I was asked recently to share my thoughts on some of the most interesting developments in information technology (IT) that are impacting businesses now and over the next few years.  Here is my top 10 list.


1.       Social Computing in the Enterprise

Most employees already use some form of social computing in their personal lives, and increasingly expect the same type of functionality at work. They want to interact and collaborate with others in real time, share and find information easily, "follow" individuals and processes in the company, receive instant feedback, etc.  So software vendors and companies are rapidly incorporating this type of functionality into their intranets and portals.


2.       Cloud Computing

While there is still plenty of uncertainty and debate around cloud computing, the economics of no longer having to build out your own data center are simply too powerful to ignore. Cloud computing is an unstoppable trend led initially by Software as a Service (SaaS), which most companies already leverage in one form or another. But it won’t be long before companies choose to lease rather than own all of their server computing power.


3.       Virtualization

Cloud computing is made possible to a large degree because of server virtualization technology.  This technology is very mature and most companies who still own servers have already implemented it. The next wave of virtualization is "desktop virtualization." This technology allows users to login to any local machine and access all of their programs, applications, processes, and data stored on a central server. Installing and updating operating systems and applications on local workstations will soon become obsolete. 


4.       Unified Communications

"Voice over IP" (VoIP) is driving a telecommunication revolution. You no longer need a traditional phone or private branch exchange (PBX) – you can now use your computer as a phone and tie it all together with a server. Aside from the obvious cost-saving implications of this new approach, you can now easily and seamlessly integrate all forms of business communications into a single user experience. This is called unified communications (UC) and usually includes phone, video, e-mail, voicemail, fax, instant messaging, presence, conferencing and desktop sharing.


5.       Mobile Revolution

With the majority of cell phones now shipping worldwide with Internet browsing capability and the incredible rise in popularity of tablets, we are witnessing a true convergence between mobility and the Web. This is triggering a mobile "gold rush." Companies of all sizes are asking themselves three fundamental questions around mobility. First, how do we engage our customers through mobile devices? Second, how do we extend existing enterprise applications to our entire workforce through mobility? And third, how do we secure, manage and monitor all of the personal mobile devices now logging into corporate networks and accessing sensitive information?


6.       Ubiquitous Connectivity

We live in a world where you are "connected" all the time and from almost anywhere. You can now access the Internet from your car, on a plane, or even on a cruise ship.  And with the rapid spread of 4G phones (capable of 100 megabits per second downloads) and WiMAX (expected to offer 1 gigabit speed), the lines between accessing the Internet from a wired workstation and a wireless mobile device are blurring. This is enabling an entirely new generation of mobile applications never before possible.


7.       Rich User Experience

Driven by an explosion of high quality consumer applications and websites, users have become more sophisticated and demanding with respect to their overall user experience. They now expect the same level of rich user interface and ease-of-use at work that they’ve come to experience at home. New input devices (touch screens, voice recognition, and motion control) as well as new form factors such as the iPad, Microsoft Surface and Kinect are also driving innovation and raising the bar around user experience.


8.       Business Intelligence and Search

We are creating and storing more digital information at a faster rate than ever before. The challenge is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find what we need and make sense of it all. This need is driving a surge in the development and implementation of business intelligence and search applications.


9.       Smaller IT Projects

Historically, enterprise IT projects were costly, took years to finish, and delivered value only when the project was completed. They often yielded systems that were inflexible and cemented companies into functioning the way their businesses worked several years earlier, when the project started. Today, companies are looking for a much faster return on investment, which is dramatically changing the way we implement IT projects. They have become more iterative, functionally incremental, centered around the end-user, and smaller.


10.   Strategic IT

IT has traditionally been viewed in a supporting role to the business like HR or Accounting, which is also why most CIOs still report to the company’s CFO.  Today, however, companies are realizing that it is no longer enough to simply automate their old manual processes. To remain competitive, they must look at their business and the world in an entirely new way. They can no longer afford for their IT strategy to be merely aligned with their business strategy – they must be forged together.