An important part of effective corporate planning is anticipating technology trends and taking advantage of them before they happen. In order to assist CIOs and technology managers with future planning, I offer my top five predictions of major technology trends in 2003 and how organizations should prepare to take advantage of them.

No. 1: Wireless connectivity goes mainstream
By the end of 2003, you’ll hardly be able to walk into a coffee shop, library, bookstore, airport, or hotel that doesn’t provide wireless Internet connectivity using the 802.11b standard. The IBM/AT&T wireless initiative and the emergence of national bandwidth-sharing arrangements between regional players and big players like TMobile will give organizations the choice of many different partners for wireless services. In addition to the wireless facilities in public locations, many companies will give their guests non-WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocol), Internet-only access based on the 802.11b standard, while employees will have 802.11b or 802.11a (54 MB) access to the full network using 128-bit encryption and WEP.

Corporations should be planning for 802.11b remote access. Corporate planners should make sure that their networks will be able to support wireless connectivity before they purchase new laptops or PDAs. Corporate systems such as portals, electronic mail systems, and Web sites will need to be able to support wireless access from both laptops and PDAs.

The combination of high speed, periodically connected access, and rich clients, such as laptop PCs, Tablet PCs, and programmable PDAs, may eliminate the need for the 3G networks that cell phone companies have been promising for years. Even after the 3G networks are finally delivered, the per-minute costs to use applications on these platforms will be much higher than the cost of using a combination of smart devices and synchronization.

No. 2: PC platform breakthroughs
Advances in PC platforms will also drive the move toward wireless access. By the end of 2003, 70 percent of the laptops and Tablet PCs shipped will include 802.11b wireless connectivity as a standard feature. You’ll also see wireless devices with configuration management software that can save settings for different locations and reconfigure the devices based on the SSID provided by a given access point. Advances in processor power consumption and battery technology will allow lightweight 2-GHz laptops and tablets to operate for up to eight hours on a single charge.

Desktop PCs will also see some major transformations in 2003. By the end of the year, PCs won’t be shipping with any legacy COM, LPT, or PS2 ports. Standard equipment will include 3-GHz processors, Bluetooth connectors for input devices such as keyboards, mice, and pens, and USB 2.0 and 1394 ports for storage and video devices. In fact, it’s likely that the PCI bus and the features provided by PCI cards will appear only on high-end desktops and servers (PCI-X) and disappear on low-end PCs. I also believe that more than 30 percent of all corporate desktop PCs will ship with built-in Gigabit Ethernet and/or 802.11a wireless connectivity.

Given the minimal amount of additional investment required to enable corporate infrastructures to support these network technologies, they’re a good incremental investment in a year where major purchases will be delayed or removed from the budget entirely.

No. 3: Web services become the dominant integration platform
It’s unlikely that IT budgets will grow significantly in 2003. In fact, most of the CIOs I’ve spoken with are looking at budget reductions. The need to do more with less will drive companies to find economical ways to reuse their existing technologies and platforms rather than purchasing new software. Instead of starting new implementations or purchasing additional modules, companies will look to stitch together new software and old systems to minimize their cost and provide an updated computing fabric for their users. I think this means a mediocre year at best for big accounting players such as SAP, PeopleSoft, and Oracle Financials.

Web services are the right thread at the right time. Although security concerns will keep Web services from becoming a dominant Internet or extranet integration platform until 2004, they are mature and secure enough for corporations to start using “inside the firewall.” Corporations will use Web services to develop internal portals and content management tools. Their ability to use any technology to wrap existing systems and then expose them as standard, HTTP-addressable objects makes Web services an ideal choice for portals.

Companies will also use Web services as a standard way to expose information for internal reporting systems and data warehousing projects—and, subsequently, as inputs to corporate portals and content management systems. Given the high cost of industry portal and content management systems, companies will opt to “roll their own” rather than buy new licenses. This means a down year—and possibly even the extinction—for companies such as Plumtree and Vignette. And Microsoft will have to find a new way to promote and sell its portal (SharePoint Portal Server) and content management system (MS-CMS 2002) when corporate accounts opt to build their own using the Visual Studio .NET development platform.

No. 4: Portable video devices gain popularity
Like the MP3 players before them, new video players will let consumers carry around their favorite videos with them. Rather than a heavy, battery-chewing DVD player with a video screen, these new devices will use SD cards, CF cards, or memory sticks to hold video in MPEG 4 or Windows Media Player files. Companies such as ReplayTV and TiVo will have to find ways to let consumers move video recordings to these formats, or they’ll open the doors of the lucrative PVR (Personal Video Recorder) market to competitors like Microsoft and its Media PC. Widespread distribution of this technology will give corporations some new options for training salespeople, partners, and customers.

No. 5: Financial markets will rise again
Although it will probably take until the end of the year for it to happen, I believe the financial markets will come back in 2003. By the end of the year, I believe the NASDAQ will be back over 2000, and the Dow will be back over 10,000. This needs to happen to lay the groundwork for a wider technology recovery to begin in late 2003 or early 2004.

If you have major technology initiatives that require a large capital expenditure, you should move them as late in 2003 as possible in order to have the best chance of making them happen in the year.