IT Trends - Dr Jaime Kaminski
|This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.
discusses IT trends with with Dr Jaime Kaminski,
Senior e-Commerce Analyst and Technical Briefings
Manager Xephon ( http://www.xephon.com )
Q: Xephon is the world's leading producer of special
IT consultancy reports, professional journals and
international IT conferences. Jaime, can you
describe your involvement in the many services
provided by your organisations?
A: Thank you Stephen. As you note Xephon has two
principal lines of business - IT publications and
conferences. We have been around for twenty years,
providing technical and market research which
focuses exclusively on information systems for large
enterprises. This research is made available a
number of forms, including over thirty conferences
each year, strategic consultancy reports, and
thirteen technical journals which range in content
from those devoted to MVS and CICS to NT and SQL
Server. We also produce numerous surveys, news
reports, and strategic bulletins. Our material
provides value for all levels of the IT organisation
from the systems programmers, to the CIOs and CTOs.
It is this breadth of coverage which really defines
My role spans both of these business functions. I
started my work with Xephon with the seminar side of
the business. I was hired to put together
high-quality technical seminars and conferences.
This role rapidly expanded to incorporate analytical
research for publications, and original writing.
The deep integration of these two roles provides a
tangible benefit for our customers - we can rapidly
incorporate the results of our research into
seminars. But this is a two-way process: we are
continually listening to our clients' needs, through
surveys, site visits, and from discussions at our
conferences. We use this information to direct and
refine our future areas of research.
Q: How did you come to Xephon and to your current
position? How do you see your position evolving in
the short and long term?
A: Like you Stephen, I come from an academic
background. Before entering the IT industry half a
decade ago, I completed doctoral-level research for
a Ph.D. and lectured to both degree-level and
post-graduate students. When I moved into the IT
sector, I first worked with databases. When the
opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to work
with Xephon. This position allowed me to fully
exploit many of my skillsets: the ability to
undertake meticulous research, and to articulate
ideas in technical lectures and seminars.
In the short-term I see my role incorporating a much
greater use of Web-based technology. Xephon offers
electronic access to all our publications. I see
increased granularity in these offerings - instead
of offering whole books on-line we are beginning to
offer individual chapters. I think we are also going
to see a much more rapid dissemination of
information using the Web. In the long-term we could
see conferences distributed world-wide on the Web.
Q: Jaime, what do you see as the key skill set
required for IT professionals today and in short
term and long term future?
A: I am somewhat cautious about making broad
generalisations, but in my mind the key skill for IT
professionals is the integration of IT knowledge
with business skills. One of the principal lessons
we learnt from the Year 2000 problem was how
integral IT was to business. It may be an unpopular
statement to make, but the sole purpose of IT is to
support the business function.
There will always be a need for highly specialised
technical staff, but the rapid advances in
technology are going to fuel a demand for adaptable
people who thrive on a variety of challenges. These
people will be the key drivers in future IT
departments. They will have the ability to respond
rapidly to technological change, but to do that they
also need to understand business issues.
Q: For those entering the IT field and for seasoned
veterans, do you have a recommendations about
current and future areas of specialisation or
A: My advice for those entering the field is to
focus on areas that they enjoy. This industry
requires long hours of dedicated work: the
implications of working in a sector that is not
stimulating do not bear thinking about.
In terms of actual areas of specialisation,
obviously skills in Java, Oracle, Cisco and the
Microsoft product set are currently in great demand.
But, it is important to realise that much of this
demand is being created by the e-commerce sector. At
the risk of repeating myself, integration with
business skills would be a key asset that could
provide a competitive edge in the job market both
now and in the future.
Q: Jaime, you are heavily involved in research.
Based upon your exhaustive research, can you comment
on what you consider to be the most "important"
technologies and technology directions that
companies and IT professionals need to consider?
A: I would suggest that we look at the most
important 'technologies' first. I would divide these
into those technologies that companies need to
evaluate and/or deploy immediately, and those
technologies that will be important in the
In the first category, technologies that need
immediate attention, I would place XML, Windows
2000, Linux, Wireless technologies, Java and
In the later category I would place technologies
that are still in a state of flux and/or the need
for deployment is not immediate. These would include
VoIP, IP Version 6, and speech recognition. I have
to emphasise that these technologies will assume
considerable importance in the future, and here at
Xephon we keep close tabs on the latest developments
in this arena. For example, we recently ran one of
the first European conferences devoted entirely to
IP Version 6 and VoIP.
With these technologies come some issues for
consideration, for example consolidation, systems
management, the management of remote technologies,
data management, and network management.
Other areas that companies need to consider are
obviously the various elements of the e-commerce
arena, for example B2B e-commerce, and
e-procurement, which although an element of B2B
e-commerce itself, I would consider to be absolutely
essential for every organisation that wished to gain
competitive advantage. Business to consumer
e-commerce is also a buoyant sector at the present
but probably not as valuable as the B2B sector.
If we look at these technologies and directions in
more detail I would make the following comments
Windows 2000 and the Microsoft product set
The Microsoft product set will be in all our
futures. Windows 2000 has brought with it a vast
range of new features, redesigned directory
services, and enhanced availability, I certainly
think it will reposition the PC server within the
large organisation. A move to Windows 2000 is
inevitable for many companies, as releases of
strategic BackOffice products such as Exchange 2000
and SQL Server 2000 rely heavily on its advanced
functionality. More importantly at the high end of
the Windows 2000 product range is the 'DataCenter'
product which is the strongest indication yet that
Microsoft is looking to expand its horizons towards
the business and mission-critical world.
I would definitely say that Windows 2000 is the most
significant product release from Microsoft in a
decade, and now is the time to get to grips with the
planning and training issues involved. This is an
area that we are looking at very closely at Xephon,
in conferences, reports and in our NT Update
Moreover, the associated implications of .NET, and
Windows DNA will be highly significant for the
industry. I would call .NET a longer-term strategy,
simply because the .NET strategy requires such
radical changes that I would think it will be in a
state of flux for at least a year or two. It would
be wise to evaluate these technologies during this
time period but unwise to deploy them in a mission
critical context yet. The integral parts of the .NET
strategy - Web Services, and SOAP look as if they
will have a radical affect on the industry.
Linux has gained wide-spread support from vendors
and consumers alike, especially in the Server
market, because it is simpler, more stable, and less
costly than many recent desktop operating systems.
However, it is important to note that the release of
Microsoft Windows 2000 with its inherent stability
has altered this equation a little, but the cost
factor is still a prime mover for Linux.
On the negative side, many companies are still
grappling with the concept of how to successfully
extract revenue from what is essentially free
software. Many larger companies such as IBM have
extensive 'services' and consulting divisions which
are likely to exploit the Linux market.
But although Linux is the fastest growing operating
system with 25% of the server market this does not
translate into any significant desktop gains which
are almost negligible. Linux still has to reach a
mass audience by attracting application developers,
and it needs work to become a relevant desktop
It is likely that in the foreseeable future, Linux
will remain as the second most important server
operating system, so I would certainly suggest that
companies need to acquire staff with Linux skills,
and training will be crucial. Talking to industry
professionals has made me aware that there is
currently a considerable skill deficit out there.
However, I think that will change. Because Linux is
an ideal OS for Universities and colleges - both on
the server side and as a desktop operating system -
more and more educational establishments are likely
to adopt it. This is likely to have long term
implications for the skillset of those coming out of
higher education. This is the same scenario as was
seen with Microsoft's software in the 1990s.
XML has so much to offer that we can expect it to
pervade the whole of computing, from databases
through middleware to end-user applications. Massive
effort is being put into the creation of XML tools
by the IT industry. Not only are new products being
written, but old ones are being retrofitted to work
with XML. Despite the widespread tendency to support
both HTML and XML the fact must be faced that users
have to decide, early on, whether they are going to
employ XML or not. Everything, from high-level
design onwards, hinges on this decision. Certainly,
XML can be translated into HTML, but that is merely
a stopgap technique. The strengths and limitations
of XML are quite different from those of HTML.
So many valuable uses are appearing that it is a
full-time job just keeping track of the new XML
dialects, applications, working groups and
consortia. This is an area that we are constantly
researching for conferences and reports.
It is highly probable that there will be an
explosion in the number of Wireless devices. Some
predictions suggest that the number of
Internet-enabled mobile devices will exceed the
number of PCs by 2003. This may or may not be the
case, but what is certain is that the number of
mobile devices being used will increase massively.
This is being promoted by many different sources.
The large telecommunications vendors need to drive
growth because the market for conventional voice
calls is likely to reach saturation especially in
the developed nations. The phone vendors need a
reason for users to replace their phones, hardware
vendors see this as a new product outlet.
We are now beginning to see increasing amounts of
data being sent using wireless media for
applications such as e-mail and Web browsing.
Development of the wireless WAN is being fuelled by
the proliferation of handheld computing devices, and
mobile users potentially become nodes on a SAN,
storing and retrieving data. I think we will see
considerable initial use of this technology by
mobile workers and sales forces. The most important
point IT departments need to consider how to manage
the security, back-up and synchronisation of these
devices. If this is not given sufficient thought it
could lead to a significant management overhead.
At the beginning of the year I was predicting that
Java would play an increasingly important role in
the industry. This has certainly been confirmed by
the evidence from recruitment specialists who are
seeing Java skills as the most highly sought after
skill. Certainly the massive backing being given to
Java by both Sun and IBM is having an impact.
The pace of the IT industry is increasing rapidly,
so software development times have to shrink. The
key to achieving this, of course, is through the use
of object-oriented programming, such as Java.
Reusing software cuts development time and creates a
library of building blocks that other programs can
readily use. The information age will be held back
without fundamental changes occurring in software
development. The inherent flexibility of a
component-based system makes it much easier and
quicker to change the software as business needs
Additionally there are benefits in the way that Java
and XML complement each other. I mentioned earlier
that XML will be crucial in the next few years, well
Java is an object-oriented language, ideally suited
for expressing state and behaviour. XML, on the
other hand, is what might be called a data-oriented
language, which concerns itself only with state.
Among computer languages, it is perhaps closest to
SQL in this respect. In any case, Sun has set to
with a will to cement XML to Java as firmly as it
possibly can, by publishing specifications, giving
away tools, and whatever else it takes. Much of the
hype behind Java has died down now and companies can
get down to some serious work.
However, at the beginning of the year Java had
little viable competition, analysts were aware of
the Microsoft.NET initiative, but little more could
have been predicted. Now we have a much clearer
picture of Microsoft's response to Java.
Talking to users and analysts it appears that Java
is still ahead as a technology, but simply because
of its' perceived openness. We will see a lot more
competition between Java and .NET in the years to
There can be no doubt that e-business has elevated
the profile of security. Relatively trivial breaches
in e-business security can have massive implications
for a company ranging from negative publicity to
massive drops in share price. This direct link
between security and the boardroom makes IT security
one of the top priorities for IS departments.
To give you an example Stephen, each year Xephon
does a survey of IS Plans for Fortune 500 companies.
In 1998 security was the seventeenth most important
priority - in 2000 security was the fourth most
One of the best ways of improving the integrity of a
server platform is still to move it to a physically
secure area. Consolidation of workgroup servers,
usually carried out for economic and systems
operations reasons, is drawing processors into data
centres. In the meantime, there is a countervailing
proliferation of Web servers that are physically
dispersed and are intrinsically insecure in
themselves. Fortunately, the operation of
second-generation e-business systems is more likely
than that of their predecessors to be entrusted to
IT professionals, which should improve their
security from a variety of viewpoints, including the
The ability to insist on the security standards of
e-business partners is a delicate issue in the B2B
context, as the relative sizes of value chain
collaborators can make it hard for a minnow to
dictate to a shark. It should be recognised,
however, that serious e-business players,
irrespective of their size, are determined to solve
the security issue. As we have seen, the ISPs have
an essential part to play; they have shown their
willingness to participate but they must be prepared
to prove their competence as prospective e-business
From a technological perspective companies need to
consider firewalls, anti-virus software, encryption,
authentication, and digital signatures. But security
is also a human issue. It is important to make
employee education and awareness a high priority. A
corporate policy, with top-level support needs to be
put in writing. On the same theme, a coherent and
enterprise-wide security policy is also very useful
to establish some method of negotiating on security
between e-trading partners. The formalising of these
issues is one of the problems being tackled by the
ebXML definition project.
At the beginning of the year I classed the movement
to IP Version 6 (the next generation Internet
Protocol - IPng) as a medium- to long-term strategy.
Our predictions at Xephon suggested that there was a
75% likelihood of the industry moving to the new
protocol, but this was highly dependent on its
acceptance by the major router and operating system
vendors. I am now more confident than ever that a
move to IPv6 will occur before the 2004 timeframe.
At the current rate of use the Internet protocol
will run out of address spaces around 2004. This
will be a prime mover towards moving to a new
protocol. IPv6 will solve the address space problem,
and will have considerable benefits for Multimedia
applications, Quality of Service, and mobile
The specification of IP Version 6 has taken five
years to develop, and to a certain extent it is a
technical compromise between several proposals. In
general, the IP Version 6 specification is
technically quite conservative. The designers tried
to use the same paradigms as the existing Internet,
keeping in mind that the IP Version 6 Internet was
to be an upgrade of the existing Internet, not a
completely new network.
But, I would strongly suggest that the industry
should keep an eye on this sector, when deployment
starts things will move very quickly, so industry
awareness is key.
As I mentioned earlier I would class the deployment
of Voice over IP (VoIP) as a medium-term strategy.
There is no doubt that VoIP will prevail in the long
term, because, for most companies, the cost benefits
will be impossible to ignore. However, in the short
term there are still a considerable number of
technical details to sort out, for example
guaranteeing the quality of transmission across the
Internet is quite complex at the present and can
require some complex tunnelling. However, when IPv6
takes off these issues will be reduced. The other
problem at the present is that the marketplace is
highly volatile with large numbers of IPv6 vendor
Therefore, it is likely that many potential adopters
will stay on the sidelines until there is greater
clarity in the market. This is not to say that it
would be foolish to adopt VoIP at this stage, the
companies that have are experiencing considerable
benefits. I for one would certainly recommend
limited deployment now at the departmental level. At
would not recommend using VoIP for anything other
than intranet and Virtual Private Networks, there
are still too many quality of service issues.
This does however highlight the importance of an
enterprise's network. It is essential that companies
focus resources on their networks, increase
training, and consider the future demands of
multimedia, Voice over IP, and Quality of Service.
Investments in networking technology should be made
with these future issues in mind.
This is a technology to keep an eye on in the mid-to
long-term future. Currently learning a specific
programming language or syntax limits the use of
technology to a small segment of the population.
Using natural language to interact with IT will be
fundamental for taking IT to the general population.
Commercial dictation systems are now widely
available, although we are still several years away
from universal speech recognition.
The combination of speech recognition and mobile
devices is a very important area to watch in the
mid- to long-term future. As the size of mobile
devices decreases the need to have a simple way of
inputting data increases.
When this does come it really will change the face
The volume of information that IT professionals are
bombarded with is enormous, and this is a situation
that is only going to get worse. Research at the
close of 1999 indicated that there were over one
billion web available on the Web. It is becoming
increasingly clear that we need some means of
sorting and acquiring useful data, which is where
agent technology comes in. Agent technology has been
around for years, but I think the number of vendors
who will develop the technology will show a marked
increase in the short term future and I think that
in the next couple of years we will see users take
increasing advantage of agent technology. I think
this is something we will see in the short to medium
term. Many companies are already supplying agents
with their software, but I am sure that there will
be many more examples of the use of agents by
individuals in the short term.
Consolidation and integration are big issues in all
sizes of organisation at present, many of our
largest customers are drawing LAN servers and
departmental systems back into data centres, while
we are aware that smaller organisations looking to
reduce costs by consolidating a smaller number of
The management overhead of running many small
servers is staggering - especially when you consider
the perspectives of systems management, manpower and
environmentals (by which I mean floorspace, power
consumption, etc). When you consider that the cost
of staff is one of the highest overheads that a
company has to sustain there are significant cost
benefits in consolidation.
The vendors are supporting this by releasing some
very powerful hardware and software combinations.
For example in the third and fourth quarter of 2000
we saw IBM release the z/900 enterprise server
mainframe with the ability to consolidate
potentially thousands of smaller servers, we saw HP
and SUN announce their new high end UNIX servers,
and we saw Microsoft release its DataCenter offering
which combines both a hardware platform provided by
a third party - such as Fujitsu, Unisys, Compaq or
Stratus with the resilient DataCenter software.
Consolidation is the real issue at the top-end of
The spread of the Internet, multimedia, and new
digital applications are creating a massive demand
for storage. Magnetic disk capacities are expected
to continue to grow at 60% or more annually for the
next five years, therefore, the amount of available
capacity should not pose limitations on any
anticipated applications. Organisations with larger
distributed, storage needs should be looking to
exploit Storage Area Networks (SANs).
I think that this is going to be another key area to
consider, because of the rapid explosion in the
number of distributed systems that companies now
have to manage, things like Web-attached resources,
databases, remote devices, and so on are a serious
The approaches to system management are divided
between using frameworks and best-of-breed
solutions. Tivoli Enterprise and CA Unicenter are
currently the main contenders in the 'total system
management' market. Along with other popular
management products, such as HP's OpenView, they
strive to offer a complete solution for managing
devices, networks, applications, databases, and
other 'objects' in a consistent manner. But it is
essential that users evaluate whether using a total
management product is the right approach to the
problem, or whether they should concentrate on
building their own frameworks using best-of-breed
There are trade-offs between the two approaches,
which need to be considered. There are considerable
problems associated with imposing a total management
system on what is often a multi-vendor
infrastructure. Many enterprise-wide solutions can
prove unwieldy and have difficulty adapting to
evolving IT requirements at the department or local
site level. Specialist tools can enable a modular
approach, allowing changes to be accommodated
quickly and efficiently, at a pace controlled and
dictated by the systems manager. But all too often
they are poorly integrated with other systems.
The B2B market
At the beginning of the year the predictions for
growth in the B2B (Business to Business) e-commerce
marketplace were massive. From what I recall the
predictions from analysts for the future size of the
market ranged from several hundred billion dollars
all the way up to $7 trillion by 2006.
The result has been that a host of start-ups have
been trying to position themselves in the B2B arena,
in preference to the B2C sector. However, this will
simply cause the same kind of fragmentation and
overcrowding that impacted on the B2C market is now
starting to impact on the B2B market. As the market
becomes more crowded the likelihood of companies
carving a successful niche become less favourable.
The trends seen in the B2C market place is repeating
itself. For example, the first vertical industry
portals and exchanges gained considerable media
attention and publicity. This spurred a mass of
imitators, and certainly each market segment can
accommodate quite a number of specialised portals.
However, estimates suggest that there will soon be
tens of thousands of on-line exchanges. The market
simply cannot support this number. Once the
underlying generic software tools are available and
proven, the barriers to entry decrease.
The B2B market is buoyant at the moment. Much of
this is supported by the venture capital companies
who have been pumping billions of dollars into
start-ups in hopes of high returns when they go
public. This worked initially in the B2C space, just
as it is with the B2B market. But, as more and more
start-ups go public, returns will be lower and
lower, and the venture capitalists will have to look
elsewhere for investments.
As with most e-business initiatives the first
companies to deploy often gain a competitive
advantage, but as the number of companies competing
in the space increases they have to work harder to
find customers to cover costs.
Stephen, I think this is one of the most important
components of B2B e-business, simply because almost
all companies can benefit from the cost savings
relatively rapidly. The goal is to electronically
link the entire sales, production, and delivery
process into one seamless flow of information.
Having a global view of logistic movements enables
better decision making, reduces costs while
providing the means for sharing information among
trading partners. This type of visibility and
collaboration provides massive cost benefits along
with an improved ability to react to customer
requirements. Therefore I would seriously advise
companies to look closely at the opportunities for
Business to Consumer e-commerce
This is a market sector that has gained considerable
publicity because of the highly-inflated values of
some e-commerce company valuations. As we have seen,
the economic viability of some B2C e-commerce sites
is somewhat dubious.
Making money selling an increasingly commoditized
product in a highly competitive market means
differentiating that product from everyone else's,
whilst keeping cost of sales as low as possible. It
can be done by integrating products to offer a
fuller service, and by making them easier to buy.
Using the Internet to add value to products and for
e-commerce is key, but, for many businesses, the
costs of implementing a worthwhile e-commerce
strategy seem overwhelming. However, I think that
physical companies with real-world outlets, brand
awareness, and exiting customers have a considerable
advantage in providing an additional outlet for the
their existing customers and attracting new
customers. We will see more and more of these so
called 'Clicks and Mortar' companies gaining market
share in the B2C e-commerce area at the expense of
many of the pioneering e-commerce companies.
If companies wish to implement a B2C solution, they
should, identify the business objectives before
starting, ensure key senior business champions are
committed to the project, create a skilled project
team combining both business and IT skills, and
consider the legal and security requirements.
E-Business is not just a 'front-end', it
fundamentally alters the ways company operates.
I think that the role of 'data' is absolutely
crucial, especially for companies in the e-business
sector. I have mentioned before that close business
integration is a key element that IT organisations
will have to deal with. The most important asset of
e-commerce sites will be the information that they
hold. The principal area of competitive advantage in
which companies will be able to distinguish
themselves will be what they do with this
information. The collection, management, and
analysis of this data will be the key areas of
competitive advantage. Data is not just a technology
issue it is a management issue.
Companies need to have a data management policy in
place, which considers how raw, low quality data is
converted into useful business information.
Companies need to review how behavioural information
about visitors is collected, using cookies, search
engines, and on-line registration forms. They also
need to define business rules for the collection and
integration of data.
Sales patterns and trends can be analysed using data
mining and OLAP tools. The massive industry interest
in e-commerce is causing a vast array of products to
be created to fill industry needs. It will be
essential to constantly review this new technology
and see what emerges for the Web. And finally,
companies need to integrate low quality data
collected from the Web with their higher quality
enterprise data to extract business information.
This has been quite a detailed list, but I think it
gives a flavour of the principal issues that
professionals need to think about.
Q: How do you see computing technology evolving in
the short and long term and what recommendations
would you make for IT professionals and companies to
best prepare for the changes to come?
A: If we consider the technology directions I
mentioned earlier, it is clear that there are a wide
range of new technologies which are driving IT into
every area of commercial and even domestic life. But
the raw technology is outpacing our ability to
manage it within a structured IT environment. I see
this need for management as the key challenge in the
near-term future for the IT industry.
It is a paradox but in the medium- and long-term I
would suggest that we are going to see convergence
of technology. We can see this already at the
hardware layer, with the convergence of computers,
phones, and consumer electronics. At the application
layer we see the convergence of information,
communication, commerce and education. If you look
at the technology directions I mentioned many are
interrelated. Developments in speech recognition
will be complemented by developments in VoIP, and IP
version 6. Furthermore, enhanced security, storage,
and optoelectronics will provide building blocks for
highly advanced network technology, with a universal
To get back to the short term - companies need to
prepare themselves by analysing their business
processes, simplifying these where necessary, and
devote resources to creating internal departments
with rapid-response capabilities to monitor and
quickly respond to technological change. This is
where the development of close associations and
partnerships with analyst organisations like Xephon
will provide competitive advantage.
Q: Consider this a blank slate. Please make any
statements or comments about the IT field unedited
Much of the world's business now runs on 'Internet
time'. This pace literally changes the rules of the
IT and all business games, and makes future
developments far more difficult to predict. I see
the future IT professionals divided into those who
are technology-focused and those who integrate
technology and business. This latter group of future
IT professionals needs to be aware of the possible
technology directions which could support their
business needs. This is why analysis and research
organisations like Xephon have such a crucial role
to play in providing perspective and focus.