CIOs Tuning Into Web 2.0 Principles

That was one of the themes that kept bubbling to the surface in Nashville this week during the Forrester Research IT Forum 2007. A telling sign: Of the three industry-outlook scenarios that analysts sketched for attendees during a Thursday morning keynote, entitled "Enterprise Software in 2017," the one that hinged most closely on the impact of "social computing" (a.k.a. Web 2.0) was the one that the majority of attendees -- mainly CIOs and IT executives from midsize and large enterprise accounts -- bought into the most.

Social computing is Forrester's umbrella definition to encompass instant messaging, blogs, wikis, social networks and other applications one would typically lump under the term Web 2.0.

"Businesspeople are not going to put up with poor user interfaces," said Forrester analyst Laura Ramos, in sketching her futuristic vision for business software in 2017 as part of an "American Idol"-esque performance and pitch judged by three CIOs. "They will say, 'Give it to me when I need it.' Consumer expectations will make business users more impatient."

In Ramos' future, everything is up in the air. "The buyers will take their buying cues from what they hear from each other," she said.

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Users will want functionality that is particular to them, which suggests the need for service-oriented architectures that support myriad application combinations, especially those promised by Web 2.0 and the social network movement, she added.

Forrester research data already suggests that users are becoming more impatient with the way enterprise software looks today, she said. For example, 78 percent of IT executives surveyed by Forrester last year said they are weary of the mismatch between software design and actual users requirements, while 77 percent said they were frustrated with the inflexibility of today's software, she said.

"Business people will be the one that get to drive [in 2017]," Ramos predicted.

One other thing she envisions: The amount of money that businesses are willing to spend for enterprise software will change dramatically, with more businesses considering models that tolerate or support advertising models as a trade-off for free or almost-free software. Again, this scenario is more associated with Web 2.0 than with today's traditional commercial software licensing model.

"Economically, this is a scenario where prices don't increase all that much from today," Ramos added.

The panel of three CIOs, who were asked to rate the predictions sketched out by Ramos and two of her colleagues, selected her vision of the future as the one they felt most compelling. She was also the audience favorite, which was gauged by applause and Nashville-style hootin' and hollerin'.

"You focused on all the right things," said Joseph Puglisi, vice president and CIO of Emcor Group, a construction and facilities management company in Norwalk, Conn., otherwise known as Judge No. 1.

"I really loved your comment about blended products and software not needing a pedigree," said the second judge, Ed Simac, vice president and CIO of Export Development Canada, Montreal, which provides financing services to Canadian companies expanding outside their domestic market. "I really appreciate the thoughts on social computing. It's here. It's not getting here."

For Judge No. 3, Steve Naylor, vice president and director of IT at Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka, Kan., the most compelling part of Ramos' vision was the focus on flexibility. Of the notion that users should be supported with technology that lets them work the way in which they want to work, "The world I'm looking at requires very out-of-the-box thinking. Consumerism will rule the day -- maybe even rue the day, too," he joked.

One of the other scenarios, proposed by Forrester analyst John Rymer, also focused on the importance of social computing and Web 2.0 philosophies, but suggested that current software applications giants, such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and SAP, would still be big factors in enterprise software, albeit less influential than today.

"If you're a CIO, it means lots and lots of choice, but more complexity," he said.

The third scenario, put forth by Forrester analyst Andrew Bartels, called for further consolidation in enterprise software, including a hypothetical merger between Oracle and IBM, both of which have been extremely acquisitive.

"These are the vendors that can provide the whole stack," Bartels said.

During a separate panel earlier at the conference, executives from several well-known software companies also pointed to the coming collision of consumer and business technology.

One of the most important changes predicted by Ken Bisconti, vice president of Workplace, PortalCollaboration Software for IBM Software Group, is an emphasis on supporting ad hoc, or "activity-based," collaboration.

"The concept of an activity is the idea that wherever I am, I can spawn an activity, create a team and people can contribute work into that activity regardless of the tool I'm in or they're in. It gives us a way to transcend the different stove-piped tools," Bisconti said.

The demands of the next generation of workers entering the workforce will change how software companies must design interfaces and what businesses must be prepared to adopt, said Vince Casarez, vice president of development at Oracle. For him, this means focusing on interfaces that map to tasks that are more meaningful to a person's particular role.

"The key thing is to tap into the business experience of the users. They know what works and what doesn't," Casarez said.