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An ambitious yet clear-eyed look at the technologies, trends, and traps that will drive corporate IT strategies in 2004.
Scott Leibs, CFO IT
November 17, 2003
This issue caps the first full year of CFO IT, a year in which we received many encouraging words from readers, won several awards, missed a typo or two, and, most important, sought to bring a fresh and relevant perspective to IT strategy as viewed from the CFO's office. We're not unhappy with our efforts so far, but we're in no mood for nostalgia, and our laurels remain decidedly unrested-upon. Instead, we're closing out 2003 with an ambitious look ahead to 2004.
We've identified 20 technologies and trends most likely to dominate the IT agenda next year, and offer synopses of where they stand and how they may evolve. Any attempt at short-listing is bound to invite counterarguments as to what really should have been included, but we're confident the subjects profiled here will generate both heat and light throughout all of 2004. We've divided the 20 into four broad categories: IT management, core technologies, finance IT, and emerging technologies. We've put a premium on pithiness and a bounty on hype, distilling each topic to its essence, with the occasional reckless prediction thrown in to lighten the mood. For this special issue, we've downplayed case studies so that we can offer a primer on a wide range of technologies that are certain to be discussed at your company — maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon.
Technology, and the effective management thereof, are moving targets. You may think there's little more to be said about Sarbanes-Oxley, offshoring, the high price of software, or Linux, to cite just a handful of the topics profiled within. But in the next 14 months, each of these will significantly influence the manner in which most companies operate, in ways you may not see coming. For us, that means our second year is certain to be even more interesting than our first. For you, it means this issue is one to keep handy even as you wait for the next one to arrive.
Strategic issues abound, from the burdens of regulation to the promise of new architectures.
We begin our 20/20 package with a look at five managerial issues that are almost impossible to separate from one another. The management of technology has long been synonymous with the buying of technology, for two reasons: the price tag for hardware, software, personnel, networking, consulting services, and other forms of IT is massive, and most companies' needs are constantly evolving, due to both new business goals and the many new opportunities afforded by technology. Deciding whether and what to buy becomes more difficult when budgets are tight, and when new regulatory pressures are thrown in (which may or may not entail additional IT expense or additional opportunities for IT to help solve a thorny business problem), the effect can be nearly paralyzing. Did we mention new license models and the option of outsourcing or offshoring? Challenging, to say the least. But manageable, if approached as a five-step process.
IT Budgets and ROI
So essential are these that we could have dubbed them ''cortex technologies.'' Yet managing them well is far from a no-brainer.
While it can be difficult to define "core" technology, "expensive but not sexy" offers a reasonable starting point. Almost every variety of information technology is pitched as "essential," but we think five areas merit particular attention in 2004, either because of their scope, their relevance to C-level executives, or the fact that their true cost can be elusive. These technologies all share the qualities of being mature and at the same time evolving, often quickly. They tend to be the focus of many a conversation between CFO and CIO. And they tend to define an enterprise's IT architecture, and are likely to continue to do so.
Better, faster, cheaper — it's all good. And much of it will arrive sooner than you think.
From microchips to networks to entirely new approaches to IT infrastructure, technology marches on. The post-dot-com malaise did not bring research to a halt; in fact, winnowing this list to merely five promising new technologies was far from easy. The developments described on the following pages vary in terms of their readiness for prime time, but all merit watching. Some are already finding their way to market; others remain rooted in laboratories but will likely find some commercial applications later in 2004. In the aggregate, they demonstrate that IT still has the capacity to leap forward in unexpected ways.
Beyond the spreadsheet lie a host of technologies that do more than simply crunch the numbers.
The current intersection of finance and IT is not limited to ROI analyses, budget scrutiny, and potentially testy conversations between CFOs and CIOs. The finance function itself is the focus of a number of IT initiatives that will propel corporate efficiency. Decisions on whether to invest in any of these newer technologies may still entail some good old-fashioned spreadsheet analyses, but that doesn't mean the technological underpinnings of the finance department will remain static in 2004. What follows are profiles of five technologies that will not only allow finance to calculate the bottom line but greatly enhance it.