The new stuff

They’re risky, they’re lucrative; sometimes they’re even glamorous. Individuals and corporations have won and lost fortunes, enterprises have risen to triumph and slunk into shame and ridicule on the back of them. They are emerging technologies; but should we buy in to the mystique?

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By  GITEX Times Staff Published  November 21, 2006

|~||~||~|They’re risky, they’re lucrative; sometimes they’re even glamorous. Individuals and corporations have won and lost fortunes, enterprises have risen to triumph and slunk into shame and ridicule on the back of them. They are emerging technologies; but should we buy in to the mystique? Trade shows such as GITEX are always host to a number of vendors and developers promoting the latest, greatest, cutting-edge technology. For a show such as this, the emphaisis is more on developed systems than ‘concept’ technology. But how can visitors separate the wheat from the technological chaff, or avoid missing a genuinely useful new sytem? Take two examples, both of which are being touted around GITEX this week. First, there’s radio-frequency identification (RFID). Hailed for some time now as the ‘next big thing’ in IT, RFID has singularly failed to catch the public’s imagination, except as a bête noir in many countries, thanks to its association with remote tracking and identity theft. Then there’s thin clients. In one form or another, the thin client principle has been around for decades – from the dawn of mainframe computers with dumb terminals, to the sleek, almost-invisible boxes of today. But again, thin client uptake has remained flat – the big surge of demand never came. For IT managers, these are two of the most prominent emerging technologies today. But what’s significant is that both of them are decades old. Part of the problem comes down to semantics – many would argue that true ‘emerging technologies’ only exist at a theoretical or experimental level, and are as far from the market as it is possible to be. Instead, emerging technologies for enterprises are those appearing on the market – unfortunately, they are often promoted as ‘bleeding edge’. But truly revolutionary technologies are few and far between, and arrive on the market only infrequently. The reality is the above technologies are much blunter than research into cyborg implants, for example. This gap between promotion and reality can turn useful technologies into high-tech whipping boys. The end result is general disillusionment and apathy among end users. All of this is well described in various hype cycles, from analysts such as Gartner; these come complete with detailed descriptions of the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”, the “Trough of Disillusionment” and the “Plateau of Productivity”. Of the above technologies, only RFID currently features on the hype cycle – plummeting down towards the Trough. But what is a 60-year-old technology like RFID doing there in the first place? The reality, in this case, is that the technology has not changed substantially, but the processes and infrastructure around it have – this is what enables many of the dramatic applications promised by RFID vendors. The same is true of thin clients – the principle is unchanged since the day someone wired a greenscreen and keyboard to a corporate mainframe, but developments in servers, networks and software have all made a return to the model feasible. Does this mean these technologies don’t have the potential to shake up the business? Of course not. But the perception around what may be a fairly mature technology can make or break it – thin clients have continually suffered from dismissal because of this. IT professionals need to accept there is almost nothing deserving of the hype some of these technologies are subject to. And at the same time, they should be prepared to ignore aphorisms about old dogs and new tricks – and use GITEX to explore what these technologies can do.||**||

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