Ten IT trends to watch in 2011

There are a number of interesting business software trends on the horizon for 2011. Ten of these will significantly impact IT organizations seeking to align IT operations with business objectives. Awareness of such trends can help you to keep ahead of the competition.

These business software trends should continue to be watched and should influence decision making in the coming year:

1. Mobile computing remains important, exciting and risky: Mobile applications present some inherent risks for two reasons. First, a poorly designed mobile application will have difficulty gaining user acceptance. I have seen too many companies make the false assumption that merely porting an existing application interface to the mobile environment will provide an acceptable result. When designing mobile apps, one must consider not only the form factor change in the user interface, but also the scope of the application itself. There is a need for more fine-grained applications that perform and function well.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the mobile market is still extremely fluid. As Apple, Google, Microsoft and traditional carriers and manufacturers continue to introduce new devices and approaches, picking a stable platform remains a difficult decision. While many have already jumped into mobile applications, they have sometimes come to regret their platform decisions. Many enterprise software decision makers opt to stay with the proven mobile platforms for business applications such as Blackberry RIM or Windows Mobile 6 and avoid experimenting with something new and unproven. Despite the fact that consumer phones are exciting, wait for validation of new platforms before basing your business IT strategy on them.

2. Mix of in-house and outsourced services shifts: Business software continues to benefit from a foundation of enterprise software services known as service-oriented architecture (SOA). In 2011, IT managers pursuing a SOA strategy should pay special attention to the mix between in-house and outsourced services. As more and more applications and infrastructure are moved to the cloud, the barriers to external Web services may well be decreasing. Nevertheless, pay special attention to the service level agreements (SLAs) offered by Web services vendors. Also note that SOA is not a technology; it's a model, a method and a strategy.

3. Enterprise software begins migrating to the cloud: The cloud computing buzz will continue into 2011, and this may well be the year when more serious platforms for cloud applications make the option of moving enterprise software to the cloud an enticing alternative. Look for cloud application platforms that allow you the option of cloud or on-premise deployment so as to preserve your options into the future. The private cloud will dominate this trend for a few years, especially with the larger companies who are risk averse and want to move into the cloud in smaller steps.

4. Organizations embrace software lifecycle management: Both developers and application managers need to pay attention to software lifecycle management for different reasons. Too many organizations have paid scant attention to the management of their enterprise software portfolios. In 2011, many organizations will be able to leverage the capabilities of integration to further extend software life and reduce the need for additional development. A formal approach to software lifecycle management may well be in order.

5. Legacy modernization delivers much-sought ROEI: Time marches on. But when your coffee gets cold, you don't throw it out. You top it off to warm it up, right? Most of the so-called legacy applications in enterprises today have been serving the needs of the business for a decade or more, and in my calendar, they are assets, not liabilities. Throwing them out is both costly and perilous. In 2011, attention should be paid to legacy modernization approaches that allow you to do more than simply reface application interfaces. Look for incremental enhancements to existing applications that leverage the possibilities for better user experiences without sacrificing operational integrity and without tossing away your past investments. Get full return on existing investments (ROEI).

6. The year of the better service level agreement (SLA): With all of the growth in cloud computing and third-party services, IT departments need to develop an understanding that SLAs are more than just fine print. A good SLA outlines the way that your enterprise interacts with IT vendors and service providers. In 2011, take time to review and improve both existing and new SLAs with an eye towards improving the level and quality of support and service provided. If you are not provided an adequate SLA, look elsewhere.

7. Graphical user interfaces get richer; maybe too much so: On one level, we will continue to see developers responding to users' demands for applications that look better. In this regard, 2011 will be a year when some enterprise software developers may indeed go too far in the direction of impressive graphics at the expense of real transactional and business functionality.

8. Better performance comes to rich business applications: On another level, we will see continued improvement in rich business applications that not only look better and are browser-free, but also perform better. The trend towards social media on the Web is a good parallel. The real paradigm shift was not about multimedia; multimedia has been available for years. The real paradigm shift in social media was in the way people interacted with the Web, which was a shift from media consumption to media sharing with peers and the world. Rich business applications will continue to emerge in 2011 that provide unparalleled levels of information transaction and sharing. Many companies will also continue to see RIA as the first big step on the way to the cloud.

9. Drowning in data, enterprises turn to BI: All of these trends continue to drown businesses and their employees and management in a vast sea of data. How do you make sense of it? What are the key indicators? Where are the trends? In 2011, business intelligence will stretch further into mobile devices than ever before. This will occur not so much through new technologies as through new adoptions. More and more IT departments will acquire business intelligence capabilities in 2011. As BI becomes more of a commodity, be especially careful to look for value.

10. Multi-tier architecture delivers the keys to integration: Ultimately, you need a way to combine the benefits from all of these trends. This can be supported by a multi-tier architecture that incorporates the application platform, integration layer and business intelligence layer. I expect to see more businesses in 2011 looking towards a strategy that leverages multi-tier architecture. Smart IT departments will once again seek value in such a platform. This requires a viewpoint towards total-cost impact and not simply a focus on infrastructure costs. The human element will continue to be the major source of costs for IT departments. Choosing a multi-tier architecture that doesn't require an army of IT personnel or a horde of outside consultants to maintain it will make the most sense.

In all these decisions, I recommend handling problems and opportunities in the same way: deal with them incrementally in a manner that controls costs and reduces risks. All the while, remember that the purpose of change is to align IT capabilities with business goals.

Regev Yativ is President and CEO of Magic Software Enterprises Americas (www.magicsoftware.com)

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