Emerging Technology Adoption Trends for 2011

Our annual Emerging Technologies study, which looks at roughly 40 new technologies and strategies (this year it’s 42), provides insight into the hardware, software and infrastructure solutions being evaluated and deployed by your peers. To download a PDF of the report, including charts and graphics, click here. You may also view highlights of the hottest emerging technologies for 2011 here.

This kind of objective, random surveying allows us to gauge activity levels for each kind of “hot” technology you may wish to consider. It also gives us a glimpse into the future, by comparing the level of active testing to overall usage. A high level of active testing relative to overall usage–as we see this year for platform as a service (PaaS)–indicates a high likelihood of growth in the coming year or two (see Figure 1). This is what we also expect for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), for both private and public cloud computing, and for IPv6, among others.

We split our list into five groupings, including computing technologies and strategies; networking and mobile; software (including application development); Web and collaboration; and security. Each has shown remarkable dynamism over the past year, as priorities and the business outlook have shifted, at times radically. For this report, we looked at both hot new technologies as well as more established, but still relatively new, solutions. We also asked survey respondents to evaluate technologies based on three key business drivers:

  • improving business agility;
  • creating cost savings or productivity enhancements;
  • opening up new markets or opportunities for the enterprise.

What’s most interesting about this year’s list of hottest emerging technologies is that, unlike many more- established technologies, neither business agility nor cost reduction are particularly driving growth.

Interest in VDI, sure, is largely driven by expected cost savings, as with most virtualization technologies. But VDI was not among the eight emerging technologies cited by our survey respondents as most likely to improve cost savings.

In other words, though VDI is clearly on a strong growth path, the business benefits are not completely clear. Meanwhile, storage virtualization–still emergent, but not growing as strongly as VDI–was most often cited for this goal, with 26 percent of respondents saying it will have an impact on cost savings.

In fact, there is one commonality among the 10 emerging technologies that are showing the greatest promise: Their specific business benefits are not yet widely recognized. So, what we do next is turn to the performance of other new, but better-known, technologies for guidance.

In addition to looking at newly emerging technologies, we also asked respondents to evaluate several of the more established, though still relatively new, technologies. These are solutions that were once on our “emergent” list but are now more widely used and understood. Looking at IT executives’ actual experiences with these solutions gives us some insight into what you should look for when stepping into new technological territory. In the realm of cost savings, for example, server virtualization very clearly leads the pack, for obvious reasons. This helps us to understand the interest this year in VDI.

Smartphones, wikis and enterprise search, on the other hand, have all tracked particularly well when it comes to delivering business agility, compared to how they are rated against cost savings and the creation of new marketing opportunities. The common thread for these solutions is the collection and dissemination of business information across a disparate workforce.

With this in mind, we expect that crowdsourcing and predictive analytics–two of our hottest emerging technologies–are also likely to prove themselves beneficial to business agility. If agility is important to your organization, take heed.

What about new market opportunities? Now that the Great Recession has given way to a real, albeit anemic, recovery, the ability for technology to open up new market opportunities has once again become a key business driver for many decision-makers. Among the established technologies, social networking, RFID, and cloud storage are high performers in this area. We see all three as enablers in their own ways. Social networking reduces barriers to communication. RFID enhances logistics. Cloud storage enables agility in the use of rich data. Similarly, we also expect the new, emerging areas of cloud security, public cloud computing, PaaS and 4G each to be business enablers.

Peruse our full list of emerging technologies, and you’ll discover some surprises. Storage virtualization, for instance, is becoming relatively common: It may be moved next year into our list of better-established technologies. But, we didn’t expect that application virtualization was being so widely used. Nor did we expect to see nearly a quarter (24 percent) of respondents actually testing it in 2010, versus the 18 percent who were testing it in 2009.

Elsewhere in the computing arena, cloud computing gets our attention, not because it’s common but rather because it’s still surprisingly uncommon, even with all the hype surrounding it. A larger percentage of respondents say they are evaluating or testing cloud computing–of both the private and the public variety–than are actually using it.

In networking (page 28), it’s certainly all about mobility and the underlying strategies supporting it. 3G is starting to reach widespread use. By contrast, 4G remains in its infancy. The real surprise here is network virtualization, also known as single-fabric networking, which is already in use in 41 percent of the organizations we surveyed. In addition, 17 percent of respondents say they’re currently testing or piloting network virtualization, while another 24 percent say they’re evaluating or tracking it. Only 19 percent say that network virtualization is not at all on their radar.

Service-oriented architectures (SOA) of various sorts have held strong enough interest over the past several years that they might finally be reaching the mainstream. More than a third (35 percent) of respondents are using SOA and its standards.

Is Linux on the desktop reaching the same territory? We don’t think so. While it’s more prevalent across organizations of all sizes than we would have expected, its overall activity level is not high. Nearly half of our survey respondents said that their organizations have no interest in Linux on the desktop. Not so XBRL, for which we have high expectations. More than twice as many respondents are looking at XBRL than are currently using it, especially among those in large firms. This is a harbinger of future growth.

When it comes to collaboration, hosted sharing tools such as Google Docs or SharePoint have leaped in activity levels over the past year. This was likely spurred by overall interest in cloud computing. For collaboration tools overall, we see cost savings as a direct driver for improving enterprise communications and collaboration capabilities. Indirectly, a year of staffing and resource cutbacks likely have contributed to solutions for end-user self-help, as well as the use of VoIP, emerging as popular enterprise options.

Finally, expect a resurgence of interest in security technologies in 2011, driven by concerns over the massive growth of mobility and social networking. This has made the newest authentication and infrastructure security management technologies–such as endpoint management, encryption-key management and trusted operating systems–very attractive.

As you look to the cutting edge in your own technology plans, we recommend three key strategies:

  • Focus sharply on the business outcome that an other-wise risky new technology proposition represents. Risk is not risk, properly speaking, if it engenders the opportunity for a flexible, efficient organization that is poised for growth.
  • Understand, using data such as you see in these pages, the relative strengths of the specific benefits you can
    expect from the various technology options available.
  • Manage the fact that the unknown remains the unknown. As our most-emergent list shows, technologies that exhibit the most promise and greatest interest can be poorly understood in their early stages, in terms of their strengths toward specific business goals.

In the final analysis, your sense and judgment must still prevail, even where the data is thin. And that’s why we call these technologies “emergent”: We haven’t fully seen them perform yet.

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