10 Disruptive Technologies You Need to Think About

Submitted by Holly on Wed, 07/01/2009 - 2:35pm

Every Wednesday, Gartner does a free webinar on a variety of topics. This week, they presented "Technology Trends You Can't Afford to Ignore." I tweeted my way through the one hour call, but here are some notes with a little more clarity and reflection.


Disruptive Technology #1: Virtualization.  

There are lots of benefits to virtualization, chief among them, the power savings.  According to Gartner, the average server uses 65% of its power just sitting idle. Virtualization helps reduce the number of servers used, decreasing power consumption. If you're a small nonprofit, you won't see a ton of cost savings, but it will add up for larger organizations. AND, it's the green thing to do. Make Al Gore proud!

The real fun begins with desktop virtualization. When all your desktop users are working in a virtualized environment, supporting your staff becomes a whole different ballgame. Now, patches, upgrades, and other tweaks happen in one place. And no more downloading terrible software and kludging up your machines.  Network administration and help desk tasks are going to be a LOT easier. Gartner noted that client virtualization is still pretty new, though, and there are kinks to work out. 

(Warning: there's a lot of server talk here, which I don't consider disruptive. But there are still some fantastically great points. I encourage you to forge ahead.)

Disruptive Technology #2: Data Deluge

You know how I feel about data. If you ask me, it's THE most important thing we should be thinking about in the sector. Data, when handled properly, becomes intelligence -- and intelligence makes us better at our jobs, which makes the world a better place!

Gartner agrees. They see the same big black cloud headed our way: too much of a good thing! According to Gartner, the amount of data produced around the world will grow by 650% over the next few years, and 80% of it will be unstructured. Making sense of it all is going to be a challenge, to say the least. 

IT managers will have to respond to this in a couple of ways. First, they need to focus on data storage. We're going to need more server space, and databases that can handle more of that data. IT managers will also have to figure out data de-duplication. By that, I don't mean cleaner data in your databases. Rather, we're talking about those places where data redundancies happen: the five people that have emailed the large spreadsheet to each other, or are saving it all on their desktops.

Disruptive Technology #3: Energy & Green IT

The EU is currently coming up with regulations for tech and power consumption.  The US may not be far behind. This isn't likely to trickle down to the little guys, but it could impact larger organizations.

Disruptive Technology #4: Consumerization & Social Software

We've talked ad infinitum about how social media is changing the way nonprofits do their work, but it's also changing the way your staff are embracing technology.  As technology moves from the realm of the geek programmer into the hands of laymen, your staff are going to want to do more and more with it. Your staff will increasingly demand the technology solutions they want from you. The upside is that they will be more eager and capable adopters of the technology you give them.

Outside of the actual tech, you will also need to pay closer attention to policies. As the line between personal and professional use of technology tools like Facebook blurs, your organization needs to know how it will respond and set clear guidelines and policies for staff.

You should also be thinking about what this means for your stakeholders.  As IT manager at your organization, you need to think about how your organization can best use technology to meet your mission. If every one of your clients will have a smart phone in the next 2 years, what can your organization do to take advantage?

Disruptive Technology #5: Unified Communications

I'll confess, this took me a minute to get. But think about how you personally send and receive communications every day. It used to be that all we had to deal with was the phone and fax. Then came email. Then Instant Messenger.  And now there's VOIP, SMS, Twitter, and more. These services don't integrate right now, which makes managing them difficult -- and makes dealing with them a big waste of time for your staff.  

Fortunately, more and more communications vendors get it. We're moving to a place where a phone call can become an email and an IM can become a phone call.  Unifying communications so that users can route communications to their preferred device -- and change that device preference whenever they need to -- is going to save us all a lot of time and headaches. You need to start talking to your vendors now to see what they are doing and explore some of the options.

Disruptive Technology #6: Mobile

It's not a phone anymore, it's a little computer. It may be tiny, but it's getting more powerful! You're probably already busy trying to support email and calendaring on these devices, but you're going to have to start thinking about creating and deploying applications that allow your staff to use their phone as a mobile office.  What data and applications can and should you give them access to via their phones?  

That's a tall order for most nonprofits. Most of us couldn't consider the kind of custom programming required to create mobile apps (especially if the apps are going to work on more than one kind of phone). But there are plenty of apps out there we can repurpose for our needs.  And, if you consider another disruptive trend -- cloud computing -- the possibilities get bigger: many cloud-based applications have mobile versions for a variety of phone types already.  

Disruptive Technology #7: Complex Resource Tracking

As we're forced to decrease energy consumption and increase access to data and critical applications, we will have to manage our networks more efficiently. This means creating more automated systems for managing network resources. Of course, this isn't going to apply to many nonprofits, but again, the big guys should be doing some thinking here. 

Disruptive Technology #8: System Density

As we use servers for an increasing array of things -- storage, memory, I/O - -we're going to need more of them. That's going to increase power and cooling requirements, even as the price of the hardware continues to drop.

Disruptive Technology #9: Mashups and Enterprise Portals

In other words, data sharing. You're going to be in the business of putting data into the hands of your staff so that they can mix it up with partners or web services and make cool new things.  That means you're going to have to be well versed in data sharing in two ways: the geek stuff and the lawyer stuff.

On the geek side, you're going to work on systems that make it easy to push and pull data from your various data silos. (I think I'm giving up the word database this year and calling a spade a spade.) On the lawyer side, you're going to need to develop policies that protect the various KINDS of data your staff are working with.  Is it OK to put client home address information into a public mapping website?  The questions are big.

You will also increasingly be looking at putting the data into the hands of our stakeholders. The same rules apply. Opportunities for greatness multiply at the same rate that the opportunity for foul play does.

Disruptive Technology #10: Cloud Computing. 

Cloud-based software is not going away. Making the switch can certainly save you a lot of time and money, but the change is really hard for organizations switching from desktop software to the cloud. It will cost a lot of time to make the change happen. You also have to really know your vendors, your service level agreements with those vendors, and explore the privacy and security questions.  

That's Gartner's take on the most important IT trends of today. What are you seeing?