Ten Technology Predictions for 2004

Analysts from professional services firm Tallán explain the trends IT must manage next year.

With increased technology spending and signs of a possible economic recovery this year, 2004 is shaping up to be a great year for the technology sector. But don’t expect the free-spending days of the late 90s. As seen by spending patterns in 2003, companies are looking to fund technology projects that will affect the bottom line and have a long-term benefit. As a result, consultants and developers looking to take advantage of any upturn in 2004 will need to frame their work around ROI guarantees.

What trends will develop in 2004 that companies must manage to be successful? Three developers with Glastonbury, CT-based Tallán (http://www.tallan.com), a professional services firm providing customized technology solutions to Global 2000 and online firms (with expertise in development, infrastructure, and creative practices), sat down and talked about what they see in their crystal ball.

Web Services: “The need for centralized services is over and this means Web services will continue to grow in 2003,” says Tallán Consultant Ron Petty. “While Web services are currently primarily used for single transactions, we’ll see a gravitation towards offering services for large data set query and retrieval in 2004. This opens the door for analytic use and will lead to toolsets being created that will allow for federated data inquires among multiple Web services. Initially, these services will benefit consumers of large data sets for analysis and policy making, like those using U.S. government and census data or data from other data publishing entities. However, eventually this functionality could be used for intra-company analysis purposes.”

Bullish on HP/Bearish on SCO: “On the heels of the success of the HP/Compaq integration, we’ll see HP begin to target complimentary acquisitions in the software space,” says William Moher, a director with Tallán. “Potential targets will include Novell, BEA, or Borland.”

On the flip side, Moher predicts the SCO Group will lose its legal efforts to enjoin IBM and others in their Linux lawsuit. “If the courts do not rule unilaterally against SCO, the Federal Trade Commission, under mounting pressure from commercial and governmental interests in Linux, will step in,” he says.

Linux Developments: “I think we’ll see Linux continue to gain in 2004. Red Hat's move to focus their distribution on server and enterprise uses of Linux, and away from desktop-oriented uses, has ignited a number of members of the open source community,” Moher says. “IBM has vowed to move up to 50,000 desktop users to Linux within a year and is looking to build out support capabilities for desktop Linux. Sun Microsystems has said they expect there to be between 500,000 and 1,000,000 installed users of its upcoming Java Desktop System. Novell's recent Linux-centric acquisitions (SuSe, Ximian) indicate that they believe large scale adoption of Linux in the enterprise and on the desktop will require that vendors offer an integrated portfolio of software offerings, not just an operating system distribution that bundles hundreds or thousands of hobbyist open source applications as installation options.”

Moher says Linux will gain in the enterprise as well. In an effort to squeeze more life out of aging equipment, CIOs who have been traditionally opposed to Linux will begin to explore the migration of older server equipment running Windows to Linux—particularly for internal or department-level file or Web servers. As Microsoft retires support for Windows NT 4.0 (beginning January 1, 2004, non-security fixes for NT 4.0 will no longer be available), CIOs will have to decide if they want to pay to upgrade these servers, and many will take this opportunity to road test Linux.

Harnessing Network Power: “As companies look for ways to increase productivity, the distributed computing model will catch on in more places,” says Robert Northrop, a Director of Design and Development with Tallán. “More companies will begin to utilize idle employee desktops for high-powered computing. Uses such as simulation, solving optimization problems, forecasting, and report generation that were previously only available with significant hardware investments will now be distributed across lower-cost machines. The substantial cost savings and powerful capabilities will influence companies to make the upfront investment to make their critical-machine analysis and back-office jobs distributable.”

Utility Computing Market Will Grow: “There is a significant demand for utility computing, but the lack of streamlined entry-level-priced supercomputers has left the market wide open,” says Petty. “Those companies marketing with utility computing in mind in 2004, providing on-demand power to companies for all kinds of problems, should be able to increase revenues.”

Changes in Offshore Development: “One of the big things that will affect developers in 2004 is a gravitation towards the offshore-development hybrid model, which uses trusted U.S. development firms as intermediaries in the offshore development process,” says Northrop. “Offshore development is here to stay, but companies are looking for ways to mitigate the risk. With the hybrid model, the per-hour cost is greater than regular offshore development, but because local people with experience in the offshore market are heading up the development, the risk is much lower. The hybrid model combines the best of local consulting and project management with the lower costs of offshore development. I also see the establishment of practices and policies among the local intermediaries, allowing smaller corporations to use offshore services through the hybrid model while avoiding the up-front setup costs.”

Moher sees this hybrid model also leading to the involvement of labor unions in the technology field. “As we’ve seen the traditional white collar jobs in finance, human resources and marketing move offshore, unions have been looking to mobilize. With offshore coding becoming more and more popular, the time is ripe for labor to make efforts to stop the flow of jobs overseas,” he says. “The hybrid model will just add pressure to an already heated situation.”

Languages/Programming: “In 2004, developers will have to be experts in all three platform kingdoms to win business,” says Petty. “This means J2EE, Unix, and Windows will dominate. Those who don’t know all three will be out of a job. XML will also be the language of choice for 2004 and the foreseeable future as companies demand open platform development.”

Additionally, Moher says he expects some changes to the architectural model currently being used in J2EE application development. “The platform technology approach advocated by BEA is currently undergoing a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) re-branding. SOA will become the primary architectural model for all J2EE application server providers in 2004, and common SOA framework components will become standardized,” he predicts. “As these SOA service stacks become more standardized and better integrated, we will begin to see a more robust third-party component marketplace.”

Petty says the best insurance a consulting and/or development company can have in 2004 is a bullpen full of programmers who are the “jacks of all trades and masters of some.” “This type of consultant never goes out of style,” he says. “Businesses are sick of finding out that a lot of consulting companies are not up to speed on the basics. This means consulting companies that weed out consultants who don’t know the basics can market this and set themselves up for a better position in the marketplace.”

Moher adds, “We’ve been hearing the talk of open source coding for years, but so many of our older, core software programs have been locked up. This will change in 2004, as major software vendors begin to open-source certain underperforming or end-of-line commercial software products. These open-source contributions will reignite interest in these older or non-best-of-breed applications and present significant challenges to commercial software vendors.”

Continued Focus on Security: “While systems security and policies will continue to be refined in the near future, weak links in the security infrastructure, such as non-security-savvy end users, will continue to be exploited with ever more sophisticated threats in 2004,” says Northrop. “Both corporate and personal investment in system security will continue to be less than adequate, causing security woes to worsen. As attacks become more sophisticated, the costs and disruption will continue to be more severe. Unfortunately, it may take a major attack for companies to get serious about security investment.”

Mainframes – Not Dead Yet: “Despite the rise in popularity for developing new systems on the open system, mainframes and legacy systems will not be going away in 2004,” says Northrop. “However, as the stateside mainframe developer community continues to age and retire, the cost of onshore mainframe developer talent will increase. Instead, interoperability and technologies that support interoperability will become more utilized as companies strive to integrate existing legacy systems with new software developed on the open systems with current mainstream technologies.”

Widening of WiFi: “The increase in WiFi-enabled devices and WiFi hotspots as well as growth in Broadband subscribers will reignite interest in Internet advertising,” says Northrop. “This could be great news for Web site owners. We’ll see the return of rich-media and interactive ads as broadband grows. We’ll also see large growth in technologies developed to facilitate targeted one-to-one marketing. As more people have WiFi, they’ll be easier to reach with advertising.”

All three agree that 2004 could be a very positive year for technology development and could continue the gains made in 2003. However, if the economy takes a stumble or a global development, like those in 2001, 2004 could be another roller coaster year for technology professionals.