Here are some of the key IT challenges I see for 2009 based on feedback from our customers, the media, and my own understanding of key technologies coming on the scene. In addition, these challenges reflect the broader economy which is going to go through a global recession in 2009, impacting IT budgets in a number of different ways (see my previous post on this issue).
Challenge #1: Maximizing Existing IT Investments
In the past 2 years, there have been a significant amount of investments made in new technology platforms that were supposed to empower office workers to higher productivity and less dependance on IT. Products like content management systems, portals, data warehouses, analytics, CRM, ERP, etc. all have become increasingly mainstream over the past couple years as the economy boomed and CIOs were looking to make long term investments.
This year, in this time of restraint, I see a key challenge for all IT departments in maximizing existing investments that were made over the past two years. For example, how many companies have invested in SharePoint and are only using it to power their intranet? I have many customers who are looking to see how can they can justify their SharePoint platform investment through more advanced applications. For consultants, this is an opportunity to sell more vertically integrated, business centric solutions and move away from selling the latest technology and this will continue for at least another year.
Challenge #2: The Proliferation of Virtual Machines
The virtual machine as a server platform has really hit the IT mainstream. Virtualization has been around for years but thanks to a very mature platform with VMWare ESX and an upcoming push from Microsoft Hyper-V, the use of virtual machines is expanding rapidly.
Virtual servers have started replacing physical ones, first with non-core systems such as development servers to now in some cases full production environments.
One of the key challenges with Virtualization is that because it becomes so easy to spin up a new server, the number of servers proliferates, leading to VM sprawl. Management of virtual servers doesn't easily map from the physical world especially when doing tasks such as asset management (how do you manage a virtual asset). IT managers will spend a lot of time in 2009 coming to terms with these challenges.
Challenge #3: Web 2.0 Goes Mainstream
As technologies go mainstream, the language, terms and concepts that were reserved for leading edge technologists land in the hands of business managers, stakeholders and consumers. Unfortunately, they get them typically without the deep technical or even conceptual understanding.
This happened a couple years ago with the concept of "Portals". Everyone wanted a portal. Portals went from being these esoteric technologies to jargon words in marketing magazines. The same is happening now with concepts like "Blogs", "Wikis", "Web 2.0", etc.
I'm now receiving RFPs from government agencies with requests to "use Web 2.0 technologies" with no rationale, purpose or objectives. Some manager has now heard of Facebook and so now wants it on their web site. As technology consultants, the challenge will be seperating the myth from the fact, selling the real effort it takes to use these technologies effectively and trying to guide stakeholders to realize relevance from what has now become a Fad.
Challenge #4: Storage
Even a few years ago, it was a big deal to have a Storage Area Network (SAN). SANs were reserved for large organizations with lots of data. With the proliferation of media files, volumes of emails and documents, and no discipline when it comes to archiving in most organizations, managing the ever increasing demand for more storage is becoming a major headache. With hard drives getting increasingly cheaper the perception that storage is nearly free is pervasive (I can go buy a terrabyte backup drive now at BestBuy for about $100). Unfortunately, corporate storage is nowhere near as cheap when the requirement includes high performance, highly redundant and low power consuming. For example, at my last organization we spent almost $50,000 implementing a SAN in order to gain faster I/O access for our core databases. The SAN has 28 drives in it, is highly redundant, etc. but even with its several terrabytes of storage it will fill up rather quickly if not managed well.
Challenge #5: Search and Document Management
I mean search here in the broadest sense - finding stuff. Go try and find a document on your corporate intranet. Try and locate a file on your file server. Try and understand the taxonomy or meta-data structure for your document repository (assuming your organization has even defined one).
Creating documents is now so easy that they have proliferated. In addition, there is typically in most organizations very poor meta-data strategies for indexing data and immature archiving strategies to remove old documents. For example, at my last position we had a file server with about 4 terrabytes of documents. We did a scan of the thousands of documents on that server and found that over 80% had not been touched in the past 2 years. Even if they are not being accessed they act as an information clog when trying to find important documents.
Document management used to require very expensive and proprietary software such as OpenText, Documentum, HummingBird, etc. and was reserved for companies such as law firms who had very regulated and structured document repository. But with lower cost tools such as SharePoint you can quite easily now implement some decent meta-data taxonomies and start to catalogue, version control and archive documents in a methodical way.
The biggest challenge isn't the technology - its getting commitment from the business to organize the thousands of old documents and migrate them into the new structure. This is a massive effort and requires significant involvement from the business. While there are some tools to help with this effort, the clean-up effort of document migration is still a continuing challenge.
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