Careers: Interviews
Dr. Jaime Kaminski

This week Stephen had a discussion with Dr Jaime Kaminski, Senior Technology Analyst and Technical Briefings Manager Xephon (http://www.xephon.com). In this interview Stephen asked Dr. Kaminski to comment on what he considers to be the most "important" technologies and technology directions that companies and IT professionals need to consider, and how these have changed from similar predictions made last year.

***
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, for inviting me back. It has been about a year since we last spoke, and it will be interesting to review the industry.

As you note, Xephon has two principal lines of business - IT publications and conferences. We have been around for twenty-one 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 NT. 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.

***
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.

***
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: Stephen, I always give this answer to the question of skills. In my mind the key skill for IT professionals is the integration of IT knowledge with business skills. The purpose of IT is to support the business function. 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.

There is a serious shortage of IT staff with this blend of business and technology skill. In the short-term this skills shortage will be hidden, because of the poor economic climate. Many organisations are laying off staff, and these personnel are filling gaps across the industry. However, it is important to realise that these poor economic conditions are not going to last forever. This is not an IT phenomenon, but a global economic restructuring. Such economic conditions normally occur once a decade and when the industry gets back to normal the skills shortage will still be there.

***
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, and how have these changed from your predictions last year?

A: I would suggest that we review the technologies that we considered last year, and see how they have advanced over the last year. There are many ways to look at future technologies - one of which is to consider when these technologies are likely to achieve critical mass.

If we look at it this way in the short term, that is 1-2 years we will see increasing importance attached to XML and standards in general, Linux, wireless devices. Obviously in this short term there are a wide range of IT considerations that need to be reviewed such as security, systems management, storage and the Microsoft product set. With these technologies come some issues for consideration, for example consolidation, systems management, the management of remote technologies, data management, and network management.

In the mid-term future, corresponding to about 3-4 years, we will see the widespread deployment of IPv6, VoIP, agent technology, speech recognition. These technologies still in a state of flux at present but 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.

Some of the most interesting predictions relate to the long-term future, five years and beyond, it is here that we are likely to see the most radical changes to both IT and its effect on society. We may very well get the first glimpses of what an e-society will look like.

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

Windows and the Microsoft product set
This prediction has not changed, quite simply the Microsoft product set will be in all our futures. If you look at Microsoft’s technology road map – especially the .NET initiative, and if you study Microsoft’s acquisition of, and investment in other technology companies you will see that there are very few areas of the IT sector where they do not have a presence. They are represented in every sector from content provision to wireless. Many people still associate Microsoft with Operating systems and applications, this is a grave underestimate, they are so much more broadly focused.

When we consider Operating Systems we should consider Windows 2000 which has brought with it a vast range of new features, redesigned directory services, and enhanced availability. 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 high-end business and mission-critical world. However, the adoption rate within enterprises of Windows 2000 has not yet exceeded 50%.

Beyond Windows 2000 Microsoft will release the XP operating system. Your own research at iGen Knowledge Solutions indicates that enterprises will purchase the new XP and server equivalent OS and upgrade existing Windows installations in some numbers. Your research suggests that the adoption rate for XP will be 34% by the summer of 2002 after initial reviews and troublespots have been found and 68% by the fall of 2003. The new features including support for wireless, and improvements in management (through group policy) will provide a complete return in investment in 13 months. The features will also be present in the server editions (Whistler).

Moreover, the associated implications of the forthcoming .NET, initiative will be highly significant for the industry. I would call .NET a longer-term strategy for users, 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. The integral parts of the .NET strategy – such 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. 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.

But although Linux is the fastest growing server operating system with in excess 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.

However, Linux is gaining a significant market share in embedded devices and has the potential to take the PDA market by storm. For example, when Linux PDAs become mainstream, price will become a crucial differentiator, people will be less concerned about what is running the machine. As a result, we may see other PDA operating system companies having to significantly discount their PDAs to compete. Once we start to see Internet-capable PDAs under 100 dollars this will have a massive effect on the uptake of mobile devices.

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 to a certain extent 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 that was seen with Microsoft’s software in the 1990s.

XML and standards
One of the reasons we have seen such massive growth in the IT sector in the last five years has been be a result of the widespread use of standards. At the simplest level standards are a means to achieving interoperability between systems. It is this interoperability that is what will fuel the e-society of the future. At the present XML is the standard that 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. One of the biggest potentials for XML is exchanging information between firms via the Web. But I think XML still has a long way to go before it reaches its true potential in the industry.

Wireless devices and connectivity
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. It is important to realise that the growth in Wireless devices will be fuelled by the increase in wireless connectivity.

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, and 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.

The deployment of wireless Internet solutions will begin to increase, although this will be tempered by the uncertain economic climate. The rise is mobile Internet solutions will have a beneficial effect on consultancies and service industries, because of the difficulties in deploying solutions. At the present much of the wireless technological innovation is located in Europe. We may see predatory acquisitions of European wireless service firms by North American companies who need to develop wireless capabilities rapidly. We should expect massive expansion of this whole sector in the short to mid-term future.

Software Development and Object-Oriented Code
During the twentieth century, hardware has achieved a performance increase of six orders of magnitude. Software has not developed at the same pace; indeed, software development is still quite slow by comparison, requiring extensive testing prior to release. This state of affairs is not likely to change during the next decade. However, there are some things which can be done to alter this relatively slow release rate.

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.

Last year I predicted that Java would play an increasingly important role in the industry. This has certainly been confirmed by the evidence from recruitment specialists who currently see 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.

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. 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, last 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.

My conversations with users and analysts suggest 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
Security has been creeping up the list of IT priorities over the last five years. 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.

As computing moved beyond the traditional centralised data centre, it gave users the potential of greater productivity, functionality, and convenience. However, along with these advantages, distributed computing has exposed companies to a much greater vulnerability. The level of exposure has increased, while disaster preparation has decreased. The newest areas of risk are the Internet and intranets.

To give you an example of the increased vulnerability of web-enabled systems, consider the development of viruses. In the early 1990s, executable boot sector viruses such as Jerusalem, Cascade, and Form took three years to gain critical mass and are estimated to have caused $50 million of damage over five years. In 1995, the Word Macro virus, called Concept, took four months to achieve critical mass, and caused $50 million worth of damage. However, by 1999, the Melissa e-mail enabled Word Macro took four days to gain critical mass, and caused an estimated $385 million of damage. A year later, the I Love You e-mail enabled Visual Basic script took just five hours to gain critical mass, and caused an estimated $700 million of damage.

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 which 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.

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.

The other crucial element of security is back-up. The number of organisations without a proper back-up strategy in place is actually increasing. This is a very worrying.

I think that, in the long term future, we might see a different approach to dealing with attacks against security. We might see the development of self-healing software. Although this is only in an experimental phase at the moment, it does have the potential to change the way in which we approach issues of security.

IPv6
At the beginning of last year I classed the movement to IP Version 6 (the next generation Internet Protocol) 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 Version 4 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. The movement to IPv6 will not be a matter of choice. When the available address spaces run out, we will have to move.

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 still 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 I 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. Among the major applications, users should expect IP fax, Web-based call centres, and unified messaging will take the early lead and find mainstream popularity in the business world. Investments in networking technology should be made with these future issues in mind.

Speech recognition
This is certainly a technology to keep an eye on in the mid-to long-term future. Many large enterprises are still cautious about the deployment of speech recognition technology. There have certainly been some false dawns for speech recognition technology in the past. There is a perception that this is a technology with limited value in the enterprise or business context. I have to say that this is really not the case.

To give you a couple of examples, many companies are experiencing considerable pressure on their help desks and customer call centres. More and more staff are needed to maintain a quality service, and this equates to increased costs. I have seen several examples of companies using speech recognition to obtain initial information from customers or employees. This could be name and address information for external customers, or name and department for internal help desk queries, which can then be used to populate a screen ready for use by an actual operator. This initial information acquisition phase can save minutes of operator time on each call. It’s quite obvious that this saved operator time equates to massive financial savings over the course of a year.

There is another hidden application for speech recognition technology. It is possible to authenticate users through their voice print. The security benefits of the biometric identification are enormous, and it is also non-intrusive because there is no need to ask personal questions, or get the user to remember passwords. Going back to the point I made earlier, this also saves operator time, which again saves money.

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. In the future, we are likely to see new and innovative ways to interact with computing devices, of which speech recognition will be one. Research by major companies in this field such as Microsoft and IBM is likely to yield results, which will benefit all users.

Agent technology
Last year I did not cover agent technology at all. This is another technology sector that has had false dawns in the past – normally the result of misinterpretation by the press. There are a couple of factors would cause me to include this technology in this review.

The volume of information with which IT professionals are bombarded is enormous, and this is a situation that is only going to get worse. Research at the close of 1999 indicated that the number of Web pages had broken the one billion mark, it is now almost double this number. It is becoming increasingly clear that we need some means of sorting and acquiring useful data, which is one area where agent technology will be useful.

The other factor which has changed since last year is the wider use of XML across the industry. Much agent technology is going to be dependent on XML and other standards to allow data to be assimilated in a consistent manner. The wide variety of legacy and new system technologies, and operating platforms currently in use worldwide is the central issue affecting the distribution and uptake of agent software applications is.

Agent technology has been around for many 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 individual users take increasing advantage of agent technology.

Agent technology has huge potential, especially with regards to the Internet. As yet, no single agent has been sufficiently developed to gain widespread acceptance, although there are a number of products in development around the world. The applications for agent technology range from the personal to enterprise level. Just watch this space!

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. Anything which does not run 24x7 is a toy. Rebooting is not an option.

Storage
The spread of the Internet, multimedia, and new digital applications are creating a massive demand for storage. Throughout the 1990s, the areal density has increased at 60% or more every year, and similar density increases are expected to continue for the next decade. Densities have been shown in experimental situations to exceed 56 gigabits per square inch, while track densities have exceeded 70,000 tracks per inch.

It has long been thought that something called the super-para-magnetic limit would appear between 20 and 40 gigabits per square inch. This is the point at which magnetic media become unusable because the tiny magnetic spots which represent bits cannot maintain their correct orientation because adjacent bits exert too much influence. This would render data unreadable and corrupt. This hypothetical barrier has not yet been reached, and highly advanced Giant Magnetoresistive heads are expected to extend areal densities up to 100 gigabits per square inch. Those of use who study technology futures have been aware of alternative storage technologies such as a holographic storage that have been waiting in the wings, but these do not have long to arrive in the market place given the rapid and continued progress of magnetic storage.

However, from an enterprise perspective it is likely that magnetic disk drives as we know them today will remain the principal means of information storage for the foreseeable future.

You may be wondering where this is heading. High density one inch disk drives could create a new generation of portable devices and appliances, and even wearable computing devices. Again this is something that is going to change the way we perceive ‘computing’.

Data
We must remember that it is data, not computation, which is the basis for nearly all the strategic value created by IT today. Data has been called the DNA of the information age.

Data and its conversion to knowledge 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 businesses 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. In the information-based society of today, data is our most important asset.

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.

Business to Consumer e-commerce
This is a market sector that has gained considerable early 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 which caused the market to crash.

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.

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. By a process of Darwinian survival of the fittest many of the early B2C e-commerce companies, the dot coms, have come unstuck, more and more of the so called ‘Clicks and Mortar’ companies have gained 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.

Other points to consider are the fulfilment capability, the deep integration with back-end databases and inventory, the use of legacy systems for Web applications, and the relationship between existing sales channels and the on-line business. E-Business is not just a ‘front-end’, it fundamentally alters the ways in which a company operates.

The B2B market
Last 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. As I predicted this caused the same kind of fragmentation and overcrowding that impacted on the B2C market. As the market becomes more crowded the likelihood of companies carving a successful niche become less favourable.

e-procurement is still one of the most important components of B2B e-business, simply because almost all companies can benefit from the cost savings. 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.

However, there are problems with e-procurement. Having spoken to many implementors I can say that it may take years to fully realise the benefits of e-procurement, and often this can only be achieved through the transformation of company policies and processes. There are considerable rewards but the risks are high. I would advise companies to look closely at the opportunities for using e-procurement, but the vendors figures for ROI should be viewed with caution.

This has been quite a detailed list, but I think it gives a flavour of the principal issues that professionals need to think about. As you can see the themes which we talked about last year have not changed radically.

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?

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. And all of this will be supported by standards that allow these technologies to work and inter-operate. And it is this that will support the e-society of the future.

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.

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

Stephen, I would like to take the opportunity to say a few words about IT skills in general. This is something which is causing considerable concern in the industry. Every year at Xephon, we undertake a major survey of IT managers, to determine their key priorities for the year ahead. In the last three years of the IS Plans Survey, we have seen the problem of finding, and retaining, staff with the right mix of technological and business skills becoming more critical. In 1998, 66% of respondents considered the skill shortage to be a problem. In 1999, it rose to 75%, and by 2000, this figure was up to 78%. This number is set to rise again this year.

This skill shortage is becoming acute. It must be dealt with at all levels. We need to encourage more IT related activities in schools at a younger age, and we need to improve the public image of IT, which seems to sway between being the preserve of ‘geeks’ or high-flying consultants, rather than being a real job for real people. We can do more now, as well. We need to encourage more women to move into the IT industry. This is still a very male-oriented industry for which there is no reason apart from social perception and tradition. Because of the rapidly changing nature of IT, we need to adapt the skills we have in the industry and develop them further. This is where the need for lifelong learning and online learning become crucial.

Today we are the vanguard of the e-society. We may not realise this but this is a historical time for the IT sector, in five years we should begin to see the early indications of how the interconnected, e-society will look. It is those of us in IT who will be the back-bone of this new approach to what it is to be a community.
 


Copyright Network Professional Association® 1994-2017. All Rights Reserved.
NPA Privacy Statement