Consultant and IT author Ken Orr is constantly looking ahead in his work as a member of the Cutter Technology Council, a branch of the IT consultancy Cutter Consortium that identifies emerging IT trends. His vision for 2001 can be distilled to one word: wireless.

Orr is also the principal researcher at the Topeka, KS-based Ken Orr Institute, a former technology professor, and author of Structured Systems Development, Structured Requirements Definition, and The One Minute Methodology.

Orr believes the move to a wireless workplace is one of the predominate challenges CIOs and technology leaders will face this year.

His predictions for 2001:

  • Wireless will challenge the Internet, both in the way it revolutionizes how we work and how IT must configure its networks.
  • Business-to-business (B2B) computer interface will be another hot topic, as XML enables us to connect diverse systems.
  • An aging workforce will appear on the CIO’s radar as mainframe employees retire and managers realize there’s no one to replace them.

Read on and then discuss your own predictions for the hot strategic topics in the coming year.

Wireless will be bigger than the wired Internet
“Wireless is probably, in a relatively short time…going to be bigger than the wired Internet, and it’s going to happen faster,” Orr said.

Orr’s statement is a bold one, considering the seemingly sudden, revolutionizing impact of the Internet and the current, overhyped, under-delivered status of wireless.

But Orr contends that 2001 is the year U.S. businesses will catch up with other countries when they realize wireless doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful. Why? Because the technologies are already in place: Everyone has cell phones.

“Everybody’s assuming that we’re going to have to wait for the ultimate third generation and all this other stuff, but it just seems to me that’s probably not going to happen,” he said. “We’re going to see lots of stratified wireless stuff that’s going to hit the fan much faster than anybody thought.”
What do wireless experts have to say on this subject? Read “Gartner panel provides wireless reality check” to see what three leaders from the field recommend.
How can IT prepare? Orr says wireless will mirror the Internet’s development, so those who start early may experience mistakes but will reap benefits. Those who delay will find themselves scrambling to catch up. This year, expect lots of experimentation and don’t be afraid to participate in exploring the possibilities of this new technology. Orr recommends that you identify ways to use wireless in the enterprise now and begin implementation.

“You’re probably better off working on simple things that work rather than waiting on the ultimate device or the ultimate network,” he said. “Also, anticipate that you’ll have to build a more flexible, more dependable infrastructure to support an increasingly mobile workforce.”

One of the issues that may be worked out this year is which companies will become the major players in the wireless market. Currently, the cell phone manufacturers are competing with producers of PDAs, but Orr believes there will also be new players entering the market. One alliance that has great potential for power in this arena is a recent equity and partnership agreement between Japan’s NTT DoCoMo and the U.S.-based AT&T Wireless.

A new form of EDI
In the “old” days of IT—you know, 10 to 15 years ago—businesses exchanged information through Electronic Data Interchange, a system that required a dedicated connection between the two parties. In some ways, the Internet replaced this approach.

But Orr sees a comeback in the idea of computer-to-computer interfaces in the business world, spurred in part by XML’s capacity to separate data from the format.

“The other area where it’s going to get more intense is really the computer-to-computer interface, and I think things like XML are going to play a very big role where increasingly we’re replacing online systems with B2B systems,” Orr said.

A related prediction is that all standards will become international standards. He cites the finance industry as a perfect example. In the past, standards were established between companies or nationally, but now standards must be international in scope.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone
Orr also predicted that a new twist to a CIO’s recruiting and retention challenges will emerge this year as the first of the mainframe workers retire.

Orr recently asked Cutter’s customers about the future of the mainframe. While many predicted its death, around 30 percent said it would be around for 15 more years.

“The really interesting question is: Who’s going to be doing that?” Orr said. “All the people who know anything [about mainframes] are going to be retired, and there aren’t any young people going into mainframes.

“CIOs must realize that while mainframes may be more valuable or productive, they soon won’t have the staff to support them.”
Your turn: What challenges do you predict for technology executives in the upcoming year? Step up to the crystal ball and share your insights below.