Next IT Challenges: Global Sourcing, Connected Society, Real-time Infrastructure

Major tech trends to raise significant data management, privacy issues, Gartner predicts

Major tech trends to raise significant data management, privacy issues, Gartner predicts

Barcelona, Spain  March 18, 2004  Information technology leaders must look ahead to the next wave of IT innovation and prepare for such technology-driven changes in the next decade as global sourcing, the connected society and the need for enterprises to adopt a real-time infrastructure, according to tech consultancy Gartner.

These trends are driving the world toward a future in which "always-on" devices provide a tidal wave of data on customer behavior in real time, forcing companies not only to contend with almost incomprehensibly large data-management issues but also with thorny privacy issues, too.

The consultancy highlighted these trends at the opening of its European Symposium/ITxpo in Barcelona this week, and Gartner also pointed to the growing evidence of a tech recovery in 2004.

Gartner's latest survey of 956 chief information officers across the world shows signs of a business recovery forming and indicates that modest growth is returning to IT budgets in 2004. Further evidence is seen in several parts of the industry that returned to healthy growth in 2003, including the PC and mobile phone area, where shipments increased by 10.9 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

"The global economy has improved to the point where companies have made a significant shift from protecting profitability to a focus on driving growth, creating a radically different environment," said Michael Fleisher, Gartner's chairman and CEO. "While IT leaders must continue to maintain vigilance around tight cost control, they now face the challenge of driving innovation and growth within their enterprise."

In this environment, Gartner urged delegates to its symposium to stay in direct touch with key emerging technology developments. To illustrate the magnitude of change to be expected, and in connection with Gartner's 25th anniversary this month, the consultancy's analysts, speaking at a press briefing, looked back on some of the major shifts that have occurred since 1979 and how life has changed as a result.

"PCs were still exotic in 1979, [but] by 2006, over 10 billion microprocessors will be shipped per year," said Steve Prentice, vice president and chief of research for hardware and systems at Gartner. Prentice noted that 1979 saw the birth of Ethernet, and the subsequent two and a half decades have seen the world transformed as a result of personal and corporate connectivity.

Gartner said connecting places and objects in new ways will remain the fundamental driver in technological evolution, and the consultancy highlighted what it considers the most significant technology-driven shifts during the next decade.

Global Sourcing

Gartner said one of the most significant shifts caused by IT in the near-term is the reality of offshore or global sourcing. Increasingly, companies will aggressively leverage technology investments and increased connectivity to access lower-cost, high quality labor.

"Offshore outsourcing has become a political issue rather than an IT issue," said Prentice. "The only way for the developed economies to compete is by getting smarter, not cheaper."

Gartner advised that to thrive in this environment, IT leaders must become active participants in creating the new top end; that is, in understanding and driving the next wave of innovation and growth.

The Connected Society

During the next decade, there will be a subtle but highly profound shift at the intersection of the physical world of people, objects and places, and the virtual world of information, according to Gartner. Information technology will move from being something separate and apart from us, to being as much a part of our everyday experience as our clothes and personal belongings. Four technology areas will be key in creating and supporting this:

Sensor networks. These networks will provide new ways to measure and monitor physical environments in minute detail, with almost no human effort. Everything will be connected and its location known. "We will use sensor networks to increase efficiency, reduce costs and have better insights into the immediate future of our businesses," Gartner wrote in a statement. "Technology advances will give [radio frequency identification (RFID)] devices the path to evolve into sensors."

Always-on technologies Devices that will include these technologies include PDAs, smart phones, Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) watches that display customized information broadcast over wireless networks, Bluetooth headsets and MP3 players, coupled with wireless communications technologies.

Data storage and access. Storage will improve so rapidly that the cost of keeping everything will be cheaper than the cost of deciding what to keep. This will result in a phenomenon called "perfect recall," digital trails that capture people's every move and that can be reclaimed when needed.

Real-time infrastructure. These will use sensor network management technology and event-driven architecture to build "tera-architectures" capable of capturing, storing and analyzing trillions of transactions. "This is how we will understand and use the data from connected devices," Gartner wrote.

"Sensor networks will be common in five years and everywhere by 10 years," said Martin Reynolds, a vice president and research fellow at Gartner. "A hospital could track every patient and every pill in the building. Airlines could track every passenger and every bag. The challenge will be to develop an IT infrastructure that can make sense of the tidal wave of information."

Real-time Infrastructure

Gartner said the underlying technology "mega-trends" of a connected, "always-on" society, in which people have easy access to wireless bandwidth and personal wearable devices, are combining with the trends of globalization and the need for greater transparency and accountability. This will force enterprises to transform their business to respond more effectively to time-based competition. Gartner terms this a "real-time enterprise."

The key to this transformation, alongside changes in business processes and personnel attitudes, is a more agile or "real-time infrastructure" (RTI).

"The falling cost of computing power and network bandwidth will make it possible, if not mandatory, to connect almost anything  from refrigerators and elevators in 'smart buildings,' to personal devices and wearable computers," said Reynolds. "We are on the path to so much connected 'stuff' that we'll have to stop managing it. RTI is a three- to 10-year vision and a first step to zero-management systems that will allow scalability without cost."

Gartner said over the next decade, whether we like it or not, technology is going to become very intimate. The future, the consultancy predicts, holds a world where everything is connected to everything  always watching, recording and transmitting information about people and machines all around.

"The opportunity for enterprises is a new world where digital trails lead to 'perfect recall' of new types of information about customer behavior," said Nick Jones, vice president and research fellow at Gartner. "For the individual this means that privacy has changed. The battle is no longer about who collects your data, but who gets to use it."

Jones said that these trends would make privacy policy one of the most crucial decisions during the next decade. "Trust takes years to establish but can get lost in a moment," Jones concluded.