Veitch Speaks: Let's stay together in 1999

The continuing convergence of technologies, resources and companies - including mergers and acquisitions - will be the IT theme of the year, predicts Mr Veitch

If there is a single word that will define 1999 in IT it will be convergence - and this time it will be more than jargon. Convergence is one of those God-awful words that people who call themselves other God-awful things like futurologists and technical evangelists like to torture us with. It started out meaning the morphing of telecommunications and computing, and it was in a recent meeting with Siemens that it occurred to me that it has moved beyond that highly important shift to the whole of the way IT is conducted.

More than any other company perhaps, Siemens is working to make convergence technologies a reality. It starts out with a huge advantage in that - and this is quite astonishing - it is the only company that has the pieces of the puzzle in a single bag. It owns telecommunications networks, mobile phones, computers of all sizes and types, and a huge consulting arm.

But, Teutonic and purposeful to the core, Siemens recognises that much of the coming convergence activity will be in chasing real business benefit by hooking up data network directory services to phone networks rather than introducing whizzbang multimedia services. Look at video conferencing - we're still waiting for the big boom that was supposed to happen.

More than this, Siemens pointed out that it is not just technological convergence that is the issue but convergence of business activity. One quiet sector that has been amassing money these past few years is the call centre industry. That's really a management and consulting success story rather than a techie one. IT and comms roles are now joined at the hip.

All of which made me think of the other ways that this industry has moved almost imperceptibly from standalone status to the connected state of today. Maybe the best example of this convergence is the way that companies you would not think had a shred in common have been working together for the last year - or at least toward the same goals. Think of Sun's smart move in Cascade, its plan to build services on top of Windows NT/2000 so that big robust Sun servers can provide all the departmental benefits of NT. Think also about Sequent, which is now to contribute towards Windows 2000 and to the Monterey project for a more orderly Unix - even if that latter piece of realpolitik won't impress its previous dancing partners, the Digital Unix folk.

As these examples suggest, the hub of the action is around Windows technologies and the battle for survival of the competition. To increase revenues you have to go where the cash is and sleep with the enemy. The days of bitter divisiveness are coming to an end.

Partly it's the nature of business and partly the sign of a maturing industry. The bosses of the biggest IT companies aren't all propeller heads any longer, and it is interesting that the remaining ones who started on the shop floor - Gates, Oracle's Larry Ellison, Sun's Scott McNealy - tend to be the squabblers.

The classic sign of convergence, however - which can only get bigger in 1999 - will be merger and acquisition activity. Not just several of the Nortel-Bay ilk, but also deals this year with partners who wouldn't have known each other a few years ago - and the prices will make your eyes pop. In time it will also mean that your whole IT infrastructure runs more smoothly.

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