Identifying the technologies that will matter

Forrester Research identifies the top 15 technologies that will impact your business over the next three years.
Written by Alex Cullen, Contributor

CIOs want to know what new technologies they should watch for their firm’s possible use.  They need to know when they should make an investment of time to learn a technology, and educate their business on its potential – or be prepared to answer their questions.  They want to time their own adoption - for example, with cloud-based services, they want to maximize benefits, avoid the bleeding edge, and smoothly fold it in with their plans.  CIOs need a ‘technology watch list' when they have a central architecture teams, they delegate creating this list to that team.  These teams tap their sources - and one source the architecture teams tap to scan the long list of technologies is Forrester.

At Forrester, we are challenged to identify the top technologies, too.  Our problem is a bit different from our clients – we follow so many technologies, hear from so vendors and thought leaders, and of course every analyst will have their own network and assessment.  To sort through everything that could be on a watch list and pick the ones which CIOs should watch, we involve many analysts and use a simple set of criteria:

It’s got to matter within three years if it’s going to be worth watching.  Of course we all know there are trends in computing architectures or neural networks or others that might have a big impact – but your average business or even aggressive adopters can’t do anything today with these long lead-time technologies.  You might as well save your bandwidth and watch the ones that matter within a reasonable planning & adoption cycle.

It’s got to have a significant impact on business, or on the business of IT.  Business impact is simply ‘can the business do something that it can’t easily do today?’.  Can it better understand customer behavior? Can it drive down the cost of internal processes? IT impact can be both positive or negative:  Does it impact cost positively or negatively?  Does it impact quality positively or negatively? Does it impact IT’s ability to serve business positively or negatively?  Like George Colony, Forrester’s CEO, observed: “Web 2.0 has forever changed the relationship between your company and your customer.” If a technology trend like Web 2.0 will have significant impact, shouldn’t you be looking at it? If it doesn’t have significant impact, why get excited about it? 

It has to be new or significantly different from what’s available today.  There are a lot of impactful technologies in use today that will be more impactful three years from now – but they will be basically the same technologies that are in use today.  CIOs’ organizations are already familiar with them and only need to ‘keep up to speed.’ But others, like business rules engines, will be essentially completely new, and IT will need to ramp up on them, understanding potential benefits and risks before they make their adoption decisions. For existing technologies – it’s ‘business as usual,’ but for new technologies, you have to pick which ones you will ramp up on. 

You need to understand how complex implementation might be.  Complexity drives when you need to start looking.  A technology that could change business strategy will be very complex to adopt – involving multiple stakeholders, and impacting multiple IT and business areas.  It will take a long time to plan so, if the business impact is worth it, you want to start early.  Other impactful technology might be a simple case of acquiring and using. You don’t need a lot of time to plan for it. 

Why is collaboration across Forrester analysts so important?  Simply put, making a prediction which our clients can trust takes more than just one person’s opinion.  With lots of input from analysts across Forrester’s technology coverage, and with an equal amount of vetting by these same analysts, we will produce a more trustworthy prediction of which technologies will matter.  If the consensus of analysts is that real-time, process-centric business intelligence will have a bigger impact than model-driven software development, the chances are it will. 

Which technologies should you watch?  It’s not a matter of ‘cool technologies’ – although they may be fun, or ‘hot technologies’ – although they may be hot for a reason.  It’s really about which ones will matter because of their impact, their ‘newness’ and the potential complexity they bring with them, within a timeframe organizations can plan around.

Over the coming months, Forrester analysts will take a closer look at the 15 technologies we selected, adding what they see on the immediate horizon for 2010.   

Which technologies are on your list? 

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