Seven Trends for 2007 - InformationWeek

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Seven Trends for 2007

Kicking off the new year, we're going for seven trends that represent the kind of moving and shaking in business and IT that will have repercussions beyond just the next release. Forget the little stuff--we're talking tectonic shifts.

Are you ready for 2.0? It's in vogue to affix that software-style upgrade digit to just about every industry Driven by the Internet, 2.0 proclaims the start of a new generation of business collaboration and leadership. Kicking off the new year, we're going for 7.0--seven trends that represent the kind of moving and shaking in business and IT that will have repercussions beyond just the next release.

Our story is a collaborative effort. Editor Doug Henschen gets us going with a look at the importance of knowledge capture in the face of a brain drain caused by key personnel departures. Noted consultant Neal McWhorter discusses the growing role of business analysts as companies look to achieve agility. Executive editor Penny Crosman writes about electronic medical records, which, if standardized, will overhaul several industries, not to mention enable better health care. Then, manufacturing expert Michael McClellan talks about how firms must get out of application and information silos if they are ever to deliver on enterprise goals.

Our final three focus on technology. We're honored to have David Patterson, long one of the industry's leading experts in computer architecture, describe how the time has come to truly exploit parallelism. We then close it out with David Stodder's look at how real-time information demand is changing business intelligence and how service-oriented architecture is doing a 2.0 on business integration and collaboration.

1. Capture Expertise Before Boomers Retire. Think of the impact when one of your most trusted, experienced employees retires. Now multiply that impact by 3 to 4 million employees each year over the next two-plus decades and you'll get some idea of the looming brain drain organizations will face as baby boomers retire (see "By the Numbers," right).

The Numbers

3.4 million
Number of U.S. baby boomers turning 62 in 2008

Average retirement age reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2000

26.6 million
Number of U.S. workers who will be 55 or older in 2010

26.6 million
Number of U.S. workers who will be 55 or older in 2010

Age at which 2/3 of government workers are eligible to collect pensions

4.3 million
U.S. births per year in '57, the peak of the Baby Boom

3.1 million
U.S. births per year in '74, the nadir of the Baby Bust

Knowledge transfer is an ongoing business problem, whether it's tied to retirement or to employees changing jobs, transferring to new assignments or being laid off. Meanwhile, the very nature of work is changing.

"The problem we're really up against is that we're moving into a knowledge economy, yet most companies and nearly all individuals are ill-prepared for working in that economy," says Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex and author of Managing the Knowledge Workforce (Mercury Business Press, 2005).

Not only is intellectual property (such as software) and expertise (such as services) increasingly the product, the value of intellectual capital behind physical goods routinely outweighs that of factories and infrastructure (which can be outsourced). At the same time, companies are being transformed by globalization, mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing and telecommuting. These trends have been enabled, in whole or in part, by technology, but they also are being held back by information silos and inefficient ways of sharing knowledge.

The Airbus debacle is a case in point. Airbus (and its parent company, EADS) bet the company on building the A380, a 555-seat, super-jumbo jet that surpasses Boeing's 747 as the largest commercial airliner. The German-French conglomerate had 164 orders for the plane, but that was before manufacturing problems set back production by two years, which, in turn, led to $6 billion in losses and cancelled orders. The biggest problem has been design flaws in the aircraft's wiring.

"The simple explanation was that their PLM systems were on different versions, but their internal organizations [and widely scattered subassembly plants] were so disconnected that they didn't find out the wiring didn't fit until it arrived at the factory in Toulouse, [France]," Spira says. "That shows what can go wrong and why we need to address the need to share knowledge and collaborate."

Imagine a portal-like workspace in which you can both view all needed information, regardless of source, and do your job. Spira calls it the "collaborative business environment."

"The system provides contextually embedded community and collaboration tools that appear as you do your work," he says. "It could be as simple as a search-result window having a presence awareness icon so you can start sharing messages with the author of a document."

Aspects of content management, expertise management, e-learning and various collaboration tools will all play in this future, and Spira says recent IBM and Microsoft moves toward blending personal productivity tools and portals (with Notes/Workplace/WebSphere and the Microsoft Office Systems, respectively) will be "giant leaps ahead in integrating all the components we believe will be part of the collaborative business environment."

Blogs and wikis also will have a role. As the New York Times Magazine reported in the Dec. 3 cover story "Open-Source Spying," the U.S. intelligence community is putting these tools to work to capture tacit knowledge, turn it into explicit knowledge and make connections between bits of information that might uncover the next terrorist plot. In the fall of 2005, a CIA team built Intellipedia, "a prototype wiki that any intelligence employee with classified clearance could read and contribute to," the Times reported. "By this fall, more than 3,600 members of the intelligence services had contributed 28,000 pages," and developers are expanding the project.

Encouragingly, several trends are helping organizations capture knowledge that otherwise might be lost. Because authors aren't necessarily good archivists, many content-management systems automatically tag and retain new documents based on the context of creation and use. Business rules systems are pulling business logic out of code and turning it into human-readable information. And process-modeling tools are being used to document and diagram core business processes.

The bigger problem will be transforming routine collaboration without forcing uncomfortable changes in work habits (like asking everyone to blog) or instituting heavy-handed debriefings that might scare older workers not quite ready to retire. "Attempting to actively document particular systems or procedures in anticipation of a pending retirement might be viewed as an indication that an 'age-related' layoff is planned," writes technology blogger Dennis McDonald.

Like many experts, McDonald suggests building lexicons or "expertise maps" that list topics, systems and processes that are important to the organization. You can then start to compile information topically with informal tools, such as blogs and wikis, or use more formal efforts to document processes.

McDonald also suggests a strategy of post-retirement engagement. “When one considers the operation of an expertise management system, retirees [could] continue to function as "online experts" after they formally retire,” he writes. “In this way, the organization could continue to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of retirees even after they formally leave the organization.”

--Doug Henschen

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