TOP TECHNOLOGIES Techno Fantasies – Doshing out the dollars on the competitive edge

The nature of information technology and the speed at which it evolves is prescription for confusion for many executive managers. Which technologies deliver competitive edge? What’s hype and what’s reality? How and when should businesses invest in emerging technologies and technology-enabled business models?
We asked panel of ERP, e-business, automation and IT implementation gurus to identify 10 emerging areas of IT application and development. The criteria were: the areas needed to be established but still emerging; have made business impact during 2005; and be important going forward. To complete the list, we also accessed past Management magazine interviews with hardware and telecommunications vendors throughout 2005. The panel included: Tony Armfield, New Zealand regional manager, Computer Associates; David Vickery, regional director, Rockwell Automation NZ; Greg Forsyth, digital services director, AIM Proximity; Stephan Spencer, managing director, Netconcepts; Brent Sutherland, senior consultant, Simpl; and Ian Black, director for SAP New Zealand.

1 Web: Emerging web technologies are helping businesses deliver new standard of customer service that further enhances customer relationships and hones marketing strategies. Online ‘blogs’ or web diaries are one example, allowing businesses to deliver personal and regularly updated insider’s view of an organisation to customers, journalists and analysts. Also emerging is RSS (really simple syndication), an XML file application considered ideal for broadcasting business information to target web audiences and less intrusive than email. RSS delivers running ‘feed’ of current articles, press releases, breaking news or images to site without the need for browser page refresh.
Pod-casting, which provides an audio recording of an interview or presentation for download to mobile MP3 player for listening to in transit, is favoured by educators, promoters, trainers and marketers who find it increasingly useful for delivering audio recordings of seminars, training programmes and annual reports.
Web monitoring tools include those devoted to multi variate testing – the use of interactive web applications to ascertain the ideal configuration and appearance of web page according to its target audience. Another example, AJAX (a combination of Asynch Java Script and XML), is being used to link XML and JavaScript together to create mini applications that interact with each web page. This means users can customise site content without refreshing the page. Extra-smart web applications that interact closely with site visitors, deliver business messages and glean better market intelligence will continue to emerge in 2006.

2 Mobile workforce and marketing: Field sales and service forces need applications and devices that allow them to complete tasks and interact with head office systems whilst out of the office. Increasingly, field force automation tools from companies like Saleslink and Econz along with video calling and ‘push to talk’ walkie-talkie type applications are delivering that ability along with bottom line benefits like increased productivity and more seamless workflow.
While development work is needed on the way mobile applications look, perform and function on mobile devices smaller than laptop, the release of mobile-specific development technologies like Flash Lite, Macromedia Flash development environment for 3G phone applications, helps. Website developers are also building websites able to recognise access by mobile device so the look and delivery of site pages can be adjusted accordingly. Others are using technologies like Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in site development to deliver the mobile user enough of the web page content but not its full graphic presentation.
Finally, Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) and mapping technologies are enabling mobile workers to monitor, track and locate products, people and services whilst on the move; and promoters and marketers are taking advantage of new 3G cellular mobile networks to launch marketing campaigns that use SMS and MMS (text and multimedia) messaging and video calls.

3 ERP and business process: 2005 has seen the consolidation of ERP brand vendors and this will continue with Microsoft, Oracle and SAP dominating the local market. Small, local providers of ‘best of breed’ applications devoted to one business process area such as customer relationship management (CRM) or accounting software will feel the squeeze, but smaller New Zealand businesses are likely to keep investing in these local packages, particularly in the case of retail management or point of sale (POS) or accounting systems where tailor-made, ‘best of breed’ applications are needed to glean unique retail information from the front end and deliver it to more generic back-end systems.
Business intelligence, human resources and workflow process tools have also become important components of ERP packages as have master data management (MDM) tools which create common customer and product codes so that different B2B systems can transact simply and further code interpretation is not necessary.
Next generation ERP applications will include composite applications. These allow users to create temporary application from data stored in other applications to facilitate particular project. For example, fast food brand might create an application that uses other applications like CRM, financials, e-business and marketing applications to compare the results of three different promotions and make changes to aspects of one or all promotions. Put simply, composite application tools let businesses build mini ERP applications on the spot.

4 Voice over IP and IP telephony: Owned or managed voice over IP applications will mature and come into their own over the next 12-24 months, with smaller businesses beginning to improve the status of their data networks to support voice and managed IP applications like voice and videoconferencing over broadband tele-communications connection becoming more affordable.
Limited but useful public internet voice applications and services like Skype and Packet 8 will be used where appropriate but cannot compete with the abilities of dedicated digital IP telephony systems and applications.
Today’s IP telephony applications can converge voice, video and data services on the desktop or to larger mobile devices. Calls can be intelligently routed through an organisation with relevant data being attached to the call along the way. In this way, IP telephony can unite an entire company onto single address book including multiple branches and international connections. Managed IP applications and services will become more popular as broadband telecommunications costs decrease and performance increases through the upgrading of networks.

5 General office and operating: The use of open source office applications is increasing. In response, software providers including Microsoft have started developing more competitive business models that let users access parts of office and operating applications online, and purchase key components of larger applications as needed. Examples include the launch of Microsoft Windows Live and Microsoft Office Live. (Also see this month’s Tech Nous column on page 23.) Next year will see the release of new version of Microsoft operating system and office suite software as well as better open source office applications. Application upgrades will be resisted by businesses but quickly driven through by user demand and new, more affordable purchasing models.

7 Security and backup: Security and backup technologies are maturing fast and need to in order to meet the growing volume of e-business borne traffic. In addition to outsourcing security and backup services to telecommunications providers, ISPs and storage and backup specialists, technologies like overall provisioning software wi

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