What do we really need to know?
Do we need to know every specific feature the next release of Microsoft Office will have? Do we really need to know exactly what the next version of the SAP ERP platform will look like? Or is it the macro trends that influence what we buy, deploy, support, decommission, and optimize that matter most? I’ve been working with some colleagues about the short list of trends that matter. One of the participants in the project calls this list the “if-we-only-had-perfect-information-about-these-trends-life-would-be-perfect” list.
1. Regulatory Trends— Will the government regulate eBusiness? Will it tax Internet transactions? Will it legislate the end of spam? Will it define and uphold privacy rights? Will it develop policies around intellectual property? Will it regulate outsourcing? I’d love to have the answers to all of these questions. If the government actually discovers the digital world and decides to respond to its requirements, then things could change dramatically for those of us who make our livings around business technology. But if the government stays in digital denial, we can expect lots of problems and occasional chaos.
2. Interoperability Trends— Will everything work together? Will Web services become ubiquitous? Will we be able to (remember the phrase?) plug-and-play? This Holy Grail has eluded us for decades, but for the first time that I can remember, prospects for integration and interoperability are—if not excellent—at least good. The way the open versus proprietary trends play out will determine just how connected data, applications, and communications become. I’d love to know how it will all shake out.
3. Supply Chain Trends— Will Wal-Mart connect the world? Will Dell take collaboration and integration to the next level? Will demand forecasting, dynamic pricing, and inventory management marry radio frequency identification (RFID) to enable real-time management? Will business become continuous? Although enormous progress has been made in supply chain planning and management, there’s still a long way to go to bridge the supply chain haves and have-nots. How will it play out? If we knew how the world was going to connect and collaborate, we could make business technology decisions that prepare us for supply chain optimization.
4. Architecture Trends— Will thin clients make a comeback—and then rule the world? Will fat clients get even fatter? Will super servers graze on super server farms? What will data standards look like? Security standards? Wireless communications standards? As the industry consolidates, architectures will also consolidate. But what will they look like? Perfect information here could save the industry billions of dollars every year. As it is, we have to hedge our technology bets—and hedging can be expensive.
5. Sourcing Trends— Will it make sense to outsource? Will technology “utilities” finally emerge? Will companies be able to pay by the drink? Will shared risk contracting become pervasive? Will we develop best practices around sourcing for infrastructure services, database management, applications, and communications? Will robust sourcing TCO and ROI models emerge? Information about how the industry organizes its providers and users would provide critical strategic information about what and how to source technology products and services.
6. Infrastructure Trends— Will the Internet collapse? Will security breaches become routine? Will viruses continue to invade our computing and communications infrastructures? Will they become intelligent and self-healing? Will we upgrade them on a scheduled basis? While we tend to think more creatively about customer-facing applications, the need for secure, reliable, and scalable infrastructures will continue to grow. There’s a growing chorus about the vulnerability of our networks—particularly the Internet. Are they alarmists, or is there something to really worry about? It would be great to actually know.
7. Disruptive Technology Trends— There are always lists of “emerging” technologies, technologies that lots of us think will “disrupt” business models and processes. I’d love to know that the real list looks like in 2010. Will wireless communications technology revolutionize B2C and B2B transaction processing? Will VoIP enable most of our data and voice communications? Will intelligent systems technology penetrate our infrastructures and applications portfolios? I’d sure like to see the list that will define the next decade.
Perfect information is impossible to acquire. So what should we do with lists like the one above? First, I think it’s the effort—not the list—that matters. What would your list look like? If you can identify the major drivers of business technology change, you should be able to steer your business technology investments. Perfect information exercises are intended to reduce uncertainty about macro trends. Although uncertainty cannot be eliminated, it can be “managed.” Try it; pick five, seven, or ten things you’d really like to know—and then think about their trajectories—and your business technology strategy.