1999 Product of the Year: Technology Drivers

The InfoWorld Test Center presents its 19th annual awards for the year's most outstanding enterprise tools.

By now, you're probably basking in the success of a smooth transition to 2000, made possible by many long hours. Whether you scrambled at the last minute or were prepared long ago, the biggest issue that every IT manager grappled with in 1999 was the two-digit date demon.

Businesses poured a mammoth amount of time, resources, and money into becoming year-2000 compliant. It proved costly for everyone and relegated other revenue-generating projects to the back burner.

Yet we can learn valuable lessons from our year-2000 projects. Chief among them is a renewed emphasis on solid project management, a strong eye toward software quality and testing processes, and a mandate to maintain comprehensive software and system inventory controls as well as detailed documentation. Hopefully, we will now think of the future as being more than just a few quarters out.

Despite the hype, year 2000 wasn't the only complex issue IT administrators and business leaders faced last year. The InfoWorld Test Center studied hundreds of products, solutions, and technologies to help readers make sense of the flux the IT industry experienced in 1999.

We analyzed the business impact of many emerging solutions, including using Web auction software as part of a corporate buying and selling strategy and leveraging an enterprise application integration framework to bring cohesion to an organization. We gained and shared knowledge through several Test Center Comparisons, including Web-based procurement solutions, end-to-end quality-of-service products, customer relationship management strategies, and Java development tool standards. We also walked readers through some difficult new tasks, such as upgrading to NetWare 5 and building Web commerce sites and data warehouses.

Through it all, we learned that the buy vs. build vs. outsource question is making corporate strategic planning and purchasing decisions more complicated than ever.

The impact of 1999

Our Intranets and I-Commerce team found these factors played out most dramatically in the Web-commerce space. For example, you can buy ready-made commerce solutions and customize them, or you can combine tools to construct your solution from scratch. You can even easily outsource the project entirely.

Collaboration and e-mail purchasing decisions are also becoming more difficult.

Both can be supported via groupware offerings, Web tools, or outsourced arrangements, and making the business case for one approach over another can be a daunting task.

One of our Platforms and Infrastructure team's biggest concerns in 1999 was security. From the Melissa virus to Bubble Boy, cyber-attacks obviously continue to increase. In 2000, companies must be prepared to leverage security-analysis tools, virus protection, firewalls, and beefed-up security policies to respond to potential risks.

Last year also saw a sharp increase in the number of organizations running multiple OSes. The open-source community continues to strengthen the business case for adding Linux and other open-source products to the enterprise. Most notably, Red Hat Software's successful initial public offering and the arrival of commercial support organizations, such as Linuxcare and Covalent, prove that open-source software is truly ready for commercial use.

Additionally, major Novell NetWare and IBM OS/400 releases added a bevy of Web-related functionality. By leveraging open Web standards across all operating systems, network managers will find improved interoperability. But it remains to be seen how well Microsoft Windows 2000 will play with these OSes in mixed environments.

Our Enterprise Computing team also found that corporate strategizing and purchasing grew more arduous last year. While many companies were focused on completing year-2000 projects, the need to rapidly roll out distributed electronic-business applications proactively introduced new challenges that will continue throughout 2000.

The number of open-source, commercial development, and deployment products and solutions increased greatly in 1999, and this rate of growth shows no signs of slowing down. The greatest area of enterprise application activity continues to take place on the midtier as business logic moves away from the client and out of back-end servers.

These trends leave companies well-prepared to support expected growth in intelligent wireless devices and other types of thin clients. Also, distributed applications will preserve back-end processing cycles and leave companies ready to roll out new and composite business applications quickly and nimbly.

Lessons of a different sort

While everyone else was struggling with year-2000 date-related issues, Microsoft was learning lessons of a different sort. The consequences of the Department of Justice's findings of fact will affect business and technical managers everywhere. Whether Microsoft ultimately wins its case or is fined or forced to break up, customers are in the meantime left in flux. Therefore, support plans for existing customers might need to change and those considering a move to Windows 2000 may also find that the case further complicates purchasing decisions.

Another complicating factor is a new move toward pushing technology to outsourcers. Just as in the 1980s, the IT industry is moving to commoditize many technical services, including application hosting. Although outsourcing can yield greater manageability and a cost-effective approach to technical strategies, many a wary chief technology officer is moving cautiously toward pushing the corporate jewels outward. For outsourcing to really take hold, service providers must address perceptions of potential security and reliability risks.

During 2000, expect to see an even greater emphasis on integrating the enterprise, from infrastructure to applications and data layers. Watch for the convergence of enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management functions; continued expansion of open-source software use; a greater number of outsourcing arrangements; and an increase in the use of wireless technology. Underlying all of the anticipated technological changes will be added pressure to court and retain customers -- especially in e-business settings.

Regardless of industry, more companies than ever are viewing technology as a way to gain a greater competitive edge, positioning IT organizations as increasingly likely profit centers. The lessons we learned in 1999 demonstrate that we can expect the forthcoming year to be full of increasingly complex demands that will make business and technical planning, purchasing, and implementation a continuing challenge.

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