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Which Technologies are Transforming IT?

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It’s no surprise that there’s disagreement between IT managers and business executives about which tech trends are most actively changing IT. These two camps often have an adversarial relationship, so it’s expected that they see today’s tech trends in different light.

To investigate the matter, research firm IDC asked 236 line-of-business (LOB) execs and 268 IT professionals (both CIOs and IT managers) to name the following:

Question: The one technology that you believe has the greatest impact on transformation of business process.

The graph below reflects their answers. (Note that the list of responses doesn’t include every possibility. Notably absent, for instance, is outsourcing.)

technologies changing IT

technologies changing IT

Clear differences of opinion are seen in the results for virtualization and Web services. The IT pros see virtualization as the leading trend – by a big percentage – while the business execs view Web services as the leading trend.

But this difference isn’t what it seems, says Frank Gens, a senior VP of research at IDC, who explored the results in a blog post.

“It’s like the fable of the six wise men and the elephant,” Gens tells me, “where different people see different parts of the same thing, but they call it different things.”

As he interprets it, virtualization and Web services are parts of the same thing, which is the movement toward a cloud-enabled environment and cloud computing.

Part of the difference in response is that many business execs are not fully knowledgeable about virtualization. The term virtualization “sort of glazes over the eye of the typical business person – they generally don’t know what it means.”

(Indeed, Gens notes that when he writes about virtualization using Microsoft Word, “spellcheck continues to put a squiggly line under the virtualization – you don’t find it in the dictionary.”)

In its most pragmatic use, virtualization is a major cost saver for companies with banks of servers. Instead of having to buy, say, 30 more servers, virtualization software enables companies to squeeze more use out of existing servers. One would think this cost savings would make virtualization near and dear to the hearts of business execs. But again, this is a concept that’s more familiar to IT pros than business execs.

Gens was surprised that Web services was ranked so highly by business execs. Like virtualization, it’s a term that may not be fully understood – or at least have several meanings – outside of geeky datacenter chat sessions. “I was a little surprise that line-of-business people even know what Web services are,” he says.

Yet as he thought about it, he realized that these business execs were viewing Web services in its broadest sense. Not the established technical standards like SOAP or WSDL, but instead Software as a Service and other Web-delivered products. “They’re thinking of or Google Apps – that’s the thing they can see most out of this whole world of virtualized, cloud-enabled next-generation IT environment.”

In contrast, the IT pros think of Web services as the already entrenched technologies of SOAP or WSDL – helpful, but at this point no longer the leading edge of what’s changing IT.

Merging Concepts

If you look past the differences in terminology (and knowledge level) between these two camps, the graph gives an insightful forecast into where IT is going.

But to get this view, you need to combine the attitudes of business execs and IT pros. Virtualization, for instance, is both things: it’s the very pragmatic technology that helps server management (as the IT pros see it), and it’s also a core underpinning of Software as a Service (the trend that business execs see as preeminent).

Or, put another way, “It’s the same thing,” Gens says. “But the IT folks are looking at the underpinning technology – virtualization – and the business people are looking at it from the end deliverable, which is Software as a Service.”

In reality, it’s the merging of several leading technologies will shape the future of enterprise technology.

“I look at the addition of Web services, SOA, and virtualization – those three things together are really all about this next generation of IT,” Gens says. It’s a world in which users will have relatively efficient, low cost access to business and IT resources.

As industry observers responded to the graph’s result, Gens heard this comment: why didn’t cloud computing make the list? He responds by pointing out that the various technologies on the list are pieces of cloud computing. “If I had it to do over, I probably would have put ‘cloud computing’ or ‘Software as a Service’ in there, but these things are all interrelated with each other.”

In the next version, expect ‘cloud computing’ to be a leading choice. It will probably be one that both IT pros and business execs can agree on.

James Maguire is the manager editor of Datamation.

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