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A look into the high-tech crystal ball

SAN DIEGO -- You might call Jackie Fenn Gartner's Nostradamus. As vice president and research fellow for emerging trends and technologies, it's her job to draw a technological roadmap for the next decade. In addition to making specific predictions (see sidebar), Fenn met with SearchEBusiness at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo to give us a sense of how to prepare for the ever-changing technological landscape.

What skills should IT workers learn now in order to best prepare for what's on the horizon?
The biggest skill is flexibility. There's not going to be a language, a standard, an approach that you can study today and know you've got job security for 10 years. Things will constantly change. New architectures are coming in, new languages, new standards. The flexibility to move with the changing environment is very key. Now along with that there are still skills that endure. There will always be projects and a need for people who can keep on track of planning. There will be a need for people who can build systems.

There are also some areas that will begin to emerge. I think a lot of the human-computer interaction skills are increasingly important. Ten years ago the most junior guy on the project built the user interface -- and we're still suffering from a lot of that. Now it's recognized that you have professional designers come in. So when you're building things like speech recognition systems there's a whole new set of things that you've got to look at. What products should businesses be investing in now in order to be ready for what's to come?
I think there are a couple of distinct thrusts. One is looking at the changing relationship with the customer and with partners. Look at technologies that open up standards and the flow of information. The other thrust is around the whole notion of the real-time nature of all this -- the tools that help you get the picture of what's happening immediately with customers, partners, with the business and let you integrate that so you get a unified view of your business. What will e-businesses look like 10 years from now?
Everyone will be an e-business. There are still going to be differences between those predominantly relying on being in a physical world and others that are pure play or majority in the e-world. The pure-plays that can build up strong user trust and a solid user interface are the people who can expand. EBay is a good example of that. There will be a few eBays and Amazons and maybe some of the financial services companies that can gain the necessary trust. How will businesses be able to manage the explosion in data 10 years from now?
The whole area of data is going to become more critical. We'll really be thinking about the role of different kinds of data. People have tended to collect everything but it's clear that there's hierarchical importance in the data. On the one hand, the technology is going to be able to keep up with the size of the data. But once you throw in multi-media [data] there's a question mark again. If all of our e-mails contain video or audio then maybe storing it becomes critical again. The need to prioritize data, what do we need to have for immediate access, what do we need to have to prevent liability, that is going to be somewhat important.

The quantity of this is going to jump an awful lot, particularly with the trails that you leave in a digital world. It won't just be [about] tracking what someone buys during a transaction. Now you have all the stuff that went into that decision. What did the consumer look at? What did the consumer decide not to buy? What will Web services be like in 10 years?
There are short-term elements. They'll be a big deal in the application development arena and they're already a pretty big deal in the vendor community. Ten years out they really will have started to change the way that people buy computer functionality. There will be a lot more of this pay-as-you-go approach to things rather than doing things in house. And, they may even have been renamed by then.

Gartner's four key trends

Gartner analysts are constantly weighing shifts in the IT landscape. But they've identified four key areas they see emerging over the next decade:

  • Growth in automation of customer service -- We'll see an increased ability to help people get the information they want without the need to have a human in the loop.
  • Explosion in Web services -- Look for the use of Web standards as a way to access different functionalities encapsulated as a computer program.
  • The evolution of mobile technology into wearable technology -- Imagine a hat or wristwatch that lets you access the Web.
  • Increases in tagging -- Meta information about goods and services will be generated automatically.
Do you think 10 years from now someone will hold your feet to the fire as far as these predictions? I may actually save my notes and give you a call.
(laughs) Yeah. But remember, if we were 100% right we wouldn't be going out on a limb here.


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