Forecast 2013: Giving top technologies a beta test

These forward-thinking IT shops are testing out new ways to use the latest technologies to drive revenue, enhance customer service and more.

Restaurant tabs paid by phone without showing a credit card. Advice on personnel issues available to managers on mobile phones. College students' lab work done at home through virtualized software. These are just some of the hot projects that IT shops are working on.

With beefier IT budgets comes more money to try out new technologies. In fact, the percentage of respondents to Computerworld's annual Forecast survey who report that they're beta-testing or conducting pilot programs has been rising steadily for the past few years. More than three quarters (77%) of the 334 IT executives surveyed by Computerworld in June said their teams are beta-testing or piloting new technologies to be unveiled next year. That's up from 43% four years ago.

Data from 2013 Forecast Survey (Base: 334; June 2012), 2012 Survey, 2011 Survey, 2010 Survey and 2009 Survey. Mouse over graph to get data details; click on items in chart key to turn them on and off.

This year, the top piloted projects involve virtualization, mobile and wireless, cloud and security technologies. Here's a look inside four IT shops that are trying something new with each of those technologies.

Students Get Better Service With Virtualization

For 74% of Forecast survey respondents who said they're involved in beta tests or pilot programs, virtualization tops the list of technologies being studied, and the initiatives include server, storage, network and mobile virtualization.

"Our jump into the virtualized world has been with both feet, and we've done it fairly quickly because we don't have enough time in the day to do everything we need to do and this was a simple and logical move for us," says Stephen Vieira, CIO and executive director of The Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick.

Vieira's IT team has been working with VMware's View and Liquidware Labs' ProfileUnity to bring virtualized applications to 18,000 students on four campuses.

Many students must complete lab assignments on specialized software that was available only in laboratory facilities. But the labs were only open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., while surveys showed that students, many of whom work one or two jobs in addition to taking classes, tackled homework between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. "With virtualized applications, students will be able to use the software 24/7," Vieira says.

The applications, to be rolled out this fall, also let the college keep licensing costs low by giving students access to software only for the classes they're registered for. "We can control the licensing and how many people use it in a period of time," says Vieira. Students can also save their personal settings between log-ins.

The lab applications are the latest addition to the school's year-and-a-half-long move toward a completely virtualized environment. "We are expanding our virtualization platform into virtual desktops, virtual networks and virtual storage solutions," says Vieira. With just 40 IT employees serving four campuses, he says, "our staffing is such that we need to be more efficient and selfish with our time; these new technologies provide the stability, redundancy and resilience we need."

Doctors Get Study Help With Mobile Apps

New mobile and wireless technologies are getting a workout at 62% of the companies in the Computerworld Forecast 2013 survey that are engaged in testing, including 34% that are testing or piloting tablets.

The American College of Physicians (ACP), a professional society for internists, has been testing a mobile version of its medical knowledge self-assessment program, a study guide with a series of questions that help physicians prepare for board exams. Traditionally, the material was available only in printed documents and on CD-ROMs. But these days, many old-school physicians are as tech-savvy as recent med school grads when it comes to mobile technology, prompting the ACP to expand its media options.

For the upcoming edition, the CD-ROMs will be retired in favor of a collection of mobile apps for the iPhone, the iPad and Android devices that will be bundled with the online version of the test preparation materials. When the online materials and mobile apps are synced, users can chip away at the 1,200 multiple-choice questions from wherever they are.

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