The past 12 months have been very rocky, and many businesses locked down new expenditures in order to ride the storm. It appears that the economy is making a slow recovery, and our clients need to start cautiously considering where it makes sense to invest for the future.
Your recommendations will depend on what types of clients you serve. So, in this discussion of emerging IT concerns, I provide more questions than answers — questions that you, the consultant, should consider together with your clients.
"Cloud" gets my nomination for buzzword of the year for 2009, but what does it mean for your clients?
If your clients are end users, then it might apply to moving their business applications from local services to Web-based services that are accessible from anywhere (e.g., using Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office). While such a move could result in cost savings and improved convenience, some of the things you would need to discuss with your client include the security considerations of having business data hosted by someone else, backup strategies, and the initial cost of planning and moving to the new configuration.
It could also mean moving their IT infrastructure to a private cloud, such as Amazon VPC. In theory, all the software stays the same, but the overhead of administering the network gets outsourced to the cloud-based service on which it resides.
If your clients are software developers (which mine are), then the focus shifts to how you enable their software products to operate "in the cloud" beyond just being able to run there in the same way they can run on a private server now. You need to consider: How can the application make optimal use of expandable cloud resources, parallelization, and availability?
After the debacle that was Windows Vista, many users have become quite attached to Windows XP. Whether Windows 7 provides any business advantage over Windows XP remains largely to be seen, but sooner or later, Windows XP will become just too old to support. New versions of applications will eventually cease to run in Windows XP, and new computers will come with later versions of Windows installed. So end user clients need to start planning for an eventual upgrade.
There's always the option of abandoning Windows as a desktop client altogether, but that raises a whole new set of questions, including: Does your client rely on software that is only available for Windows? Are they prepared to learn a new operating environment? Even though options like Linux or FreeBSD involve no licensing costs, don't forget about the time they'll need to invest in converting and training.
For clients who market software, if their product runs on the desktop, and they're not already supporting Windows 7 as a platform, they need to work on that immediately. Their end users are probably already buying new computers with Windows 7 installed. Fortunately, Windows 7 seems to be mostly an improved version of Windows Vista. The only problems I've seen so far have to do with the new taskbar and jump list behavior, some changes in the metrics of the default theme, and some subtle differences depending on the compatibility settings in the manifest — certainly far less serious issues than those raised by Windows Vista (I'm still licking my UAC wounds). Nevertheless, adding a new platform adds at least one more set of tests to run, and in the case of Windows 7 that can easily become three new platforms: 32-bit, 64-bit, and 32-bit applications running on 64-bit Windows.
I'm sure that my good friend Chad Perrin would agree that every year is a good year to invest in improved security. Gone are the days when most crackers operated just for kicks — these days they're after money or the means to get it.
How can you help clients to harden their network and improve their practices to reduce their vulnerability to attack? Clients who develop software need to conduct security audits of their code to look for vulnerabilities such as buffer overruns, stack-smashing, SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and others.
How can your client use social media to their benefit? You may be able to help them create a better online presence to promote their business by applying some of the lessons you're learned from the experience of promoting your consultancy via social media. You might suggest adding social features to their Web site or their software products. Be sure to consider: Would a Twitter interface make their product more marketable, or would that just be fluff?
There's always work to be done to hit the many moving targets variously known as standards, regulatory requirements, and new versions of browsers, languages, frameworks, etc. Oh, and don't forget about user-requested enhancements and bug fixes. You can usually find more than enough to-dos in that shoebox.
What will you advise your clients to pursue in the coming year? Take the following poll and join the discussion.
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Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant blog, he also contributes to [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News and his two personal blogs, Chip's Quips and Chip's Tips for Developers.