Assessing the Business Benefits of New Technology

By Guy Currier  |  Posted 10-27-2011

Tablets Rule: 2011 Emerging Technology Adoption Trends Study

A little over a year after the introduction of the Apple iPad, nine out of every 10 organizations in North America with 50 or more employees are in some stage of adopting tablets for employee use. And three in 10 organizations are specifically in the testing or piloting stage--more than for any other new technology we asked about in the CIO Insight 2011 Emerging Technology Adoption Trends Study. (To download a PDF of the full report, with accompanying charts, click here.)

We know that, in a certain sense, tablets aren't exactly "emerging." Tablet PCs have been around for years, even if we only mark the introduction of the Microsoft Tablet PC platform as a starting point. But since the current definition of "tablet" refers to the form factor, operating system approach and connectivity model of the iPad--and since, in our survey, we were able to make this distinction clear--we're confident in being able to say that tablets represent one of the fastest-growing new technologies we've ever measured.

The CIO Insight 2011 Emerging Technology Adoption Trends Study was fielded from Sept. 6 to Oct. 7, 2011. A random selection from corporate parent Ziff Davis Enterprise's lists of readers and site visitors were invited by e-mail to participate in the online study. The survey was completed by 382 respondents involved in new technology acquisition in organizations with 50 or more employees; each respondent was asked which of 41 emerging technologies their
organization is currently using, testing, or investigating, and what benefits they were expecting from this activity. The survey also asked about current use and experienced benefits of a smaller list of recently emergent but better-established technologies.

Unified communications (UC) is also surging this year--at last. In our 2010 study, roughly one out of four organizations with 50 or more employees showed no interest in UC. This year, that's dropped to only about one in six. Even more notable, the percent of respondents who are actively testing or piloting UC rose from 18 percent to 27 percent. What's interesting about this is that it clearly shows an acceleration in adoption of UC, both in the number of organizations
using it and in the scale of their UC deployments.

The same can be said of IPv6 and location-based applications: current testing levels are historically high for both of these--though for completely different reasons, of course. IPv6 is a required evolution in the structure and functioning of the Internet that has essentially been put off as long as it can be at this point. So organizations are, by necessity, looking to begin deployments. The interest in location-based applications, on the other hand, is really the result of a maturing in our capacity to understand how much more can be done (beyond just providing maps or coupons) with the knowledge of where a worker or
customer is. The disparate reasons for their emergence notwithstanding, IPv6 and location-based applications are two technologies that are likely to show accelerated adoption in the months and years to come.

Not so for private clouds, however, even though it ranks No. 3 on our most-emergent list this year. It achieves this position because its adoption rate is strong, with roughly as many respondents testing (25 percent) as currently using (24 percent) private clouds. But private clouds are probably past the accelerated growth stage at this point, as firms now understand the opportunity and benefits involved and are just extending their already aggressive approaches. With private clouds, what we see is strong--but not accelerated--growth.

Predictive analytics--an extension of the wave of business intelligence adoption that's been sweeping through the enterprise since mid-2010--is also a strong-but-steady emerging area. Improved and increased data sources and "mass-market" use of BI reporting, such as from Web analytics or marketing-automation applications, are creating a host of new opportunities for businesses. But, in point
of fact, what we are seeing here is more a continuation of a high activity level rather than an increase in that activity.

Wireless services branded as "4G," however, might represent a different situation. So far as high-speed wide-area data communication goes, 4G is almost by definition the only game in town, as alternatives such as WiMAX (also touted as a 4G-caliber option) and regional or "muni" Wi-Fi have not caught on. Given the increasing focus of the enterprise on mobile distribution of applications and data, clearly it's been necessary to address wireless bandwidth. And in this, 4G excels. That said, however, the availability, usability, and (especially) power issues associated with 4G might be giving organizations pause--not enough to take 4G off our list of most-emergent technologies for the second year in a row, but enough to keep growth from
accelerating, particularly as some reassess the return on their 4G investment.

Assessing the Business Benefits of New Technology

In addition to exploring the market-based factors in the adoption of emerging technology, one of the key features of our Emerging Technology study year after year is the attention we pay to the business benefits that are driving interest in and deployments of the latest and greatest in IT. Whatever the economic conditions, your organization is probably pursuing all three goals of profitability, versatility and growth--at least for different initiatives--and our survey can show you pretty clearly which new technologies are likely to be best for achieving each of these goals.

This is especially true of the more-established technologies we asked survey respondents about (those that are relatively new, but not new enough to call "emerging"). For example, you might not associate an application infrastructure technology such as service-oriented architecture (SOA) with business growth. But it seems that in the era of distributed computing, big data and mobile applications, the interoperability that SOA provides means opportunities for the initiatives running on them. More respondents cited this as promoting business growth than any other of the more-established technologies we asked about.

Using the study, we also get a real understanding of what's driving certain technologies in today's business climate. Cost savings are a particular benefit organizations have experienced from storage virtualization, cloud-based storage, and desktop Linux; but for storage virtualization and Linux at least, the benefit is definitely not business growth.

Neither is it business versatility, a benefit closely related to cost-savings. Business versatility has risen in importance recently as companies understand that the ability to react quickly to market conditions and opportunities is one of the chief protections they have against business risk. Here is where smartphones, in particular, show promise. And to understand the adoption of esoteric technological areas such as enterprise search or grid computing, look to the need for business versatility.

After all, the reasons for technological progress are
benefits-based. We didn't jump on tablets because the iPad happened to have a particular feature set, any more than we jumped on virtualization because VMware's ESX Server 3.0 had achieved a particular performance level. Both tablets and virtualization had been around for years. What made these emergent was the swiftness of the market's reaction, once it began in earnest, to the alignment of these technologies with broadly held business needs.

So it's not surprising to see that tablets are recognized as helping with all three major business goals today. This is what is making them such a hotly developing area of IT. This "cure-all" image is driving UC and private clouds as well. But, inversely, you might find real benefits even from technologies that are considered niche (at least for now). Some examples include video VoIP if you seek more flexibility in your operations or service offerings, or user self-service if you want to manage IT costs. Our detailed and comprehensive approach to emerging technology aims to help you understand and justify the most visible trends, as well as to help you identify the hidden gems.

About the Author

Guy Currier is Senior Editor/Research for CIO Insight. He can be reached at Guy.Currier@cioinsight.com.

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