has its own API. This helped a lot of them to become a platform. You know, like Facebook and Twitter, who have created an ecosystem, where thousands of other applications live around them? Soon, similar concepts will dominate the enterprise too. There are already players like Salesforce, who not only offer business-oriented Software as a service solutions, but the also a Platform for other developers to build services on top of their services. And since everything is so open, all this data can easily be integrated with other information systems or transferred to a different environment. Modern information systems don't have problems with understanding each other, but IT departments have problems with understanding information systems, since different, more business oriented skills are needed to support these integrations.

Mobile devices and new distribution channels

More than ten years ago, when I was an Information Sciences student, there was still a debate going on about the benefits of web based enterprise information systems over traditional Client - Server architecture. In the end, the Web won, mostly because distribution was so easy, you make the update on the server, and every user gets it instantly. Employees need nothing but a browser. They are acquainted with the environment ever since they started using Hotmail, and took it for their own ever since they started using Facebook.

But today, it seems the Web is losing its ground as the leading infrastructure, since a new technology came into town. Capable mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, now enable access to information systems from anywhere, anytime in real-time. Besides, they arrived with their own app markets, which enabled a whole potential for software distribution, and perhaps more importantly, for software billing. You give a fair share to the store owner, who also promotes your solution, and you can freely focus on developing and marketing the product. It's true that mobile apps may not be as flexible as web applications, since the users need to install the updates (even though this can also be achieved by combining native mobile and hosted HTML 5), but the trend is clear. Apple already has its Mac store, Microsoft Windows will follow soon. Distribution of mobile and Software as a service information systems is becoming trivial.

Big data and The internet of things

Traditionally, banks, retailers and financial institutions have been the organizations that operated with the most data in the world. Well, things are changing, and we can only wonder who owns the most bytes today: is it Google, Facebook or someone else? Since there are less transactions than there are interactions, we can estimate consumer oriented information systems with billions of users are the biggest in existence. While this data is accessible to the enterprise to some extent, there are also hundreds of other systems the enterprise or its employees use, and they all create massive amounts of data and information, which needs to be integrated into a wider picture.

Not only that. Today, there are already are more connected devices that we have initially anticipated. These devices (cameras, sensors, tools, etc.) create even more data, which the enterprise needs to process. This trend of wired gadgets is called The internet of things, and together with the large amount of interconnectable information systems businesses use, points to one important trend: the typical enterprise was never faced with so much data and information, which somehow needs to be integrated and understood in an interdisciplinary way.

New ways of doing things, on a higher level

In the mean time, these consumer oriented (B2C) web corporation not only became a few of the biggest technology companies in existence, they've also invented new ways of how to get things done. From Google's 20%, to flat organizations without management, more and more companies (not only startups) set out to revolutionize how business is done. In the service oriented society, creativity is important, but so is productivity and the ability to ship fast. Done is better than perfect.

With new types of management concepts, such as lean and agile, modern organizations are becoming more and more flexible. Not only in doing things, but also in switching from one technology to another. These companies have developed their own way of thinking about which software to use. And it probably has a lot to do its price, how fast can you start using it, how scalable and connectable it is, and how fast can you dump if for another. IT requirements are moving to a higher level, and information systems have become just pieces of a puzzle that needs to be completed.

Design and user experience

Design and user experience probably still don't have that much to do with enterprise IT, but they are very much worth mentioning nevertheless. Face it, users are becoming more and more demanding, and software developers need to make better and better software. Even though the above mentioned facts are probably the dominating factor for the choice of which information systems the enterprise will use, design and user experience matter more and more.

Businesses have always had problems with implementing new software, educating the users, going through the whole status quo change. But beautiful and useful software penetrates faster. People perceive beautiful things to be more useful, and it's the whole intuitiveness and usability of software that helps them adopt something without too much resistance and problems. Some software vendors already found out user experience is the new competitive advantage, and in the end it may be the thing that tips the scale. But the whole point behind it is that I can see better, more clever and detailed, information systems force out older ones on an even faster pace. The whole world of information systems need reinvention, and user experience design will be the science behind these upgrades. Benefits are becoming more important than features.

Social, crowdsourcing and gamification

More than 3 years ago, I was very excited to present a concept we have been developing in Neolab on Days of Slovenian IT. I called it IT 2.0, since it meant integrating social services into enterprise software (at that time, Enterprise 2.0 was more widely used for stand-alone social software such as wikis or corporate blogs). The truth is, I didn't get the chance to sell it well, and in the mean time, disruptive social services managed to fully find their way into the enterprise. But business won't stop here; there are many other fascinating things the internet has invented that can fully be applied to corporate environments.

Gamification, the art of using gaming mechanics in non gaming environments, is getting more and more claim beyond the web. Both for motivating employees, as for motivating clients. We all like to play, so why should work be any different? And we all like to participate in something bigger, that is why crowdsourcing, where people coproduce something, can bring such exciting results. Can you see where I'm headed?

We are all human, and in the end, behaving on a very basic level. Sometimes we perform better, sometimes worse, and we all hold hidden potential even ourselves aren't aware of. That is what software in the workplace can sometimes help us discover, and it's something more and more businesses are aware of. Social, gamification and crowdsourcing are only a few approaches that can make us feel better and more motivated, and they are all concepts that enterprise IT will adopt sooner or later. Behind every company, there are only people.

The final destination of enterprise IT

These are the concepts and technologies that will shape enterprise IT of tomorrow. And with it, new challenges will emerge, together with new profiles of people, who will understand and use all of the above. These profiles, such as data scientists and business analysts, will help enterprise IT do what it was destined to do: Integrate life, the universe and everything.

But that's another story. Coming up soon.

Check out the complete The final destination series.

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written 2.7.2012 19:38 CET on chronolog
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