Business Solutions of the Future

The future is tomorrow’s present. Many have tried to predict it using silly or scientific methods, from chiromancy (palm reading), aleuromancy (fortune cookies), and other -mancies, to the three Ps (possible, probable, and preferable futures) and a W (or wildcard—low-probability events with a high impact on the future) used in futurology.

Without trying to create a “CRMorology” or “ERPmancy”, I aim to write a series of articles about the future of business software. Since this concerns everyone—and because I’m not Nostradamus or Hari Seldon (Asimov’s famous psychohistorian)—I would like to involve you, our readers, as well as business professionals and decision makers from the enterprise software industry. From students with little knowledge (but extraordinary imagination), to analysts who know everything about the market and vendors who know for sure what will NOT happen in the near future, I need you to let me know how you see the future of business applications.

How Is It Going to Be?

A future in which business applications will not be needed is too far-off to foresee, so that will not be discussed here. So, if we can’t live without these applications, how will they evolve? Will there be one huge, global business software provider, employing armies of programmers and customer support people? Or maybe myriads of open source products that will work together and be as easy to assemble as the pieces of a puzzle?

I guess we could let our imagination wander indefinitely, but let’s get a bit organized here: what we’ll aim for is seeing what could possibly happen in the next ten, fifty, and one hundred years.

Ten Years in the Future

A decade is not such a long time, so it should be easier to foresee the major trends in the business software industry that may happen during this time span. Still, even in the short term, this is quite a challenge. Look at meteorology: the weather changes so fast and unexpectedly that we can only know for sure what it is after it has happened.

Speaking of meteorology, I see some clouds gathering above the world of enterprise resource planning (ERP). Is there going to be a storm? No, they say cloud computing is the alternative to the traditional storage of information—instead of storing the data on a server in your company, you can put it on data centers anywhere in the world. Some don’t believe it will work, but it was not so long ago that people used to keep their money under the mattress because they did not trust banks.

We don’t trust banks today either, but we do use e-banking and credit cards. The same thing will happen with the clouds: their utility and efficiency will eventually be stronger than the fear of losing data. They already exist and the biggest in the world has 150 locations and will store 150 million gigabytes (GBs) every year, or 100 GBs every four minutes.

We will probably have sufficient space for the data, but what about its security? According to a study from Oracle, twenty percent of IT managers think that data security breaches will happen at their organizations in the next year. And the main threats are not from viruses and hackers, but mostly from inside the company. Do we need an occurrence of massive, worldwide data loss to learn from our mistakes (as we supposedly do now), during the economic downturn?

Let’s say we store and secure the data—how do we access it? It doesn’t look like a problem now, but it will surely become one—maybe sooner than we think. According to an IDC report, we created 281 billion GBs of data in 2007, and by 2011, that number will increase to 1,800 billion GBs.

While we do have more sophisticated tools to extract and manipulate data, one of the challenges of the future will be to have structured data. This involves the existence of workflows for data creation and administration, data cleansing, and data deduplication (removal of duplicate records).

Business data is created by users through an interface to a database. Despite the fact that all enterprise software vendors pretend to offer “intuitive” and “user-friendly” solutions, the complexity of these tools keeps on growing. Since the trend seems to be grouping several solutions in the same suite—most of the time, from different providers acquired by the same vendor—integration seems more important than innovation.

Some vendors offer a platform as a service (PaaS) (also known as cloudware), which is aimed at helping customers easily design, develop, and test their own applications. Large companies can benefit from PaaS, as it will allow them to create applications tailored to their complex needs, thus reducing costs. On the other hand, once you choose to use a PaaS platform, transition to another platform becomes very difficult, and potentially impossible. Will the emerging open platform as a service (OPaaS) address this problem by letting programmers use whatever tools and languages they need?

The way we work will also change. According to a study conducted by Accenture, by 2013, seventy percent of mobile phones in developed nations will support Internet browsers. The same report reveals that the millennial generation (people born in the last decade of the twentieth century) will change the face of the workforce.

Fifty Years and More

If you think about it, 50 years ago there were no ERP, customer relationship management (CRM), or business intelligence (BI) solutions. An ordinary computer would take up an entire room and very few people would have thought that you could store hundreds of books on a piece of metal called a hard drive.

Even more things can happen in a hundred years: we went from chariots to planes and from the telegraph to the BlackBerry in a century. But trends in the evolution of technology and science can change. Also, it will probably take us a while to accommodate all the amazing discoveries of the last couple of centuries, and this could slow down the development of future technologies.

As you have probably noticed, there are more questions than answers in this blog. That was exactly my intention. We will probably not find the answers until the future becomes the present, but we should try to understand what to expect. The expression “Who would have thought?” should be removed from the business software vocabulary. Nothing happens without a reason and we should stop using excuses like: “we didn’t see it coming.”

In my next blog, I will look at what could happen in the next fifty years, but at the same time, I will look to our readers (both individuals and companies) to get involved in this project. I welcome your feedback.

Please contact me to get involved, whether you wish to provide insight on the subject through white papers, articles, and case studies; or whether you would simply like to learn more. 

... and of course, feel free to leave comments below!
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