The "Accenture Technology Vision 2011" report identifies eight emerging trends that challenge long-held assumptions about IT and that are poised to reshape the business landscape. The report also offers "action steps" that high performing businesses and governments can take to prepare for the new world of computing.
"We took a look around the corner and saw a world of IT that barely resembles what enterprise computing looks like today," said Gavin Michael, managing director of R&D and alliances at Accenture, who supervised the project. "The role of technology is changing; it is no longer in a support role. Instead, it is front and center driving business performance and enriching people's lives like never before."
Application Services as Utilities
One of the most significant trends identified in the report finds that the age of "viewing everything through an application lens is coming to an end." Instead, platform architectures will be selected primarily to cope with soaring volumes of data and the complexity of data management, not for their ability to support applications.
The tried and true relational database will not go away, but it will soon start to make way for other types of databases — streaming databases, for instance — that mark a significant departure from what IT departments and business users have relied on for decades.
"IT and business leaders will begin to view application services as utilities that can be procured off the shelf," said Michael. "The roles of application and data will be reversed, with data becoming the platform that supports application services. Business leaders, as such, will be encouraged to reframe their IT orientation around the idea of data platforms."
Rise of "Social Identities"
The report also predicts the evolution of social media into social platforms. This means company Web sites may no longer be the first port of call for customers. This has the potential to disrupt the way companies conduct business, posing new challenges — and opportunities — for IT.
For example, "social identities" — based on the rich history of information that individuals leave in social networks — will become much more valuable to businesses than the traditional and isolated information they get when an individual registers on their corporate Web site.
Accenture also sees a new conversation emerging around Cloud computing, which will become so pervasive that the term itself becomes superfluous. According to the report, hybrid Clouds — software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) in combination with internal applications — will "cement IT's role as a driver of business growth."
The other trends identified in the report are:
Analytics: Companies that continue to view analytics as a simple extension of business intelligence will be "severely underestimating analytics' potential to move the needles on the business." Among other failings, traditional BI does not take advantage of the wealth of unstructured data that is now available. IT leaders will need to work closely with business leaders to identify where analytics can be leveraged effectively, as well as the proper mix of services required to optimize analytics capabilities across the enterprise.
Data Security: The fortress mentality, in which all IT has to be architected to be foolproof, is giving way to a security architecture that responds proportionately to threats when and where they happen." As a result, the role of people in data security will decline, replaced by automated capabilities that detect, assess and respond immediately.
Data Privacy: Individual privacy will take center stage as a result of increased government regulation and policy enforcement. The report concludes: "We expect that leading players will develop superior levels of understanding, enterprise-wide, about the distinctions between being a data processor — broadly handling the personal data of others — versus being a data controller, thus lowering the risks of unwitting breaches or privacy regulations and perceptions of privacy breakdowns."
Architecture: Information technology is evolving from a world that is server-centric to one that is service-centric. Companies are quickly moving away from monolithic systems that were wedded to one or more servers toward finer-grained, reusable services distributed inside and outside the enterprise. The goal: to decouple infrastructure, systems, applications and business processes from one another.
User Experience: Today, business process design is driven by the need for optimization and cost reduction. Tomorrow it will be driven by the need to create superior user experiences that help to boost customer satisfaction. Great user experiences will require more layered approaches than what is typical today. As such, application design will be a multidisciplinary exercise: Typically handled today by IT architects and business owners, tomorrow it will involve optimization from the perspective of the process actor, with the emphasis on simplicity and on removing inefficiencies.
Accenture Technology Labs has published its annual technology vision report for the past six years. For the 2011 report, Accenture researchers and scientists developed hypotheses about information technology developments that will have a significant impact on the company's clients in the next five years.
A wide range of sources were tapped for the report, including the flow of venture capital funding, trends highlighted by IT analysts, key themes at industry conferences and academic literature. Accenture's original research into the characteristics of high-performing IT departments was also used.
The Accenture report can be viewed online here.