5 Trends to Watch in 2011

Would you recognize a significant IT business trend if you saw one? Over the years, many products, technologies and IT-related business trends have been hyped beyond their significance. But the killers are the ones that go unnoticed and wind up being transformational. It's difficult to know the difference, but there's an old journalism adage: Follow the money. With that in mind, here are five things to keep an eye on as we march toward 2011.

1. The recession is transformational. Since late 2008, many companies facing reduced top-line growth have eked out profits with deep cuts. In many cases, those savings have been held aside, awaiting the right moment. Odds are, that moment will come in 2011. For IT shops, business growth could require new technology, but additional IT resources may not be added as quickly. Senior IT leaders should be planning now how to meet the demands of anxious CEOs with smaller staffs and shorter timelines.

2. The spotlight remains on cost-saving technologies. Given the recession, it's no surprise that virtualization, the head-slappingly obvious money-saver that was hot well before the recession, is even hotter now. A year ago, Gartner named it the No. 1 technology for 2010, based on a survey of CIOs. I'd put it there again for 2011, followed by cloud computing , software as a service and, to a lesser degree, business analytics.

In Computerworld's Forecast 2011 survey, respondents said cloud computing is the most overhyped technology, but they also said it's No. 2 on the list of technologies with the most promise for 2011. Both sentiments are true. Cloud computing holds even more potential for cost savings than virtualization, but is it ready for prime time? And cost savings might not even be the cloud's main advantage. Its biggest benefit might be the fact that it makes it possible to provision server and storage capacity quickly.

3. Mobile is exploding. Everyone can see this. But are IT shops focused on the management, support and security challenges that come with mobile computing? A huge percentage of employees are bringing personal quick-access storage devices to work and putting sensitive documents and e-mails on them. And here come tablets. Over 30 new tablets were announced or delivered in 2010, and they're inexpensive enough that a lot of people are buying them.

4. Software is undergoing rapid change. Take the public-cloud phenomenon and stir in largely Web-based mobile applications, and you'll see the start of a software trend that could transform the way we work. When you connect meaningful enterprise data to tablet computers served via your data center, private cloud or hybrid cloud, you've got a transformational technology. For years we've been trying to unchain knowledge workers from their desks so they can interact with one another and work wherever they go. There is a potential to create near-real-time business communication without us having to work at that full time. The days of large, monolithic, LAN-connected, proprietary enterprise apps are numbered

5. Enterprise 2.0 will run its course. Crowdsourcing information (the real value of Web 2.0 for the enterprise) is a powerful tool. It's a simple way to help us avoid starting every new undertaking from scratch. It shapes ideas and provides valuable insights. And it's on its way to becoming pervasive. But it's not a technology; it's more like a business strategy. The hype surrounding Web 2.0 technologies will die down, and business use of these tools won't be thought of as a key trend in 2011.

Scot Finnie is Computerworld's editor in chief. You can contact him at sfinnie@computerworld.com, and follow him on Twitter (@ScotFinnie).

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