The five hottest business technology trends to watch in 2011

Based on conversations with IT leaders and technology companies, here are Jason Hiner's top tech trends for the enterprise in the year ahead.

A lot of the critical technology trends that dominated the business world in 2010 will continue to accelerate in 2011 while several new trends will develop enough momentum to become significant.

Based on my conversations with IT leaders and tech vendors and my daily observations of the latest developments in the industry, here are my top five tech trends that businesses should keep a close eye on for the year ahead.

Also read: My 2010 list of trends to watch

5. The enterprise warms to Apple and Android

In 2010, a surprising number of enterprises embarked on iPhone deployments after an extended period of internal testing and convincing Apple to update iOS to improve security and IT manageability. This even included a number of companies in the highly-security-conscious financial services industry, which has previously been a BlackBerry stronghold.

The iPhone testing also opened the door for enterprise iPad trials and deployments. That momentum will likely continue in 2011, since BlackBerry — the enterprise smartphone incumbent — has done little to erode the iPhone's massive usability advantage.

Ironically, the iPhone/iPad breakthrough will also open the door for many enterprises to experiment with Android smartphone and tablet deployments as well, since like the iPhone Android also connects through Exchange ActiveSync and Google has been making similar modifications in security and manageability to please enterprise IT departments. Plus, Android phones are available at steeper discounts and devices such as the Motorola Droid Pro offer hardware keyboards to accommodate BlackBerry veterans.

4. The shrinking private data center

It would have been easy to add cloud computing to this list, but that term has become such a widely-used cliche that it doesn't have much meaning. It's also part of a larger move to resources delivered over the Internet that transcends just one trend and actually touches many different aspects of today's IT departments.

One of the most direct consequences of the cloud is that IT departments are shrinking their private data centers as they move to purchasing some of their apps through third party companies that deliver them over the Internet (e.g.

A couple other factors are also driving data center consolidation and shrinkage. The distributed server movement of the 1990s is clearly over as companies are buying bigger (but far fewer) server boxes and then using virtualization to divide them into as many logical servers as they need.

The next stage of this trend will come in 2-3 years when some businesses move toward renting server capacity on demand rather than running their own servers at all.

3. IT consumerization marches on

Last year, I had IT consumerization as No. 5 on my list of trends to watch. For 2011, it's only going to accelerate as more employees choose to use their own tools rather than the ones provided by their companies, and more IT departments support worker-owned devices as a cost-saving mechanism that can reduce or postpone hardware purchases.

The other factor that will impact consumerization in 2011 will be the spread of multi-touch tablets. The growing legions of workers with iPads and Android tablets will want to use these devices for work and many IT departments will make room in their employee policies for these devices using similar guidelines to those for workers who use their personal smartphones to access corporate apps and data.

2. Desktop thinning

I will not predict that 2011 will be the year that thin clients replace a lot of desktop PCs. That false promise has been proclaimed for over a decade but has only become a reality in a few niche industries and never gained mass acceptance. It's not going to happen this year either.

However, we are going to begin to see a lot more companies experimenting with desktop virtualization. By taking the company's standard software image (the default OS configuration and all of the company apps) and putting them on a virtual machine, the IT department can enable a new level of flexibility that appeals to both IT administrators and workers. The virtualized desktop is hosted on a server and can be accessed from a company PC (even an old underpowered one), a worker's personal PC, a thin client device, and even some tablets and smartphones. While the end user controls the access device, IT has complete control over the software and settings in the virtual machine. With the rise of IT consumerization, the appeal should be obvious here.

We could also see a surprising number of companies run large-scale experiments with Google Chrome OS systems, which are little more than bootable Web browsers. The number of enterprises that are already considering this and starting to test it might surprise you. We're talking about big names like American Airlines, Kraft Foods, and Virgin Airlines. Google's partnership with Citrix and the fact that it is strongly considering an enterprise version of Chrome OS are indicators that the company sees a lot of potential for this product in the business market.

1. Business units absorb more IT

The biggest trend of 2011 will be the continued decline of the traditional centralized IT department. More companies will continue to align their IT professionals with individual business units rather than in a central services group. The demand for corporate-savvy IT professionals who can serve as business analysts and project managers will continue to grow.

Meanwhile, many of the technical roles in IT — from server administrators to help desk technicians to network engineers to software developers — will get outsourced to companies that specialize in those areas. Keep in mind, that "outsource" in this context doesn't necessarily mean "off-shoring" to another country. In many cases, local companies or at least local branches of larger companies will be the beneficiaries of this shift in IT labor. It's simply a matter of companies sticking to their core competencies, and for most companies IT is not a core competency. This is especially true in small and medium organizations, but plenty of big companies are thinking along the same lines.

In return for giving up some control, these organizations will get 24/7/365 service and a fleet of IT professionals with more specialized skills at their disposal. This doesn't mean that there will be a net loss of IT jobs in the market, but many of the jobs will shift from individual companies to service providers that work for lots of different companies. Again, the exception to the rule will be business analysts and project managers who will be able to bridge the gap between IT expertise and practical business solutions.

Honorable mentions

  • Real-time dashboards
  • Corporate blogging and the social enterprise
  • Data storage explosion (cont.)
  • App-ification of the traditional Web site
  • Enterprise search


Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

Editor's Picks