Linux, Outsourcing, RFID Seen As Hot 2004 IT Trends

Linux in the data center, offshore outsourcing, and RFID are among the top trends to watch in 2004, according to Forrester's recent poll of information managers.

January 10, 2004

4 Min Read
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Forrester Research, which monitors IT trends and market moves, interviewed more than 500 information managers to compile its list of prognostications for the upcoming year.

Linux in the data center, offshore outsourcing, and RFID were among the top trends to watch, according to Forrester's list, which was' released Friday. It nails down both technology adoption trends, as well as growth patterns and changes predicted for 2004.

Linux, said Forrester, will cement its position in the data center in 2004, thanks to a maturation in the operating system distributions targeting enterprises. By the end of 2004, said the IT managers surveyed, close to 10 percent of the Global 2000 companies will have moved from Windows-based servers to Linux for their basic network infrastructure.

On the offshore outsourcing front, a sore point with many American technology workers who view the shift overseas as contributing to a decline in domestic jobs, Forrester sees only a continued uptick. "Outsourcing will continue to have a huge impact on economies both here and overseas," said Merv Adrian, a vice president with Forrester. The Indian IT services market alone will grow by 30 percent in 2004.

"But for the first time, we're seeing a break out of the monolithic model of outsourcing. Some things work better than others."Among those that haven't yet really worked out, Adrian, are offshore help desks and contact centers. Some companies, in fact, are stressing the fact that they don't outsource such chores to foreign companies. To combat complaints from users about the technical and language skills of overseas help desks, foreign service suppliers will have to put more emphasis on boosting the English language proficiency of their workers and conduct more thorough training, said Adrian.

Among its other trends prognostications, Forrester is betting that customer relationship management (CRM) revenue, down significantly in 2003, will remain relatively flat through 2005, with growth in the single-digit range. And 2004 will be the last year, according to Forrester's interviews with IT managers, where enterprises will be in a strong negotiating position with telecommunications providers. After that, the improving global economy, and higher revenues by telecomm suppliers, will begin to turn the tables and make communications a seller's market.

Enterprises should take advantage of this shift no later than the third quarter of 2004, and at that time consider inking one- or two-year contract extensions to lock in the lower prices.

And some vertical markets, said Forrester analysts, will be better bets than others for vendors in 2004.

Healthcare will remain a hot target for IT providers this year, according to Forrester's data and the opinions of the IT decision makers its interviewed. Although healthcare will be forced to pare expenses to stay competitive in a world where costs continue to skyrocket, IT will be spared the worst of the ax.Wal-Mart, which is aggressively pushing RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) on its suppliers, will be the gorilla that calls the tune in 2004 in the consumer packaged goods technology arena. "Wal-Mart will get what it wants with RFID," said Adrian. Outside of the Wal-Mart universe, however, RFID will find a rougher road. Widespread adoption of RFID by enterprises needs something it doesn't yet have: a solid return on investment.

And PC prices will continue to drop in 2004, good news for buyers, bad news for sellers. To make up the difference, the research firm's survey results noted that IT managers expect major PC makers -- such as Dell, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard -- to continue their efforts to make headway in the consumer electronics market.

That shift is definitely in vogue in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where major IT vendors, Dell and HP and Microsoft included, are touting new moves into consumer electronics.

This week, for instance, Microsoft announced a host of CE-technologies, including Windows Media Center Extender, which will integrate into devices such as set-top boxes and televisions to display content stored on PCs, while HP on Friday rolled out a slew of products it's targeting at the home. Among them: an entertainment hub and central storage repository for music, photo, video, and movie files that HP plans to launch this fall.

But the overarching prediction from Adrian really isn't so much a prediction -- the numbers aren't yet in -- but an observation."We have what I call an attention deficit disorder in IT," he said. "It's now becoming clear that the macro economy is starting to thaw, but the real question for 2004 will be where enterprises spend their IT budgets."

That, he concluded, is still unclear, for as more money is freed up by management, it's not always the next item on last year's list that will, or should, be funded.

"Trying to predict spending based on IT managers' wish lists is like predicting the toy market from kids' letters to Santa," he said.

Instead, it will take time for increasing spending trends to sort themselves out, for companies will be taking a fresh look at last year's wish list of unfunded projects, revamping those lists, and even coming up with new projects necessary to take advantage of the heating economy.

"Business plans change," he said. And that's something not even Forrester can predict.

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