Enterprise and data architects will have their hands full over the next few years as a convergence of technologies and concepts continue to push IT's impact into every corner of the enterprise -- as well as outside a company's walls.
Forrester Research Inc.'s "IT everywhere" label theorizes that the next few years will see IT transformed not by a single technology, but by the demand for better, collaborative and integrated data throughout the enterprise.
The term is purposely broad. In a recent report, Forrester vice president and principal analyst Bobby Cameron argued that a fleet of new and emerging technologies will move the IT department's influence, quite literally, everywhere to connect everything. The result could be a whole new concept for enterprise architects to consider.
In a sense, to paraphrase Cameron's argument, the last IT revolution was networking -- spurred by the Internet and networked business applications. "IT everywhere," then, is seeing how that network can be pushed to improve business processes.
"There's no big, single thing occurring," he said. "But I think there's a general experience IT leadership has that the earth's moving and there's more attention to everything."
So how can midmarket CIOs, who may not have the financial resources to keep a high-priced consultant from Forrester or Gartner Inc. around, stay on top of these developments?
"They don't have the capacity to specialize," Cameron said. "The architect role is probably part of the software developer's job or maybe the head of development."
Here are the concepts Cameron and Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester believe will play a role in "IT everywhere":
Technology populism: A "technology-native" workforce, Web 2.0, broadband connections and collaboration all mean employees, and not just IT workers, will influence which new technologies are brought to an enterprise.
"There's a lot more connectivity and acceptance of the blogs, the wikis, texting," Cameron said. "I think companies are doing a really good job of recognizing that it's there. Not as many are using it strategically yet."
The downside? Concerns about security and privacy.
"It's one of the ways that technology comes in the door that's not under IT's control," Cameron said.
The information workplace: An extension of collaborative technologies and applications already in use, Forrester's "information workplace" is a "role-based" user experience that connects content management, business intelligence, data warehousing and other business productivity functions. The concept, Cameron writes, will be influenced by Web 2.0 and social computing technologies.
"The concept isn't new, but it's not been broadly adopted," Cameron said. It is becoming increasingly clear that no single vendor is going to invent the ultimate content and data management system. But by building a "role-based" layer on top of all the systems, CIOs may be able to tie together what they have for a truly collaborative and functional user experience.
Dynamic business applications: Cameron writes that IT should focus on building business applications that emphasize "close alignment with business processes" and are built to evolve and adapt with the business. Clear design guidelines are still coming along with the help of service-oriented architecture (SOA) and business process management.
"Of this list, this is probably the furthest out," Cameron said. "It takes a lot of work." Vendors are working on business application products that adapt more easily to individual users, but Cameron said he believes the other trends on Forrester's list will need to mature first in order for dynamic business applications to become a reality.
Digital Business Architecture: The least tangible of the trends described by Forrester, Digital Business Architecture incorporates a SOA platform, the information workplace concept, a unified communications platform, virtualization and various other strategic platforms to allow IT to build a fluid but functioning business technology strategy.
It is "the top-level conceptual model for planning the future of both technology and architecture," Cameron wrote.
"The general approach to solving the problem has been piecemeal," he said. "As some people put the cloud together, it starts to bring parts of this architecture."
IT ecosystems: IT service delivery is changing. By 2012, the industry will see outside providers and vendors "assembling and managing" new technologies for businesses, Cameron said. Standard operations usually located deep within the IT department will be outsourced. Software will be purchased not as a product, but as a subscription. New technologies will be sold in pre-assembled bundles. The winners, Cameron writes, are companies with the "strongest delivery capabilities" at the central hubs of technology. He names IBM, Microsoft, Oracle Corp. and SAP AG.
Those companies will continue competing to be the central vendor to a company's IT strategy -- working to become what Forrester calls a "gravity well" that attracts other vendors to a behemoth's platform.
"You see more and more vendors whose strategy is to exist in maybe one or two of those universes," Cameron said. "That's likely to be the model: Microsoft-plus-somebody."
Enterprise master data management: Already under way as a concept, Forrester believes CIOs should develop a multiyear plan for master data management that will allow quality access to information across the company.
To not build a master data management plan could mean falling behind the competition. Just last year, Forrester analysts predicted the $1.1 billion master data management software market will grow by as much as 59% each year, culminating in a $6.7 billion market by 2010.
In a report, Forrester principal analyst Rob Karel said CIOs should begin hiring or developing data management stewards now. That could include data-minded people from the business units who are not tech adverse, Karel said.
Still, even as it grows, Cameron said he sees trepidation about master data management.
"It's still new enough," Cameron said. "When I bring this one out, I usually get 'Yeah, but that's so hard. We can't do it.'"
But you can, Cameron said. Even though master data management remains a challenge, he said there was a time when a standard data model for information sharing was thought impossible. It can be done, he said, especially with the help of a SOA layer to hide the project's complexity.
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