1 | 2015

"The annual IT trends issue deals with a very complex and hard- to-predict environment that is extremely important to our daily experience and endeavors."

— Joseph Feller, Editor

I was recently invited to give a technology forecast at a partner company's annual user conference. I agreed but made it very clear at the start of my presentation that I was going to provide the forecast in the style of Met Éireann.

Met Éireann, if you don't know, is the Irish weather service. Ireland, if you don't know, is a small rock sitting at the intersection of a giant land mass (Europe), a giant water mass (the Atlantic), a giant cold pump (the Arctic), and a giant heat pump (the Gulf Stream). Thus, Irish weather, at least from the point of view of those of us living on the rock, is completely random. This means that when Met Éireann gives its evening forecast, it's largely in the past tense and tends to focus on the high-level issue of "What combination of these four huge geographic systems is likely to be dominant over the next few days?" rather than the specifics of how those influences will manifest.

In many ways, the annual IT trends issue of Cutter Benchmark Review (CBR) follows the Met Éireann style a bit. I say that as a good thing. Like Met, the annual IT trends issue deals with a very complex and hard-to-predict environment that is extremely important to our daily experience and endeavors. And like Met, the IT trends issue tries to make sense of the future by: (1) looking at the immediate past (the data for each issue, fresh from the field, is the equivalent of reporting the weather earlier "today") and (2) identifying the large forces likely to dominate the scene (rather than how they will play out in a particular organization or industry).

In other words, we can give you the weather. However, the answer to whither -- to where this weather may take you (and whether your organization may wish to go) -- is only for you to decide.

This is the 10th annual IT trends issue. In that statement lies our secret weapon -- because the truth is we don't just have today's weather to go by; instead, we have a decade-long almanac. Our second secret weapon is our author team. In each CBR issue, we seek to understand the data through the eyes of two diverse thinkers -- one a scientific researcher and the other an industry practitioner.

Our academic author is Cutter Senior Consultant Dennis A. Adams, a recently retired professor of information systems. It is becoming a bit of a challenge to introduce Dennis with each new IT trends issue because he has been the academic author for all 10 years of the series. And even if you are not a regular CBR reader, you may know Dennis from his scientific work investigating various fundamental issues such as the relationship between IT and business leadership as well as strategy, value, and governance.

If I find it difficult to introduce Dennis, imagine how hard it is for him to approach our 10th set of data with a fresh perspective. And yet somehow he does just that. This year, Dennis frames his analysis with the high-level questions of who we are hiring -- and why. By examining surveyed organizations' current and future plans in hiring, outsourcing, and so forth, Dennis can spotlight some of the major forces that shape the current IT weather system: forces such as mobile computing, the Web, and the cloud. These in turn create activity and investment in security, networking, and analytics.

Dennis next looks at areas of IT use. Again, we see mobility, the Web (particularly the social Web), and the cloud all looming large. He explores these application domains through a simple but effective matrix (we academics love 2x2 matrices!) to help "wise managers" think about IT's effort and spend in terms of the customer and, based on that analysis, offer changes to the business. As always, Dennis gives us keen insight and a more abstract big-picture perspective.

Our second article, from the practitioner's perspective, comes from Jim Love, CEO of Chelsea Consulting and a Senior Consultant with Cutter's Business Technology Strategies practice. He brings along over three decades of professional experience. This is Jim's third IT trends issue, and you probably also know his work through his many Cutter Executive Updates, Executive Reports, Advisors, and Cutter IT Journal articles. If you don't, then fire up the Cutter search engine and have a look. His work in a diverse range of areas -- from collaboration to consumerization to architecture -- is well worth reading. Here in this issue, Jim gives us yet another straight-talking, practice-focused contribution.

Like Dennis, Jim opens his contribution by looking at the hiring data. In his analysis, he spends some time thinking about the implications of the overall trends as well as the changes, or rather the general lack of change, over the last three years of data. In doing so, Jim provides some useful observations on the near future of enterprise architecture, user experience, and outsourcing. He then expresses his concerns around what he sees as a problem and paradox in IT security (with particular emphasis on the Internet of Things); namely, more awareness but little accompanying action. From there, Jim explores a range of issues -- value and ROI, regulation, talent shortages, and so forth -- constantly weaving each piece back into the overall fabric of his argument. He ends on a serious note, highlighting some of the key challenges and pressing needs that IT managers must focus on -- and respond to -- in the coming year.

There is a traditional children's rhyme that goes well with this CBR IT trends issue: "We'll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not." Very true, indeed. However, that doesn't mean we can't be prepared. I hope that this issue's survey data, and the informed analysis provided by both authors, help you identify -- and prepare for -- the major IT forces influencing your region of the business world over the next year.