What will be the next big thing in IT?

by Frank 29. September 2012 23:42

I run an application software development company called Knowledgeone Corporation that develops enterprise content management software applications. My customers are generally big business and big government and part of my job as the designer of our applications like RecFind 6 is to predict what my customers are going to ask for in twelve or twenty-four months’ time.

I read a lot of technical papers and forecasts and blogs and try to ingest and evaluate as much as I can about where our business is moving so that I can make the changes necessary in our products to meet future demand. I have been doing this for twenty-nine years and like most pundits, sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong.

Like Gartner (that never seems to get it right) I have been silly enough to publish a number of my predictions as white papers and they make interesting reading years later. Some examples are listed below:

2009   Windows 7 – Frank’s views

2007   Technology as a Tool – Where is Records and Document Management Heading?

1998   The Thin Client – The Next Panacea?

1997   Knowledge Management – The Next Challenge?

1996   Information and Records Management Towards 2000 – Electronic Document Management Principles.

1995   Document Management, Records Management, Image Management, Workflow Management,…What? The I.D.E.A.

I have also published more predictions in my blog, a few examples follow:

09/2011        Will developers, Corporates and Government upgrade to Windows 8?

11/2011        Mobile and Web – The future of applications?

12/2011        The real impact of mobilization – how will it affect the way we work?

01/2012        Will desktop virtualization be the final nail in the computer room coffin?

03/2012        What is the future of software applications in 2013 and beyond?

The obvious problem with publishing prediction is that you can’t always get it right and you will be judged at a later time when everyone is a lot wiser. However, people in my business have to predict the future because we start working on a new product a year or more before we are able to sell it. In a way, it is a silly business. We invest man years and large amounts of money designing, building and testing software applications long before we can get any kind of return on our investment.

Games makers have a similar problem, they have to invest millions and many man years long before they know if their game is going to be a success or not. This is why we have to predict the future and why we need to get it right more times than we get it wrong.

Right now I happen to believe that the world of software applications is going through a major paradigm shift. The advent of powerful mobile devices that really began with the first iPhone has changed the way most people want to work with applications. Like the PC network paradigm change of the early 1980’s, this one is also end-user driven, not IT Department driven. In fact you may conclude that the often reactionary IT heads of the commercial world have been dragged kicking and screaming into this revolution just as they were in the early 1980’s.

The availability of smarter and more powerful mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad have already had a major impact on PC and notebook sales and have caused major vendors like Intel to re-evaluate their product lines and strategies. In Intel’s case it first tried to leverage off old technologies with the promotion of ultra-books and now it has announced a move into new processors for mobile devices to rival those from companies like ARM and Qualcomm. Similarly, Microsoft, late to the party as usual, is now focusing on its new range of surface tablets and new versions of Windows 8 to support mobile devices.

As I said above, it is significant than none of these major changes have been driven by the usual suspects like Microsoft and Intel, they have been caught napping and are now in catch-up mode.

So, what are my chances of correctly predicting the future if giants like Intel and Microsoft with their huge budgets and research departments can’t get it right? Or, is the problem not one of budget but one of corporate arrogance? I will leave that judgement to you.

In my view the move to faster, smarter, more powerful and more user-friendly mobile devices is inexorable. When I now look at my office with its bulky PCs and masses of wires and connections it looks like a museum honouring the 20th century. My iPad in contrast, looks like the beginning of the 21st century; still not there yet but definitely the progenitor of coming office computing.

I see the same picture when looking at enterprise application software. Most of it, including my product RecFind 6 (based on the very latest Microsoft .NET technology), needs to be completely redesigned for the coming mobile world and this is the real challenge.

Everyone now knows (or should know) how to design games and small simple apps for mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad but most of us are still struggling with the redesign of heavy-duty, feature-rich and enterprise-strength applications like RecFind 6 for the new mobile platforms.  We can’t just scale them down, we have to come up with a completely new way to communicate with our mobile end users. We have to discard the technology we are most familiar with and re-invent our solutions using new and unfamiliar technology.

Just like Intel and Microsoft we have to change our game and we have to do it fast because this particular revolution isn’t being driven by us, it is being driven by end-users and the innovative people at companies like ARM and Qualcomm and Apple all of whom have had very little impact on corporate application software in the recent past.

The current paradigm shift is still in its early days but it will completely change the way we all run our businesses in the near future. If only I could predict exactly how.

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