Because information technology exerts such a strong influence at companies of all sizes around the globe, and because it continues to evolve rapidly on many different fronts, it merits a closer look. On the following pages we offer snapshots of the 20 people, technologies, and trends that have had a major impact on the IT world in the past year, and that seem likely to remain dominant forces in the months ahead. Many affect finance directly, and they all promise (or continue) to reshape business in ways none of us can fully imagine.
#1 Adaptive Systems
Most people are familiar with efforts to model computers after the human brain, but recently researchers have turned their attention to the human body as analogue. If computers had something akin to an immune system, an ability to “heal” themselves without human intervention, that would go a long way toward alleviating the problems posed by increasingly complex systems. IBM, the Department of Defense, and other research centers have already begun to build some self-healing properties into software. Experts say rudimentary forms of adaptive systems will come to market in the next 1 to 3 years, but a world in which the entire IT department is a machine that would go of itself is 10 to 20 years away.
#2 Jeff Bezos
While it would be an overstatement to claim that as Amazon.com goes, so goes E-commerce, it wouldn’t be much of one. Jeff Bezos and company not only popularized the online hawking of books, CDs, and pretty much anything else that will fit in a UPS truck, they also made pro forma accounting seem almost de rigueur. Almost. The company’s most recent quarterly results put it back in the red after it posted its first-ever profit — using GAAP, no less — in Q4 2001, as post-holiday volumes dropped. That did not come as a surprise, and in fact Amazon did better than expected. CFO Warren Jenson said in April that Amazon should achieve its objective of “free cash flow for the year.” But whether it becomes the Wal-Mart of the online space or the Kmart remains to be seen, and many will watch Bezos’s every move for clues as to what and what not to do in E-tailing and E-business.
The collapse of companies like Global Crossing and WorldCom might lead one to believe that every sector of telecom suffers from gross overcapacity, but the “last mile” problem continues to plague America. So argues Technology Network, a consortium of approximately 300 technology-company CEOs and senior executives that wants to see 100-Mbps Internet access reach every home and small-to-midsize business. Arguing that such a network will create more than 1 million jobs by the end of the decade, TechNet is pushing for a national policy built largely around telecom deregulation. Consumer apathy for DSL and cable-modem services would seem to suggest that consumers, at least, don’t feel a compelling need to be that wired, but when 300 CEOs say they want something, one has to take them seriously. Large companies can afford T1 lines and virtual private networks; a broadband revolution could benefit small and midsize businesses by allowing them to be as wired as the big boys at relatively low cost.