Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is 2010 the year business IT grows up?

Stressed business man in office, workplace, mental health, frustration, computer, desk: Managers 'one of the biggest threats to workers? mental health'
Corporate IT departments need to start treating workers more like consumers Photo: GETTY

In the outside world we’re all known as consumers – but set foot inside corporate walls and suddenly every user becomes the IT department’s enemy. You’re not to be trusted, and you’re certainly no expert on what technologies can be used to make you more productive.

This year, however, is set to be the first when the great strides being made in the consumer web will start to gain greater adoption in corporate environments. Email, files and other resources are all likely to be stored online, in “the cloud”, for more and more businesses.

Google, of course is the prime example of this, and they’ve placed their tanks firmly on the lawn of Microsoft with their Google Apps suite of email and office products. Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, describes cloud computing as “the centrepiece of our 2010 strategy” – don’t expect them to take their foot off the gas, but equally, don’t expect Microsoft to take this lying down. Windows 7 is an indication that the team in Redmond are fighting back, and you’ll see some interesting developments with Microsoft’s online versions of Outlook and Office during 2010. At last, there will be meaningful competition when it comes to collaboration online.

The social network will enter corporations in 2010 in a more measured and controlled way. The launch of Chatter by later this year will really force organisations to look at social networking as a productivity tool as opposed to something that causes inefficiency.

“The flow of real-time information from Facebook and Twitter have changed our lives. But our business applications have not kept up,” says Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive of

“Businesses are asking, ‘Why is it easy to follow what Ashton Kutcher is up to on Twitter, but hard to track what my sales reps are doing?’ Yet real-time information is essential to good work. The idea behind Chatter is simple: ‘Know it now’.”

In a business context, that might mean, for instance, a news feed tailored to you, detailing whatever data is most important to your job, updated in real time. It might also include where your colleagues are. This is going to be hugely powerful when applied correctly – but only the companies with an advanced outlook on how they allow their staff to collaborate together are set to gain the most advantage from this shift.

Finally, mobile applications, which are booming in the consumer marketplace thanks primarily to Apple and the iPhone, will be used inside companies. Nic Newman, head of strategy at mobile firm Tigerspike, is one of an increasing number of experts who believe that 2010 will be the year that businesses begin to embrace mobile applications.

“Companies are now starting to unlock the huge potential that mobile can give their organisations. PriceWaterhouse Coopers has launched a mobile-based employee engagement tool around ‘what I would like to change’, and Morgan Stanley use it to send key market audio updates to all employees by 10am each morning. 2010 is the year of ‘business goes mobile’.”

One major technical advancement in this space that will gain broader adoption in 2010 is a technology known as HTML 5. This will allow developers to build applications that are more interactive and ready for use offline – imagine being able to submit or approve expenses in this way, or review accounts using a single click while on the move.

It’s reality to very few of us at the moment but the ‘Blackberry’ effect is rapidly spreading beyond email and into other applications: many now expect much more information to be accessible at any time.

So working in 2010 could feel a little bit more pleasant; but it relies on IT departments waking up to the need to embrace consumer technology and it also requires them to treat their users more like consumers. IT departments who make this shift will thrive but those who don’t may struggle to survive.

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