Beneath the hype

Over-hyped emerging technologies have a nasty habit of being ignored by many CIOs until it is too late. Gartner's hype curve tries to give IT strategists a heads-up on what's coming down the line, but Colin Edwards asks whether the Middle East is listening.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  August 27, 2006

|~|cryer200.jpg|~|Cryer: Contax aims to be one step ahead of the game with early Ajax adoption.|~|Some Middle East CIOs with their fingers on the technology pulse might have heard about one or two of the emerging technologies that market analyst, Gartner is plotting on its Hype curve. Web 2.0,for example, is definitely on many companies' to-do lists, but what about Mashup, social network analysis, event-driven architecture and a host of others?

While quite a few of these are emerging technologies that could be enjoying mainstream adoption in a couple of years’ time, according to Gartner, many regional companies when asked by ACN whether or not they had heard of most of Gartner's highlighted new technologies, the response typically was: "The simple answer is - no."

Not that Middle East companies are not at an early adopter stage of some of the emerging technologies. For example, Contax, a pan Gulf professional strategic services provider, is currently re-implementing all its web-based systems with Ajax, which Gartner rates as being "high impact and capable of reaching maturity in less than two years".

eVentures, Emirates’ software development arm, has also used Ajax for its ground-breaking web hotel-booking system for tour operators.

Ajax is a collection of techniques that web developers use to deliver an enhanced user experience in the confines of a modern browser.

Gerry Cryer, Contax director of infrastructure, says: "We are re-implementing all our systems with Ajax at the moment. That was a decision we took in February/March. Seeing the way the tide was turning and the power of the systems, we took an early adopter approach to give us an edge."

Contax's goal in using Ajax is to develop a more dynamic and interactive front end for its web-based product used to monitor and track 3,500 energy-related construction projects. "Whilst the underlying data has interest for a wide range of end users across the oil and gas value chain, it's important to get a user interface that can be tailor-made for specific end users," says Shaheen Chohan, director of market intelligence, Contax.

"If you rely on a single-access interface a lot of the value of the data is lost because the way that the end user wants to interact with the data isn't in a user-friendly format, whereas with a more dynamic front end you get an enhanced user experience," he adds.

Before being able to use Ajax one of the initial and hardest challenges was getting its IT organisation up to speed and competent.

"We started with our internal systems. We have re-written all of those using Ajax on the front end. We've also gone through a process of putting workflow technologies inside the systems, rather than using workflow as a system by itself. Our systems are increasingly workflow-enabled with Ajax at the front end, and we see that as a trend moving through management technologies," says Cryer, adding that all Contax internal systems are web-based and that the company has not deployed any standard LAN technologies.

Does all this bleeding edge adoption put Contax ahead of the game? Cryer believes so. "I think and hope we're ahead of the game, given that things like Microsoft Live only went Ajax about six months ago. I believe Ajax will become a standard of sorts and will be the way.

"I hope we're ahead because we're also in the business of providing intelligence based systems. Pioneers get the arrows in the back, so it's important we understand these things first before we take them to our clients. And we believe we're well advanced in that and know how to develop quickly accurately and precisely," concludes Cryer.

At eVentures, Hassnain Chagani, R&D Specialist, says the use of Ajax was key in designing a facility whereby tour operators are able to get a single view of the availability of hotel beds at hotels participating in its newly-launched accommodation exchange systems - DAEX.

Ajax is one of 36 key technologies and trends whose maturity, impact and adoption speed during the next 10 years Gartner assesses. It hype cycle highlights three major themes experiencing significant activity and which include new or heavily hyped technologies, where organisations may be uncertain as to which will have most impact on their business.

The three key technologies identified in its 2006 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle for CIOs to examine are Web 2.0, Real World Web, and Applications Architecture. Gartner believes these and the components of these themes could go mainstream in the next two years or so, and businesses need to start thinking about how they might benefit from them now.

"The emerging technologies hype cycle covers the entire IT spectrum, but we aim to highlight technologies that are worth adopting early because of their potentially high business impact," says Jackie Fenn, inventor of the first hype cycle.

The benefit of a particular technology varies significantly across industries, so Gartner advises planners to determine which opportunities relate most closely to their organisational requirements. To make this easier, a new feature in Gartner's 2006 hype cycle is a 'priority matrix' which clarifies a technology's potential impact and the number of years before it reaches mainstream adoption. ||**|||~||~||~|Web 2.0 represents a broad collection of trends in Internet technologies and business models. Technologies rated by Gartner as having transformational, high or moderate impact include Social Network Analysis (SNA), Ajax, Collective Intelligence and Mashup.

SNA, the use of information and knowledge from many people and their personal networks, is rated as likely to have a high impact on an enterprise's revenues or costs. It is seen as capable of reaching maturity in less than two years. Ajax's impact is rated the same.

Gartner rates collective intelligence as being transformational in that it enables new ways of doing business across industries resulting in major shifts in industry dynamics. It is expected to reach mainstream adoption in five to 10 years.

Collective intelligence is an approach to producing intellectual content, such as code, documents, indexing and decisions that results from individuals working together with no centralised authority. This is seen as a more cost-efficient way of producing content, metadata, and certain services.
Mashup, a lightweight tactical integration of multi-sourced applications or content into a single offering, is rated as moderate on the Hype Cycle, but is expected to hit mainstream adoption in two years.

The emergence of the Real World Web will bring the power of the web, which today is perceived as a "separate" virtual place, to the user's point of need of information or transaction. Technologies rated as having particularly high impact include location-aware technologies, location-aware applications, and sensor mesh networks.

Location-aware technologies that use GPS and other technologies in the cellular network and handset to locate a mobile user should hit maturity within two years. Gartner says users should evaluate potential benefits to their business processes of location-enabled products as well as WLAN location equipment that may help automate processes, such as logistics and maintenance.

On the other hand, location-aware applications are expected to hit mainstream adoption in the next two to five years. An increasing number of organisations have deployed location-aware mobile business applications, mostly based on GPS-enabled devices, to support queue business processes and activities, such as field force management, fleet management, logistics and good transportation.

Sensor mesh networks are ad hoc networks formed by dynamic meshes of peer nodes, each of which includes simple networking, computing and sensing capabilities. Technology aggressive organisations looking for low-cost sensing and robust self-organising networks with small data transmission volumes should explore sensor networking, says Gartner. This area should be seen as a tactical investment; it could be 10 years before it is mainstream.

On the Applications Architecture front, the software infrastructure that provides the foundation for modern business applications, continues to mirror business requirements more directly. The modularity and agility offered by service oriented architecture at the technology level and business process management at the business level will continue to evolve through high impact shifts such as model-driven and event-driven architectures (EDA), and corporate semantic web.

EDA is an architectural style for distributed applications, in which certain discrete functions are packaged into modular, encapsulated, shareable components, some of which are triggered by the arrival of one or more event objects. Event objects may be generated directly by an application.

Alternatively, they may be generated by an adapter or agent operating non-invasively. EDA has an impact on every industry. Although mainstream adoption of all forms of EDA is still five to 10 years away, complex-event processing EDA is now being used in financial trading, energy trading, supply chain, fraud detection, homeland security, telecoms, customer contact centre management, logistics and sensor networks, such as RFID.

Model-driven architecture is the Object Management Group's proposed approach to separating business-level functionality from the technical nuances of its implementation. The premise behind it is to enable business-level functionality to be modelled by standards; allow the models to exist independently of platform-induced constraints and requirements; and then instantiate those models into specific runtime implementations, based on the target platform of choice. MDAs reinforce the focus on business first and technology second.

Corporate semantic web applies semantic web technologies, aka semantic markup languages to corporate Web content. Although mainstream adoption is still five to 10 years away, many corporate IT areas are starting to engage in semantic web technologies. Early adopters are in the areas of enterprise information integration, content management, life sciences and government. Corporate semantic web will reduce costs and improve the quality of content management, information access, system interoperability, database integration and data quality.

"Be selectively aggressive - identify which technologies could benefit your business, and evaluate them earlier in the Hype Cycle", says Fenn. "For technologies that will have a lower impact on your business, let others learn the difficult lessons, and adopt the technologies when they are more mature."

The "Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2006" report is one of 78 hype cycles released by Gartner in 2006. Additional information is available on Gartner's Web site.||**||

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