Roundarch Attends Forrester’s IT Forum 2011

Forrester’s IT Forum 2011 was an insightful three day conference of direction setting for the IT professional. With over 90 different sessions across 9 tracks focused on the various roles within IT from the CIO on down, there was something for everyone. Although the sessions had great information to impart, the biggest draw for all the attendees was the ability of everyone to actually schedule one-on-one discussions with the analysts themselves in their fields of expertise. I’ll briefly go over the primary themes of the forum and also the additional wisdom we gleaned from our one-on-one sessions. The three main themes at Forrester this year were: Business Technology (BT), mobile, and the App Internet. All the themes were relevant to emphasizing the continued value of developing a cohesive digital strategy for every enterprise no matter the size.

The first theme of the conference was Business Technology – “Speeding up at the intersection of business and technology”. While the term itself isn’t apparent at first glance, the subheading provided a clue. Forrester defines Business Technology as the future state of IT. This is where the business side of the enterprise increases their role in procuring their own technology solutions instead of using the traditional IT provided ones. Forrester says that as the general business workforce gets more and more tech savvy, they are more likely to bring in solutions they have from the consumer realm into the business realm. So in order for an enterprise to be agile in being able to rollout solutions quickly, this change in roles had to be embraced by IT. IT would continue to provide its expertise around scalability and security in the form of consulting to the business. We can actually see this in our offices with the proliferation of smart phones and tablets that people bring in to do work. This phenomenon is something that we have been encountering with our clients at Roundarch as well where the ease of procuring SaaS (Software as a Service) based services has allowed the business side to roll out technology without IT being the one to bring it in-house.

The next theme was the continuing rise of mobile and the need for having a plan for its growth. Mobile devices (tablets, smart phones) are becoming more ubiquitous and robust in processing power as well as storage. Companies need to have a plan on how to tackle the increase in consumption of their digital content, which traditionally has been made available on their web sites, on these devices. Forrester presented several levels where companies today needed to decide how to distribute their content to these new mobile mediums. Should companies support feature phones? Should companies support mobile web (web browsers on smart phones and tablets)? Should companies put all their resources into native mobile apps to gain access to richer functionality provided by the devices such as geolocation, local storage, or other features such as the built-in camera. The answer to this is never simple of course, and Forrester presented some good concrete recommendations on how companies should approach answering these questions. For our clients, we have enjoyed great success in providing clients with a hybrid approach of implementing liquid framework designs in order to allow all web sites to scale to the various form factors. As with everything, the fit will vary depending on the unique requirements of each client, so a thorough understanding is needed to provide the right solution rather than a one size fits all approach.

The final theme, presented by the Forrester CEO and founder George Colony, was the term of the “App Internet”. This was a forecast of the future where the increase in capability of computing power in devices will lead to a proliferation of different “app stores” for various devices not just phones. Increasingly tech savvy users will prefer the richer capabilities and user experience supported by more native apps on various devices. This, George theorizes, will lead corporate IT to focus more on providing functionality through apps instead of the traditional web. It is the universe of these new app stores that comprises the new reality of the “App Internet”.

It would be interesting to see whether this prediction comes to fruition, but with the splintering of devices even on one base operating system (think Android tablet, Android phones with different form factors, etc), we think the biggest bang for the buck for our clients right now, looking several years out, is to still build out capabilities in being able to do more with less. This can be done by doing the following: designing compelling user interfaces than can scale multiple form factors, architecting a strategy for making content as reusable as possible across different channels, implementing solutions using content management systems as repositories, and creating a service layer to federate that collateral across myriad service consumers.

In reviewing the events of the forum, we found a great metaphor of the dynamic state of flux that IT faces today. The first day we had to navigate the confusing Venetian-themed streets of the Palazzo Hotel. “The venue was right off of St. Mark’s Square to the left past the Blue Man Group theater overlooking the Grand Canal with its gondoliers ferrying tourist beneath an artificial sky” – these were the initial directions given at the hotel front-desk. Easy! After taking many wrong turns along the way, and asking lots of questions from people we encountered, we finally found the conference venue. It was worth it because the forum did deliver on its promise of providing a map of the major areas that IT needed to focus on, if it is to keep pace with our ever faster rates of change. You first had to get there though, and the journey itself was part of the insight.