Careers: Interviews
IT Trends - Dr Jaime Kaminski

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P. discusses IT trends with with Dr Jaime Kaminski, Senior e-Commerce Analyst and Technical Briefings Manager Xephon ( http://www.xephon.com )

Q: Xephon is the world's leading producer of special IT consultancy reports, professional journals and international IT conferences. Jaime, can you describe your involvement in the many services provided by your organisations?

A: Thank you Stephen. As you note Xephon has two principal lines of business - IT publications and conferences. We have been around for twenty years, providing technical and market research which focuses exclusively on information systems for large enterprises. This research is made available a number of forms, including over thirty conferences each year, strategic consultancy reports, and thirteen technical journals which range in content from those devoted to MVS and CICS to NT and SQL Server. We also produce numerous surveys, news reports, and strategic bulletins. Our material provides value for all levels of the IT organisation from the systems programmers, to the CIOs and CTOs. It is this breadth of coverage which really defines Xephon.

My role spans both of these business functions. I started my work with Xephon with the seminar side of the business. I was hired to put together high-quality technical seminars and conferences. This role rapidly expanded to incorporate analytical research for publications, and original writing.

The deep integration of these two roles provides a tangible benefit for our customers - we can rapidly incorporate the results of our research into seminars. But this is a two-way process: we are continually listening to our clients' needs, through surveys, site visits, and from discussions at our conferences. We use this information to direct and refine our future areas of research.

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Q: How did you come to Xephon and to your current position? How do you see your position evolving in the short and long term?

A: Like you Stephen, I come from an academic background. Before entering the IT industry half a decade ago, I completed doctoral-level research for a Ph.D. and lectured to both degree-level and post-graduate students. When I moved into the IT sector, I first worked with databases. When the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to work with Xephon. This position allowed me to fully exploit many of my skillsets: the ability to undertake meticulous research, and to articulate ideas in technical lectures and seminars.

In the short-term I see my role incorporating a much greater use of Web-based technology. Xephon offers electronic access to all our publications. I see increased granularity in these offerings - instead of offering whole books on-line we are beginning to offer individual chapters. I think we are also going to see a much more rapid dissemination of information using the Web. In the long-term we could see conferences distributed world-wide on the Web.

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Q: Jaime, what do you see as the key skill set required for IT professionals today and in short term and long term future?

A: I am somewhat cautious about making broad generalisations, but in my mind the key skill for IT professionals is the integration of IT knowledge with business skills. One of the principal lessons we learnt from the Year 2000 problem was how integral IT was to business. It may be an unpopular statement to make, but the sole purpose of IT is to support the business function.

There will always be a need for highly specialised technical staff, but the rapid advances in technology are going to fuel a demand for adaptable people who thrive on a variety of challenges. These people will be the key drivers in future IT departments. They will have the ability to respond rapidly to technological change, but to do that they also need to understand business issues.

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Q: For those entering the IT field and for seasoned veterans, do you have a recommendations about current and future areas of specialisation or concentration?

A: My advice for those entering the field is to focus on areas that they enjoy. This industry requires long hours of dedicated work: the implications of working in a sector that is not stimulating do not bear thinking about.

In terms of actual areas of specialisation, obviously skills in Java, Oracle, Cisco and the Microsoft product set are currently in great demand. But, it is important to realise that much of this demand is being created by the e-commerce sector. At the risk of repeating myself, integration with business skills would be a key asset that could provide a competitive edge in the job market both now and in the future.

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Q: Jaime, you are heavily involved in research. Based upon your exhaustive research, can you comment on what you consider to be the most "important" technologies and technology directions that companies and IT professionals need to consider?

A: I would suggest that we look at the most important 'technologies' first. I would divide these into those technologies that companies need to evaluate and/or deploy immediately, and those technologies that will be important in the medium-term future.

In the first category, technologies that need immediate attention, I would place XML, Windows 2000, Linux, Wireless technologies, Java and security.

In the later category I would place technologies that are still in a state of flux and/or the need for deployment is not immediate. These would include VoIP, IP Version 6, and speech recognition. I have to emphasise that these technologies will assume considerable importance in the future, and here at Xephon we keep close tabs on the latest developments in this arena. For example, we recently ran one of the first European conferences devoted entirely to IP Version 6 and VoIP.

With these technologies come some issues for consideration, for example consolidation, systems management, the management of remote technologies, data management, and network management.

Other areas that companies need to consider are obviously the various elements of the e-commerce arena, for example B2B e-commerce, and e-procurement, which although an element of B2B e-commerce itself, I would consider to be absolutely essential for every organisation that wished to gain competitive advantage. Business to consumer e-commerce is also a buoyant sector at the present but probably not as valuable as the B2B sector.

If we look at these technologies and directions in more detail I would make the following comments about each:

Windows 2000 and the Microsoft product set
The Microsoft product set will be in all our futures. Windows 2000 has brought with it a vast range of new features, redesigned directory services, and enhanced availability, I certainly think it will reposition the PC server within the large organisation. A move to Windows 2000 is inevitable for many companies, as releases of strategic BackOffice products such as Exchange 2000 and SQL Server 2000 rely heavily on its advanced functionality. More importantly at the high end of the Windows 2000 product range is the 'DataCenter' product which is the strongest indication yet that Microsoft is looking to expand its horizons towards the business and mission-critical world.

I would definitely say that Windows 2000 is the most significant product release from Microsoft in a decade, and now is the time to get to grips with the planning and training issues involved. This is an area that we are looking at very closely at Xephon, in conferences, reports and in our NT Update journal.

Moreover, the associated implications of .NET, and Windows DNA will be highly significant for the industry. I would call .NET a longer-term strategy, simply because the .NET strategy requires such radical changes that I would think it will be in a state of flux for at least a year or two. It would be wise to evaluate these technologies during this time period but unwise to deploy them in a mission critical context yet. The integral parts of the .NET strategy - Web Services, and SOAP look as if they will have a radical affect on the industry.

Linux
Linux has gained wide-spread support from vendors and consumers alike, especially in the Server market, because it is simpler, more stable, and less costly than many recent desktop operating systems. However, it is important to note that the release of Microsoft Windows 2000 with its inherent stability has altered this equation a little, but the cost factor is still a prime mover for Linux.

On the negative side, many companies are still grappling with the concept of how to successfully extract revenue from what is essentially free software. Many larger companies such as IBM have extensive 'services' and consulting divisions which are likely to exploit the Linux market.

But although Linux is the fastest growing operating system with 25% of the server market this does not translate into any significant desktop gains which are almost negligible. Linux still has to reach a mass audience by attracting application developers, and it needs work to become a relevant desktop environment.

It is likely that in the foreseeable future, Linux will remain as the second most important server operating system, so I would certainly suggest that companies need to acquire staff with Linux skills, and training will be crucial. Talking to industry professionals has made me aware that there is currently a considerable skill deficit out there.

However, I think that will change. Because Linux is an ideal OS for Universities and colleges - both on the server side and as a desktop operating system - more and more educational establishments are likely to adopt it. This is likely to have long term implications for the skillset of those coming out of higher education. This is the same scenario as was seen with Microsoft's software in the 1990s.

XML
XML has so much to offer that we can expect it to pervade the whole of computing, from databases through middleware to end-user applications. Massive effort is being put into the creation of XML tools by the IT industry. Not only are new products being written, but old ones are being retrofitted to work with XML. Despite the widespread tendency to support both HTML and XML the fact must be faced that users have to decide, early on, whether they are going to employ XML or not. Everything, from high-level design onwards, hinges on this decision. Certainly, XML can be translated into HTML, but that is merely a stopgap technique. The strengths and limitations of XML are quite different from those of HTML.

So many valuable uses are appearing that it is a full-time job just keeping track of the new XML dialects, applications, working groups and consortia. This is an area that we are constantly researching for conferences and reports.

Wireless devices
It is highly probable that there will be an explosion in the number of Wireless devices. Some predictions suggest that the number of Internet-enabled mobile devices will exceed the number of PCs by 2003. This may or may not be the case, but what is certain is that the number of mobile devices being used will increase massively.

This is being promoted by many different sources. The large telecommunications vendors need to drive growth because the market for conventional voice calls is likely to reach saturation especially in the developed nations. The phone vendors need a reason for users to replace their phones, hardware vendors see this as a new product outlet.

We are now beginning to see increasing amounts of data being sent using wireless media for applications such as e-mail and Web browsing. Development of the wireless WAN is being fuelled by the proliferation of handheld computing devices, and mobile users potentially become nodes on a SAN, storing and retrieving data. I think we will see considerable initial use of this technology by mobile workers and sales forces. The most important point IT departments need to consider how to manage the security, back-up and synchronisation of these devices. If this is not given sufficient thought it could lead to a significant management overhead.

Java
At the beginning of the year I was predicting that Java would play an increasingly important role in the industry. This has certainly been confirmed by the evidence from recruitment specialists who are seeing Java skills as the most highly sought after skill. Certainly the massive backing being given to Java by both Sun and IBM is having an impact.

The pace of the IT industry is increasing rapidly, so software development times have to shrink. The key to achieving this, of course, is through the use of object-oriented programming, such as Java. Reusing software cuts development time and creates a library of building blocks that other programs can readily use. The information age will be held back without fundamental changes occurring in software development. The inherent flexibility of a component-based system makes it much easier and quicker to change the software as business needs evolve.

Additionally there are benefits in the way that Java and XML complement each other. I mentioned earlier that XML will be crucial in the next few years, well Java is an object-oriented language, ideally suited for expressing state and behaviour. XML, on the other hand, is what might be called a data-oriented language, which concerns itself only with state. Among computer languages, it is perhaps closest to SQL in this respect. In any case, Sun has set to with a will to cement XML to Java as firmly as it possibly can, by publishing specifications, giving away tools, and whatever else it takes. Much of the hype behind Java has died down now and companies can get down to some serious work.

However, at the beginning of the year Java had little viable competition, analysts were aware of the Microsoft.NET initiative, but little more could have been predicted. Now we have a much clearer picture of Microsoft's response to Java.

Talking to users and analysts it appears that Java is still ahead as a technology, but simply because of its' perceived openness. We will see a lot more competition between Java and .NET in the years to come.

Security
There can be no doubt that e-business has elevated the profile of security. Relatively trivial breaches in e-business security can have massive implications for a company ranging from negative publicity to massive drops in share price. This direct link between security and the boardroom makes IT security one of the top priorities for IS departments.

To give you an example Stephen, each year Xephon does a survey of IS Plans for Fortune 500 companies. In 1998 security was the seventeenth most important priority - in 2000 security was the fourth most important priority.

One of the best ways of improving the integrity of a server platform is still to move it to a physically secure area. Consolidation of workgroup servers, usually carried out for economic and systems operations reasons, is drawing processors into data centres. In the meantime, there is a countervailing proliferation of Web servers that are physically dispersed and are intrinsically insecure in themselves. Fortunately, the operation of second-generation e-business systems is more likely than that of their predecessors to be entrusted to IT professionals, which should improve their security from a variety of viewpoints, including the physical one.

The ability to insist on the security standards of e-business partners is a delicate issue in the B2B context, as the relative sizes of value chain collaborators can make it hard for a minnow to dictate to a shark. It should be recognised, however, that serious e-business players, irrespective of their size, are determined to solve the security issue. As we have seen, the ISPs have an essential part to play; they have shown their willingness to participate but they must be prepared to prove their competence as prospective e-business service providers.

From a technological perspective companies need to consider firewalls, anti-virus software, encryption, authentication, and digital signatures. But security is also a human issue. It is important to make employee education and awareness a high priority. A corporate policy, with top-level support needs to be put in writing. On the same theme, a coherent and enterprise-wide security policy is also very useful to establish some method of negotiating on security between e-trading partners. The formalising of these issues is one of the problems being tackled by the ebXML definition project.

IPv6
At the beginning of the year I classed the movement to IP Version 6 (the next generation Internet Protocol - IPng) as a medium- to long-term strategy. Our predictions at Xephon suggested that there was a 75% likelihood of the industry moving to the new protocol, but this was highly dependent on its acceptance by the major router and operating system vendors. I am now more confident than ever that a move to IPv6 will occur before the 2004 timeframe.

At the current rate of use the Internet protocol will run out of address spaces around 2004. This will be a prime mover towards moving to a new protocol. IPv6 will solve the address space problem, and will have considerable benefits for Multimedia applications, Quality of Service, and mobile networking.

The specification of IP Version 6 has taken five years to develop, and to a certain extent it is a technical compromise between several proposals. In general, the IP Version 6 specification is technically quite conservative. The designers tried to use the same paradigms as the existing Internet, keeping in mind that the IP Version 6 Internet was to be an upgrade of the existing Internet, not a completely new network.

But, I would strongly suggest that the industry should keep an eye on this sector, when deployment starts things will move very quickly, so industry awareness is key.

VoIP
As I mentioned earlier I would class the deployment of Voice over IP (VoIP) as a medium-term strategy. There is no doubt that VoIP will prevail in the long term, because, for most companies, the cost benefits will be impossible to ignore. However, in the short term there are still a considerable number of technical details to sort out, for example guaranteeing the quality of transmission across the Internet is quite complex at the present and can require some complex tunnelling. However, when IPv6 takes off these issues will be reduced. The other problem at the present is that the marketplace is highly volatile with large numbers of IPv6 vendor mergers.

Therefore, it is likely that many potential adopters will stay on the sidelines until there is greater clarity in the market. This is not to say that it would be foolish to adopt VoIP at this stage, the companies that have are experiencing considerable benefits. I for one would certainly recommend limited deployment now at the departmental level. At the present
would not recommend using VoIP for anything other than intranet and Virtual Private Networks, there are still too many quality of service issues.

This does however highlight the importance of an enterprise's network. It is essential that companies focus resources on their networks, increase training, and consider the future demands of multimedia, Voice over IP, and Quality of Service. Investments in networking technology should be made with these future issues in mind.

Speech recognition
This is a technology to keep an eye on in the mid-to long-term future. Currently learning a specific programming language or syntax limits the use of technology to a small segment of the population. Using natural language to interact with IT will be fundamental for taking IT to the general population. Commercial dictation systems are now widely available, although we are still several years away from universal speech recognition.

The combination of speech recognition and mobile devices is a very important area to watch in the mid- to long-term future. As the size of mobile devices decreases the need to have a simple way of inputting data increases.

When this does come it really will change the face of IT.


Agent technology
The volume of information that IT professionals are bombarded with is enormous, and this is a situation that is only going to get worse. Research at the close of 1999 indicated that there were over one billion web available on the Web. It is becoming increasingly clear that we need some means of sorting and acquiring useful data, which is where agent technology comes in. Agent technology has been around for years, but I think the number of vendors who will develop the technology will show a marked increase in the short term future and I think that in the next couple of years we will see users take increasing advantage of agent technology. I think this is something we will see in the short to medium term. Many companies are already supplying agents with their software, but I am sure that there will be many more examples of the use of agents by individuals in the short term.

Consolidation
Consolidation and integration are big issues in all sizes of organisation at present, many of our largest customers are drawing LAN servers and departmental systems back into data centres, while we are aware that smaller organisations looking to reduce costs by consolidating a smaller number of departmental machines.

The management overhead of running many small servers is staggering - especially when you consider the perspectives of systems management, manpower and environmentals (by which I mean floorspace, power consumption, etc). When you consider that the cost of staff is one of the highest overheads that a company has to sustain there are significant cost benefits in consolidation.

The vendors are supporting this by releasing some very powerful hardware and software combinations. For example in the third and fourth quarter of 2000 we saw IBM release the z/900 enterprise server mainframe with the ability to consolidate potentially thousands of smaller servers, we saw HP and SUN announce their new high end UNIX servers, and we saw Microsoft release its DataCenter offering which combines both a hardware platform provided by a third party - such as Fujitsu, Unisys, Compaq or Stratus with the resilient DataCenter software.

Consolidation is the real issue at the top-end of the industry.

Storage
The spread of the Internet, multimedia, and new digital applications are creating a massive demand for storage. Magnetic disk capacities are expected to continue to grow at 60% or more annually for the next five years, therefore, the amount of available capacity should not pose limitations on any anticipated applications. Organisations with larger distributed, storage needs should be looking to exploit Storage Area Networks (SANs).

System management
I think that this is going to be another key area to consider, because of the rapid explosion in the number of distributed systems that companies now have to manage, things like Web-attached resources, databases, remote devices, and so on are a serious management problem.

The approaches to system management are divided between using frameworks and best-of-breed solutions. Tivoli Enterprise and CA Unicenter are currently the main contenders in the 'total system management' market. Along with other popular management products, such as HP's OpenView, they strive to offer a complete solution for managing devices, networks, applications, databases, and other 'objects' in a consistent manner. But it is essential that users evaluate whether using a total management product is the right approach to the problem, or whether they should concentrate on building their own frameworks using best-of-breed components.

There are trade-offs between the two approaches, which need to be considered. There are considerable problems associated with imposing a total management system on what is often a multi-vendor infrastructure. Many enterprise-wide solutions can prove unwieldy and have difficulty adapting to evolving IT requirements at the department or local site level. Specialist tools can enable a modular approach, allowing changes to be accommodated quickly and efficiently, at a pace controlled and dictated by the systems manager. But all too often they are poorly integrated with other systems.

The B2B market
At the beginning of the year the predictions for growth in the B2B (Business to Business) e-commerce marketplace were massive. From what I recall the predictions from analysts for the future size of the market ranged from several hundred billion dollars all the way up to $7 trillion by 2006.

The result has been that a host of start-ups have been trying to position themselves in the B2B arena, in preference to the B2C sector. However, this will simply cause the same kind of fragmentation and overcrowding that impacted on the B2C market is now starting to impact on the B2B market. As the market becomes more crowded the likelihood of companies carving a successful niche become less favourable.

The trends seen in the B2C market place is repeating itself. For example, the first vertical industry portals and exchanges gained considerable media attention and publicity. This spurred a mass of imitators, and certainly each market segment can accommodate quite a number of specialised portals. However, estimates suggest that there will soon be tens of thousands of on-line exchanges. The market simply cannot support this number. Once the underlying generic software tools are available and proven, the barriers to entry decrease.

The B2B market is buoyant at the moment. Much of this is supported by the venture capital companies who have been pumping billions of dollars into start-ups in hopes of high returns when they go public. This worked initially in the B2C space, just as it is with the B2B market. But, as more and more start-ups go public, returns will be lower and lower, and the venture capitalists will have to look elsewhere for investments.

As with most e-business initiatives the first companies to deploy often gain a competitive advantage, but as the number of companies competing in the space increases they have to work harder to find customers to cover costs.

E-procurement
Stephen, I think this is one of the most important components of B2B e-business, simply because almost all companies can benefit from the cost savings relatively rapidly. The goal is to electronically link the entire sales, production, and delivery process into one seamless flow of information. Having a global view of logistic movements enables better decision making, reduces costs while providing the means for sharing information among trading partners. This type of visibility and collaboration provides massive cost benefits along with an improved ability to react to customer requirements. Therefore I would seriously advise companies to look closely at the opportunities for using e-procurement.

Business to Consumer e-commerce
This is a market sector that has gained considerable publicity because of the highly-inflated values of some e-commerce company valuations. As we have seen, the economic viability of some B2C e-commerce sites is somewhat dubious.

Making money selling an increasingly commoditized product in a highly competitive market means differentiating that product from everyone else's, whilst keeping cost of sales as low as possible. It can be done by integrating products to offer a fuller service, and by making them easier to buy. Using the Internet to add value to products and for e-commerce is key, but, for many businesses, the costs of implementing a worthwhile e-commerce strategy seem overwhelming. However, I think that physical companies with real-world outlets, brand awareness, and exiting customers have a considerable advantage in providing an additional outlet for the their existing customers and attracting new customers. We will see more and more of these so called 'Clicks and Mortar' companies gaining market share in the B2C e-commerce area at the expense of many of the pioneering e-commerce companies.

If companies wish to implement a B2C solution, they should, identify the business objectives before starting, ensure key senior business champions are committed to the project, create a skilled project team combining both business and IT skills, and consider the legal and security requirements.

E-Business is not just a 'front-end', it fundamentally alters the ways company operates.

Data
I think that the role of 'data' is absolutely crucial, especially for companies in the e-business sector. I have mentioned before that close business integration is a key element that IT organisations will have to deal with. The most important asset of e-commerce sites will be the information that they hold. The principal area of competitive advantage in which companies will be able to distinguish themselves will be what they do with this information. The collection, management, and analysis of this data will be the key areas of competitive advantage. Data is not just a technology issue it is a management issue.

Companies need to have a data management policy in place, which considers how raw, low quality data is converted into useful business information. Companies need to review how behavioural information about visitors is collected, using cookies, search engines, and on-line registration forms. They also need to define business rules for the collection and integration of data.

Sales patterns and trends can be analysed using data mining and OLAP tools. The massive industry interest in e-commerce is causing a vast array of products to be created to fill industry needs. It will be essential to constantly review this new technology and see what emerges for the Web. And finally, companies need to integrate low quality data collected from the Web with their higher quality enterprise data to extract business information. This has been quite a detailed list, but I think it gives a flavour of the principal issues that professionals need to think about.

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Q: How do you see computing technology evolving in the short and long term and what recommendations would you make for IT professionals and companies to best prepare for the changes to come?

A: If we consider the technology directions I mentioned earlier, it is clear that there are a wide range of new technologies which are driving IT into every area of commercial and even domestic life. But the raw technology is outpacing our ability to manage it within a structured IT environment. I see this need for management as the key challenge in the near-term future for the IT industry.

It is a paradox but in the medium- and long-term I would suggest that we are going to see convergence of technology. We can see this already at the hardware layer, with the convergence of computers, phones, and consumer electronics. At the application layer we see the convergence of information, communication, commerce and education. If you look at the technology directions I mentioned many are interrelated. Developments in speech recognition will be complemented by developments in VoIP, and IP version 6. Furthermore, enhanced security, storage, and optoelectronics will provide building blocks for highly advanced network technology, with a universal voice/language interface.

To get back to the short term - companies need to prepare themselves by analysing their business processes, simplifying these where necessary, and devote resources to creating internal departments with rapid-response capabilities to monitor and quickly respond to technological change. This is where the development of close associations and partnerships with analyst organisations like Xephon will provide competitive advantage.

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Q: Consider this a blank slate. Please make any statements or comments about the IT field unedited and unrestricted?

Much of the world's business now runs on 'Internet time'. This pace literally changes the rules of the IT and all business games, and makes future developments far more difficult to predict. I see the future IT professionals divided into those who are technology-focused and those who integrate technology and business. This latter group of future IT professionals needs to be aware of the possible technology directions which could support their business needs. This is why analysis and research organisations like Xephon have such a crucial role to play in providing perspective and focus.
 


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