Last year technology made the headlines for a number of reasons, and not all good – the loss of data by HMRC probably being most notable. Undoubtedly, 2007 was the year of Web 2.0 - Facebook, Myspace, Flickr – and the distribution of digital content (BBC iPlayer, Joost). Frank Jennings and John Yates highlight some of the issues likely to shape the forthcoming technology year.
It is fitting that, in this, the tenth anniversary year of the Data Protection Act, data protection remains high profile. Recent data leaks have put data security back in the spotlight and the Justice Committee report in January 2008 suggests that Parliament should give the Information Commissioner's Office real teeth, including:
- a requirement to notify when there was a loss of data;
- a new criminal offence for repeated/reckless breaches of the DPA; and
- increased enforcement powers for the Information Commissioner.
Expect concrete proposals for legislative reform to follow later in the year.
Software as a Service
SaaS is best described as software you access through a browser rather than being installed on a hard drive. A successful example is Google Docs which allows users to edit, save and share documents online without the need for word-processing software. The great advantage to a software developer of SaaS is that no software CDs means no piracy. Being a hosted solution, the developer/distributor can readily monitor software usage and readily spot unlicensed usage. For users, the primary advantage is portability - work can continue wherever there is internet access. IT consultancy, Gartner, is forecasting that 25% of all business software revenues will go to SaaS offerings within 5 years. Interestingly, Microsoft was initially dismissive of the SaaS concept but having witnessed the likes of Oracle, Workday and Cisco investing heavily in the sector, it is now preparing to dip its toe in the SaaS waters.
Business efficiencies and Virtualisation
In an ever-changing market place, and with predictions of an economic slow-down, efficiency and cost savings will become more important across all aspects of a business. Consequently, CEOs are likely to continue to evaluate which functions can be efficiently outsourced. Business intelligence software will enable organisations to perform better data analysis resulting in more effective decisions. Businesses are also likely to look more to flexible working. Also, virtualisation will continue increasing in importance allowing server space to be used more economically, reducing excess hardware, and lowering power usage.
Also expect to hear more about desktop virtualisation and virtual appliances - an operating system, middleware and software all pre-packaged to run as a single virtual machine. Such virtual machines avoid the installation and configuration problems that beset businesses adopting new software. A drawback of virtualisation is that more systems on the same hardware might give rise to security implications and thus increase opportunities for cyber crime. Cyber crime Cyber crime continues its move from under the blanket to the underworld as criminal gangs co-opt bedroom geeks to help them reap rewards. The cyber criminals’ preferred method of entry is malware and malware toolkits are now available from as little as £20. Businesses are also the targets of other types of attack. At the end of 2007, the MI5 issued a series of warnings to UK bosses warning of computer espionage attacks from China. Many business leaders are calling on the Government to re-introduce a standalone cyber-crime unit to deal with the rising threat.
Web 2.0 - the sharing of information, ideas and experience by users rather than simply tuning in to the content provided by the website owners - and blogging - the informal method of commenting on issues relevant to the readership as a means of staying in touch - have both seen a revolution on the Internet and this does not look set to slow down in 2008. Over the last few years chief Web 2.0 protagonists have been bought for big money including MySpace, YouTube and Facebook. Wikipedia, SecondLife and peer-topeer sites continue to be popular and this trend is set to continue. Subject to jitters on the public markets, 2008 could see more record valuations and Web 2.0/blogging functionality look set to be even bigger.
Many commentators believe Web 3.0 will be some form of “Semantic Web” - a world in which computers will be able to “read” and assimilate web pages in a similar manner to humans, thus turning the web in to one gigantic database. Such a vision of Web 3.0 would open a number of possibilities and increase efficiencies. For example, two product developers of a multinational company, one UK-based and one US-based need to attend a meeting in Paris with a design consultant. Under Web 3.0, a computer would check all three participants’ availabilities, make all the travel arrangements using pre-stored credit card information, issue the e-tickets, and generate the itineraries without a stroke of human intervention. Translate this to industrial processes, and the 21st century would have truly arrived.
With the markets in turmoil, and forecasts for an economic slow down, IT directors might come under greater pressure to re-evaluate open source options during the course of 2008. With the increasing consolidation in the commercial software world leading to greater standardisation of proprietary software, open source offers larger corporate users a greater possibility of bespoke development of software solutions for their business without becoming over reliant upon a major software house. However, the usual concerns with open source still remain in relation to software reliability, whether the code infringes third party rights and potential issues of security.
Clean / green tech
Climate change continues to dominate the headlines. With scientists predicting catastrophic environmental conditions across the globe caused by mankind, it is not surprising that some are looking to new green and clean forms of technology as part of the solution to avert disaster. Clean tech encompasses a variety of means to harness renewable energy and materials, thus reducing reliance upon scarce natural resources and reducing harmful emissions and waste products. Clean tech could be the next boom industry as businesses adopt more environmentally friendly technology as a result of management keen to prove their credentials to their customers or as a result of changes in the law.
2008 promises to be another great year for the technology sector, presenting opportunities for new and old companies alike. Nevertheless, with predictions of an economic slowdown during the course of the year, 2008 also looks set to cause difficulties for the unprepared. We look forward to looking back in a year to see how our predictions have fared!