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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. Salesforce.com).

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

About

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 upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

40 comments
mikeraahul
mikeraahul

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cajacks1
cajacks1

This one interests me the most because it seems like companies that utilize IT but its not main part of their business will outsource these responsibilities to service providers(i.e.CDW) that offer a more inclusive solution to their needs. Is that what you're saying I'm new to industry and trying to get a better understanding.

JH_Chicago_Suburbs
JH_Chicago_Suburbs

Jason: I usually do not agree with a lot of your writing. But on the whole, I believe that these are the most likely five trends for 2011. Personally, I believe that the most recent security stories about security issues with iOS and Android: 1) WSJ story about leaks of personal information from iOS devices and android devices and 2) the more recent story about Android botnets in China would give anyone pause. Moreover, as/when we enter the era of tiered pricing for mobile data, the "promiscuous" communications for iOS and, I believe, Android can also be expected to become an issue. Finally, as a business manager/executive, would I really want my employees carrying a device that could be so easily used to waste time on personal activities.

broscoe
broscoe

Jason, put down the pipe. 5. Please do not include government and education when talking about "corporate IT". They are the majority piddling about with Apple and Android. They do not reflect "real" corporate IT. 4. When a business loses a few million because some idiot at a large ISP screws up routing or a storm takes out the fibre link, this whole "shrinking business and cloud computing nonsense" will come to a screeching halt. 3. Same answer as number 5. 2. Great idea, real hard to implement. Tried this with industry leader Citrix and it did not go well. 1. If you think that the typical user can solve their own problems over the phone with some outsourced lackey think again. Also, hard to have corporate savvy IT pros when you predict that corporations will do away with their IT pros.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

I think 2011 will be WP7's coming out party. The enterprise is longing for a phone compatible with what it has on its network--that doesn't suck. PocketPC Phone (Windows Mobile) sucked.

greaterdesigns
greaterdesigns

I am venturing out as a sole proprietor in residential PC repair. However, my passion is using new technologies and implementing into small-medium businesses to streamline office operations. This tells me that there is something to grab on-to with the shift from the PC to the tablet work station. But what is the money maker? No one needs to be taught how to use the iPad... How can a technologist bring value to the table when in this day new technoloiges are so easy to learn?

kcshelby
kcshelby

You may be right about the decline of the centralized IT department right now, but from my vantage point that's merely the swing of a policy pendulum. A few years ago, shrinking budgets drove consolidation. Wait a couple more cycles and I'll bet you see that "new initiative" come back around again.

david.thomas
david.thomas

Google Chrome OS is dead before it is alive, as Android will replace it. I suppose Chrome OS may have a short life, but it will be replaced by Android.

carlsf
carlsf

And last year we made great progress. This year will see the final step fron Micrsoft to GOOGLE (server and apps O/S, Chrome) now we can continue to use Office 2003 on Google thus allows those needs that require Office 2003 we can continue to use. The LOSS is Microsofts as we have decided that Microsfts relentless driving/forcing of users upwards to a new O/S or Application, we have found WIN7 interface horriable, also COSTS of MS astrominical, Google a very small footprint on our accounting Sheet. So we are staying at present with VISTA and XP and our suite of choice is Office 2003 (2007.and 2010) are hated, the so called "RIBBON"is hated with a vengence, and why if we did move there why should we have to purchase another APP to get the "CLASSIC"interface which should have been left as in XP&Vista/Office 2003 an option. THE LOSS is MICROSOFTS.

mlupacchino
mlupacchino

Many organizations, faced with budgets similar to those of 2010, are opting to outsource their Information Technology needs to outside vendors due to cost efficiency. Many IT consulting firms offer staff augmentation services where their employees act as ?in house? technicians or IT Directors. Companies can choose to have them in office full time, or just a couple a days a week. More on this topic here: http://blog.nskinc.com/IT-Services-Boston/?Tag=Outsource+IT

todd_dsm
todd_dsm

I'd like to see a wider adoption of Linux in the server room. It seems like 10 years ago it was an enthusiasts home project unless it was being used for DNS, DHCP or Web Hosting. Linux is wherever you look lately. I just stumbled on this the other day: Port 25 is home to the open source community at Microsoft: http://port25.technet.com/archive/tags/Linux/default.aspx It seems that even Microsoft thinks it's a good idea to play ball now.

Kinetixx
Kinetixx

From what i have seen in my area of the country, in addition to outsourcing, there will be fewer employees hired outright and a greater number of contractors brought into companies and government organizations.

elton.w.nelson
elton.w.nelson

Alleluia for #1 Business units absorb more IT! What took so long? This is win, win! IT sees fruits of labor and can be incentivized against business results more directly. End users must own-up, too, with wants versus needs, e.g., measured against business results more directly. Everyone is in it together, a good thing, one measure for all: business results. Yes, I am sure there are limitations, but this was long overdue!

MrAnderson1st
MrAnderson1st

I've been dying for desktop virtualization... people that do a lot of different things with their computer that tends to conflict with all the software conflicts and installs really need virtual desktops to take off starting ASAP. So GPU companies get on the bandwagon for Virtualized GPU access to virtually hosted OS! So I can have my Virtual Video Editing Desktop, My Virtual Gaming Desktop, My Virtual Play on Internet Desktop, My Virtual Deveopment Desktop, and what ever else I need as long as I have the HD space.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Would be appalled. You are too much with what you are doing to see what you are doing.

duckboxxer
duckboxxer

Don't think WinoMo 6 sucked, it was just stagnant while others pushed out innovative ideas.

duckboxxer
duckboxxer

Not all of IT is being officially decentralized and just for support type purposes. At the moment, in an optimum approach, on this particular project my analyst role would be to take tasks from the bowels of the IT team and maintain the business rules via a GUI tool rather than application programming. I have to think like a developer (logically, say if-then statements). But on the flipside, one MUST have IT skills in order to keep their job and move ahead in this market. My tech knowledge has helped land additional work. When interviewing people for jobs, I flat out ask, how do you keep up with current technologies - and you better have an answer other than 'well, um, er, uh...'. Heck troubleshooting my own IT problems. I can just be a business requirements/ process analyst - a knowledge worker for those playing bingo. I don't have anything to do with implementation. But for job security and to move up in the company, I've got to stay on top of current technology.

azvonko
azvonko

Very good point kcshelby. The joke says that elderly people have always interesting time ? they likely forget what happened yesterday. But, since I well remember many of IT "trends" in the past almost 40 years (hence I am not young anymore), it becomes boring to unfortunate me.☺ During these years, the centralization and decentralization were in turn the issues and "trends" like on the see-saw. I can remember of exhausting discussions in our IT department on their pros & cons and what approach is the better one. Sometimes such a "trend" was justified by real technology (hw or sw) improvements, but not so rarely the "trend" was pushed more as a mere marketing action and therefore was not so justified by achieved cost savings or organizational improvements. (However, the same often happens nowdays, not only with the terms of centralization/decentralization, but with many popular buzzwords). Here I'd like to remind the younger IT and business fellows on the crucial point in this context: the issue of retaining ENOUGH control over the WHOLE (IT and business) system and to ensure the PERMANENT system CONSISTENCY. The centralization should not strangle the decentralized units, but neither the decentralization can be seen by these units as a full "laissez faire" policy. As usually, the careful reconciliation of advantages from both worlds is the solution. And that's sometimes an "artistic" task, indeed.

GAProgrammer
GAProgrammer

The same could be said of virtualization. The industry cycles from centralized to distributed and back again.

gsoucy
gsoucy

Don't be surprised when Google releases and updates their OS's too. Microsoft's driving of their software is generally a direct result of the driving force of hardware. They go hand in hand, in addition to necessary security patching. Linux, Apple, they all upgrade their products. I have no experience with the Chrome OS, but I would imagine that you will have difficulty with Business Apps running on that. I do hope this works for you, because it is always good to have options and competition.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

I'm already seeing Red Hat & SUSE Linux being used in various corporate Servers. What I love to see is some company to develop Crysis-like games on Linux.

grifs71
grifs71

You can outsource anything however, it does not equate with money savings. Smaller companies are not going to outsource roles when their bottom is service. Outsourcing = Disaster

Spiderkingdemon
Spiderkingdemon

Look within. Reading some of your other posts, my 4th grade English Composition teacher would be appalled. In other words. If you don't have anything nice to say STFU.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

This has been predicted for years, however, for those of us who work with IT service providers, we realize that they are 1/n% dedicated to our mission and goals, where n = their total number of clients. These entities are often understaffed on purpose to protect the bottom line. It's not unusual for situations where "Your guy is out sick today." This is mainly due to the "Mom and Pop" type IT MSPs popping up. IT will become like a utility, so MSPs will have to become like the big utility companies. They need to consolidate their resources and talent so that they can truly provide 24/7/365 support like your local telephone or electricity company.

mukababi
mukababi

Our #1 is the migration of systems and servers to the latest software now that it has been out for a bit. This includes a tech refresh to Win 7 and Office 2010 with (hopefully) 64b computing for our WS's. Upgrading to Server 2008 R2 and Exchange 2010 will happen and SQL 2008 R2. Other software like AutoCAD and Dynamics will require upgrades with these changes. #2 is always security. What offerings are tighter, transparent, and better is our motto. From there your #5 is our #3 Your #4 isn't on our list. Our experience is that data recovery costs and recovery time(priority) to small/medium size businesses billed on a per job basis covers the costs and risks of having redundant server/storage handled locally and manually, offsite means a safety deposit box or location visited weekely. Your #3 (IT consumerization) is more a #4 or #5 to us. #2 is not on the list. We looked at it (see our #1 above) but could not guarantee the business a "transparent" switch for the users to virtualized DTs so it would be ludicrous(sp?). Users (think "executives") expect performance to "get better" when they spend money, not worse. Until the bandwidth and video issues are resolved and costs are mainstream, the virtual DT world is a non-starter for SMB's unless you have a very flat environment running text based services with pictures but nothing requiring high def. video or sound. I think that gives us only 4...but whadaya expect from a SMB, we can't afford more than 4 trends. ;) Happy NY all.

bigaussie
bigaussie

Telecommunication costs only ever go up; so for SMB to look seriously look at VoIP is an easy way to reduce one of the largest costs. With apps for Android and iPhone/iPad for adding a softphone client (not Skype) which can reduce cell phone calls to under 0.02c per minute to any number within Canada and USA. That adds up to as much saving as changing all desktops to using Ubuntu :p

ckelly
ckelly

In education, anyway. #5 - Apple is a PITA to deal with, we are moving towards Microsoft. Our costs are substantially lower with MS than with anyone else. #4 - Shrinking through virtualzation. #3 - we get some of that, always have. There's always faculty that goes and buys some neat oddball item then wonders why IT won't support it or why it doesn't work on the network like the commercials make it look. #2 - always looking at this, but only for staff. Trying to limit faculty computing is about like telling fish to walk, they pretty much ignore you. #1 - I'm sure some schools do this and suffer the consequences. Just to point out that "trends" maybe need to be qualified by industry. PS - I've worked/with for a bunch of little companies. They typically don't outsource much IT, mostly they ignore it unless they need it for something. The smaller the company, the worse that gets.

gsoucy
gsoucy

I think with the high price of travel and the lowered cost of technology, videoconferencing is becoming the name of the game. Cisco is clearly making a big push for this. I heard a statistic that it is growing faster than cell phones did, and of course the integration to cell phones helps, not to mention Skype and other Internet based products. This is the technology of the decade, in my opinion.

gsoucy
gsoucy

I work within the SMB IT Service Provider sphere and many of our customers do not have the wallets to hire a full-time IT person. Managed Services and SaaS is where it is heading and for the price of one or two full-time employees, you get much better coverage and have a whole team to support you. It only makes sense.

n.gurr
n.gurr

I have a similar experience on the whole in the university that I work in in the UK. Mind you I have to include Apple in the unsupported list so I cannot comment on that. I have also found that our staff/students where applicable prefer hardware to virtual desktops.

ktask
ktask

'Just to point out that "trends" maybe need to be qualified by industry.' Would suggest trends might need not only industry but geographic location. In other educational entities in Texas, many are moving towards a mix with 'other' (ie, Macs and iPads or Ubuntu with Androids!). IMHO, many ISD's are finally addressing a TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) in technology they've never explored ... that of allowing students experience at technology consumerism. Example: http://bit.ly/gLBuR2 in the 'spirit of sharing' ...

jjustice
jjustice

I see video conferencing and simple video "phone" calls as the hottest for 2011. This technology will improve communications (over 50% of the 'message' is lost when facial gestures and body language are removed fromthe conversation), save time and money in travel offsets. I view it as the instant messaging of the teens (201n). The technology advances in protocols and hardware can make this a ubiquitous service very quickly.

asics447
asics447

Gsoucy - couldnt agree with you more - I have seen the same results - outsourcing = savings in the short term and that is about it- over the longhall you will pay dearly- Helpdesk outsourcing is ridiculous and agree the outsourcing compnay fails due to lack of internal company knowledge - outsourcing is a quick financial fix (at least mngmt thinks so) - They promise everything and deliver minimal results- why do you think you paid so little? and why would they care? you get what you pay for -

gsoucy
gsoucy

Squirrelly, I do agree with you. It is not for everyone. However, 90% of the companies that I have direct experience with who offer managed services does not do it right. That includes my current employer. In our case, our own management nickels and dimes us, doesn't fully understand the managed services model, and generally just gets in the way. Managed Services needs to be contract driven and BOTH parties need to live up to the expectations driven by the contract. Our VP's love to give stuff away and all that does is encourage the customer to take more and more. Instead of that being a value add, they just take advantage of us and then dump us at the end of the contract. The customer has a responsibility to fulfill as an IT partner. Very few companies hold the customer responsible for their actions. Understandably so, but that expectation needs to be set from the get go.

mcagirouard
mcagirouard

You are absolutely right on helpdesk support especially when they are not part of corporate knowledge. M

mukababi
mukababi

I too was an employee of a company that spent a buttload (both in studies and projects) trying to outsource T1 and T2 IT services. What we ran into is that the service co.'s would promise alot but could not deliver. As the IT Mgr over the T1 and T2 support that was outsourced, my impression was is that the employees of the service co. that had no direct link to our business and it's success or failure, could not (thru no real fault of their own) connect with our users and their priorities. IT changes should always = positive or zero change in user satisfaction with regard to their job functions. Rarely does that happen by outsourcing anything but simple and flat business environments to external T1 and T2 support teams. Forget outsourcing diverse, multiplatform environments dealing with 5-10 or more different production departments. Just my two centavos. Cheers.

squirrellysiege
squirrellysiege

Our company tried outsourcing just the helpdesk portion of our IT department...twice. Both companies failed miserably. Keep in mind that we outsourced to American companies, not offshore. I can see the merit of outsourcing certain services for one time projects like server upgrades or equipment installs, but for full time services like helpdesk or specialized field work, it just didn't work for us. I guess our company has too many different technologies running that requires constant training that most outside service providers can't seem to keep up.

n.gurr
n.gurr

Seems to be a very regional thing. I have quite a few friends working in IT and I have not heard of it happening. Apart from the old CEO/partner level ego jewelery but that has always been there.

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