5 Technologies to Watch, Career Moves, Leadership Tips and More

5 Technologies to Watch (cont.)

Business Intelligence

Emerging from an extended period of cost cutting and efficiency seeking, IT departments are increasingly asked to contribute to the top line. Identifying new revenue opportunities often involves analyzing customer data, which in turn means business intelligence (BI).

BI typically encompasses a data warehouse as well as data-scrubbing and analytic software. In analytics, Business Objects, Cognos and Microsoft are the Big Three vendors, according to Bill Hostmann, analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. But for most midmarket companies, the applications in use are inconsistent and primitive. "Excel is still the dominant BI tool in companies [with] under 5,000 employees," Hostmann says.

So in 2006, you'll want to merge all those line-of-business BI projects with a true enterprise-grade tool. But if your results are like those of Burt's Bees Inc., be prepared to hire help.

In 2005 the $100-million maker of personal-care products in Durham, N.C., recognized that senior managers and sales reps had trouble analyzing point-of-sale (POS) data. So Ted Hein, director of information services, and his team implemented a Business Objects system that analyzes data in so many ways that the company must now hire more data analysts.

"We went from an information desert to an overabundance," Hein says. "Now we need to build out [our] analytical capabilities." Other firms may soon follow suit. AMR Research Inc. in Boston says BI accounted for $5.8 billion in sales in 2005 and estimates it will grow by nearly 9% next year.

Video over IP

Once you've committed to a converged network with voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), it's a short hop to video over IP. And businesses have already learned that videoconferencing over IP can trim training budgets and travel time for staff and also enable new types of collaboration such as telemedicine. So in 2006, you'll want to stay on top of the "other" VoIP.

According to Wainhouse Research LLC, a Duxbury, Mass., research firm that specializes in visual collaboration and rich media communications markets, the camera and voice-access device needed to run an "executive" videoconferencing system -- one that's suitable for individuals or small groups but not a full-blown system -- can be had for less than $2,000.

Wainhouse predicts the enterprise IP videoconferencing market will increase 15% in 2006, from $660 million in 2005 to $757 million in 2006.

Naturally, those IP gains come at the expense of traditional ISDN teleconferencing. According to Wainhouse analyst Andrew W. Davis, most videoconferencing hardware includes both IP and ISDN ports, and "50% or 60% of the deployments today are IP-based." Wainhouse estimates ISDN's share of videoconferencing will slip to 30% in 2006.

Naturally, the quality of the image depends on bandwidth. While 128 KBps is sufficient to view someone's face, you'll need 256 KBps for top-quality conference-room images, says Irwin Lazar, an analyst at the Burton Group, a Midvale, Utah-based research firm. "You get what you pay for," says Lazar.

Despite falling hardware prices, Lazar says that in 2006, midmarket enterprises seeking to avoid investments in a fast-changing technology may want to stick with services such as WebEx and Macromedia's Breeze, which enable videoconferencing with virtually no hardware expense.

This was first published in December 2005

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