The four biggest biz-tech trends of the coming decade

On Monday, I received a most interesting e-mail from Gartner, the giant IT consulting firm, outlining what it considers to be the four most important technology trends of the coming decade.
Written by David Coursey, Contributor
On Monday, I received a most interesting e-mail from Gartner, the giant IT consulting firm, outlining what it considers to be the four most important technology trends of the coming decade.

These are hot topics at the company's big conference, taking place this week in Florida. The Gartner Symposium/ITxpo is expected to draw about 10,000 attendees, representing all the big corporate customers. It's a great event, the trends I am about to share with you notwithstanding.

IF I HAD BEEN WILLING to get on an airplane this month--yes, I am skittish--I'd probably have attended this event, which is much smaller than Comdex Fall, but eclipses the behemoth Las Vegas exhibition in terms of its importance to big business.

ZDNet is covering the conference extensively, but I wanted to analyze what Gartner has declared to be the four most important emerging trends for the next decade. Some of these will illustrate how far ahead of the curve AnchorDesk readers are (or, conversely how long it takes for a "trend" to seep into corporate computing). And one of the four trends is just perplexing.

Gartner's "four key emerging technology trends for the next decade" (with my comments) are:

Customer Self Service: By 2005, more than 70 percent of customer service interaction for information and remote transactions will be automated. This is a trend I can get behind, since I am already a big user of e-commerce, but it's a bad trend if you work in retail or if you're a high school or college student or entry-level employee looking for part-time work, a summer job, or just a foot in the door.

"A range of technologies are improving customers' ability to complete increasingly complex informational and service-based transactions without the need for human assistance," said Jackie Fenn, vice president and research fellow for Gartner. "The non-technology factors driving this increased automation include strong return on investment, better customer reach, and improved service quality. This will ultimately result in increased competitiveness, and in savings that can be passed on to the customer."

The counter-trend to this? Personal service. Some Web sites do a pretty good job of automating personal interaction--Amazon comes immediately to mind--but the counter to high tech is generally high touch.

Web Services: By packaging business processes as software components, Web services will drive much of the still-to-be-developed e-business landscape.

"Web services will facilitate much faster software development and integration. They will also enable businesses to become more agile, and help them focus on their core competencies," said Alexander Linden, research director for Gartner. "Web services are likely the hottest trend of 2001 and 2002, and are probably still an underestimated technology."

This is Gartner getting behind where Microsoft is headed with .Net, if not the technology itself. This will doubtless be a key technology--but it is one most companies are just learning, and it will be a few years before Web services are a major factor in corporate computing, at least as Microsoft imagines it.

Wearable Computers: By 2007, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population age 15 to 50 will carry or wear a wireless computing and communications device at least six hours a day.

"Widespread adoption of wireless, wearable computing will provide constantly connected employees and consumers with access to communities, information, and other services as they go about their business in the real world," said Fenn. "The prevalence of 'wearables' will lead to commerce and service opportunities as significant as those resulting from the wired Web."

And by 2009, 70 percent of the U.S. population will have these devices implanted and carry them around always (and use inductive rechargers built into beds and chairs). Now, that would be a prediction, but the actual Gartner guess is hardly much of a look into the future. I thought we were pretty much already at their predicted numbers.

Tagging the World: By 2008, at least US$90 billion worth of business-to-consumer (B2C) purchase decisions--and US$350 billion worth of business-to-business (B2B) purchase decisions--will be based on "tags," which contain information and opinions about the item being bought.

"The flood of information, products, and services available to today's consumers and businesses is spurring a focus on organizing and labeling choices in a way that supports a person's ability to find, prioritize, and select items," said Linden. "The tagging industry will modify consumer buying behavior and drive new industries focused on advisory and market research services."

This is an example of where a consultant predicts a major trend based around something nobody has ever heard of--mainly to make big bucks explaining it to clients who suddenly feel so left out. What Gartner is trying to say is simply this: Enhancing the shopping experience to help customers make better choices will be big business.

DUH! SORRY for being such a cynic about this one. Still, I agree that all these trends are important and am just thrilled that the high-priced brainiacs at Gartner didn't beat me to anything. I was going to talk to my bosses about charging Gartner-esque fees for this column and newsletter.

Instead, though, I'll take solace that in these slow economic times, you don't have to pay lots of money to know which way the wind is blowing.

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