Posted: November 01, 2008
Tech Guide 2009
Spending less for more is the edict in lean economic times, and ‘cloud computing' offers that optionEric Peterson
Recessionary-spending squeezes have never been salad days for technology vendors. But many options available to today’s corporate information technology buyer represent less investment, not more.
"We’re right back where we were seven years ago," says Brad Weydert, president of Englewood-based Statera, a technology services provider and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. "Clients are starting to get tight again. For any of the hardware providers, it’s going to be very tough."
The big IT trend for 2009?
"Anything you can do to take costs down," Weydert says.
Take software as a service (SaaS). The decentralization of enterprise software brings a whole new economy of scale to IT, according to David Cohen, the Boulder-based serial entrepreneur, investor and editor of ColoradoStartups.com. His broad advice for IT buyers in 2009 is "to consider software-as-a-service-based solutions whenever possible."
"They require less up-front investment and ease the burden of local deployment and management," Cohen says. "More SaaS solutions are emerging that can take advantage of cloud-based storage and computer infrastructure that simply aren’t economical for individual businesses to try to use. So as companies move to more service-oriented solutions, those solutions will economically scale well and will be more reliable and more available than might otherwise be possible."
When Cohen says "cloud-based," he’s referring to what the tech community broadly refers to as "cloud computing." When an enterprise is operating "in the cloud," as those in the know say, all of your software is Internet-based and outsourced to vendors at a much lower cost than it would be to install the necessary infrastructure. In essence, data is no longer housed on computer desktops but on remote servers, and users can more easily access that data from anywhere in the world.
Beyond the paradigm shifts toward SaaS and cloud computing, Cohen sees plenty of new technologies that businesses of any size could leverage for next to no investment.
"I’m interested in what most people are calling ‘Enterprise 2.0,’" he says. "In general, these are technologies that have grown up on the consumer Web, but are now making their way into corporate settings. This includes wikis, blogs, social intelligence, wisdom of the crowds, microblogging, and the like. Many — but not all — of these have very real potential as productivity enhancers in a corporate setting."
Popularized by such consumer favorites as Twitter and Facebook, microblogging is like blogging, only smaller, as its name implies. Microbloggers enter short sentences on their current whereabouts and activities for colleagues and friends to see using cell phones or the Web.
"I can imagine a ‘twitter for the enterprise’ being very valuable," Cohen says. "Sending frequent short messages in the context of your daily work in order to alert your co-workers to what you’re doing could potentially enable much better internal communication.
"I suspect that microblogging will simply be a feature of corporate communications systems, rather than the system," he says. "What’s really interesting is that internal actions taken within existing corporate information systems can also be broadcast. For example, ‘David Jones: I just sold a widget to Adam Smith of Company X in Boston.’ Simple information like this could enable a salesman focused on Boston to discover a new reference customer to use with another potential customer. Microblogging can expose hidden information within the corporate setting."
Statera’s Weydert agrees but also sees social networking at the office as a productivity detractor if the emphasis is on the social. Nonetheless, such Enterprise 2.0 applications are entering the status quo of features on Microsoft’s growing menu of "software plus services," which is expanding from customer relationship management into e-mail and other applications in 2009 and beyond.
"Next year, we’ll see a wave of this stuff," Weydert says. "It’ll be interesting to see what Google does."
Beyond SaaS, Weydert sees virtualization of applications, by which PCs access applications that reside on servers without an installation, as a fast-growing trend. He says Microsoft estimates 10 percent to 20 percent of the enterprise market has already gone to virtual, a trend he expects to pick up steam in 2009.
Another trend: Inflation is making for more expensive outsourcing as India’s economy continues to mature. However, anemic graduation rates for computer-related degrees in the U.S. mean the industry is essentially addicted to the increasingly foreign labor market without a domestic alternative, Weydert says.
"There is going to be a huge talent shortage. A lot of the growth is offshore," he says. As far as the labor market goes, "it’s going to be a tough road ahead."
He adds, "Despite all that, we’re still growing. It’s not about redoing something old, it’s about streamlining business processes."
Gadgets and software gallery
Google launched its latest shot across Microsoft’s bow at the end of the summer in the form of a shiny new Web browser called Chrome. Its features include in-window shortcuts, one box for typing both Web addresses and search terms, a simple design and dynamic tabs. Early user reviews have been mixed, but many observers see Chrome not as just a browser but the first iteration of a Web-centric operating system that could enable Google to eventually challenge the dominance of Windows.
A slim new gadget that debuted this fall, Peek allows users to check their e-mail on the go and on the cheap: The device is $100, and the $20 monthly fee includes unlimited usage. Peek handles up to three e-mail addresses and features a more user-friendly keypad than the reigning smart phones.
Compatible with GSM cell phones that have SIM cards — i.e. most any mobile on the market — MAXRoam saves callers 60 percent to 80 percent on their roaming charges when traveling outside their country. The company independently negotiated deals with providers in more than 180 countries, making it a huge money-saver for the most committed globetrotters. Consisting of an SIM card and a website, installation and implementation are simple tasks. www.maxroam.com
Research In Motion’s answer to the iPhone 3G, the new BlackBerry Bold takes all the features that make it such an addictive pleasure to "CrackBerry" users and adds some of the stylistic leaps made by Apple’s skunk works in recent years. Not only does the Bold compare to the iPhone in terms of its Web-browsing capability, but it also improves on the line’s already strong hardware with a better display, better keyboard and better battery than previous BlackBerries. www.blackberry.com/blackberrybold
Some analysts have dubbed Workday "the next Salesforce.com," and they might not be far off the mark. The on-demand software company has already landed numerous customers of all sizes with its human capital management and finance applications that offer managers tools to deal with everything from human resources to procurement to compensation.
GreenPrint is a simple and logical means for an enterprise to reduce paper and ink waste, shrink its carbon footprint and save money in one fell swoop. The software highlights and removes unnecessary pages and images and reports on the resulting savings. The Oregon-based startup estimates a Fortune 500 company would save $2 million and 400 trees in a year if it implemented the patent-pending software companywide. The company also offers the EverGreen font, designed to increase the number of words per page without compromising readability.
Golden’s Universal Mind is a leader in the rich Internet application space and its latest and greatest is SpatialKey. The bleeding-edge "information, visualization, analysis and reporting system" lets users see their data on top of a map. The police department in Ogden, Utah, is among the customers, using it to plot police records over a bird’s-eye view of the city. Other uses include basically anything that involves time and place, from marketing to real-estate conditions to environmental monitoring. www.spatialkey.com
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com