How Will IT Impact Offices

August 17, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — During the past week, the Business Journal queried area people engaged in the business of information technology about how they think the rapid changes in their field will affect the way we work.

… And even the places in which we work.

Summing up, it's not clear exactly what will happen. But from inexpensively customized applications to face-to-face Internet conversations, we all will see impacts aplenty.

Keith Brophy, CEO

SageStone Inc.

"The thing that is changing the way we do business the most is the development tools. The way we used to develop applications was kind of like nailing board by board with a hammer and nails — took forever and left lots of room for mistakes and banging of fingers. Today the tools we use are prefabricated walls. We can just carry those in and put the paint on and maybe cut an additional window to tailor to the business.

"So much more effective … over the last couple of years, businesses are moving forward with substantial initiatives that are going to transform their business.

"They might invest $200,000 to automate a supply chain, $100,000 to have a job tracking portal for their customers to connect with, all things that give them a competitive edge or change the way their business generates revenue.

"Ten years ago an initiative like that would have cost a million or two million (dollars) — a business couldn't even consider it."

Carl Erickson, president

Atomic Object LLC

"I'm very excited about the ideas behind and coming impact of the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB).

"This approach to enterprise integration is built on open standards and protocols, and can help a company move to a real-time enterprise. An ESB can be extended across an organization, including partners, vendors and multiple locations.

"It allows for incremental adoption and keeps a company free of any single vendor. I believe increasing access to data, and knowing the data is accurate to the minute, is one of the best ways we have of increasing our efficiency and world competitiveness."

Bill Dowell, director of research

Herman Miller Inc.

"I think that the changes in display technologies are going to have a profound affect on the way we do work.

"Right now our display technology is very precious. In our laptops we carry it around with us and it's the most expensive part. If we have a workstation, we probably have a cathode ray tube. Some of us have LCD tubes on our desk. Again, they are very precious things and the workstation is set up around them.

"A number of new display technologies are going to come to market in the future and the prices will come down dramatically. They won't become such a precious thing to us … because those display technologies may be in many different places where we choose to do work. We may not have to carry these expensive things around with us. They'll be in lots of places where work is going to happen.

"If I can come to work knowing I have a big screen TV to do work on, that would be a draw for me to come here and do this work.

"A lot of the advances are pretty wild — organic LEDs. It is even being woven into fabrics, so your display could even be on clothes that you wear. It certainly won't be backlit cathode ray tubes.

"We have this big reliance on display of computing devices right now. Some are pretty pathetic when you think of BlackBerry or cell phones. If displays are everywhere and you are able to plug into them, the interface of these devices like telephones and handheld devices can be that much better."

Dan Horne, president

ISG

"There are three big trends in IT that are changing the way we do business: The convergence of voice and data (Voice Over Internet Protocol or VOIP) is allowing many companies to increase productivity, improve customer service and offer new services, while simultaneously driving cost out of their IT budget.

"Recent legislation is dramatically changing how companies view the need to guarantee the security and integrity of their data. Under some of the new legislation, corporate officers are now being held legally accountable for breaches to their IT systems.

"We continue to see a strong trend for many companies to outsource responsibility for their IT systems … More and more companies are finding that the cost, complexity and headaches that go along with running a reliable IT environment hinders them from focusing on their core business."

Dirk Koning, executive director

Community Media Center

"Your question makes me think of an Einstein quote, 'As a circle of light increases, so does the circumference of darkness around it.' Information technology is the light and the future is the darkness.

"I personally love to hover in the seam between the light and the dark. Given that, certain trends seem destined to play out. Voice, video and data will continue to blend seamlessly into a ubiquitous bit stream. Storage will be limitless. Retrieval, however, will be messy. Wireless everything will rule the day.

New devices that blend voice, video and data for wireless transmission and reception will continue to revolutionize business practices. Workers with mixed media communication skills will rise to the top.

"On the other hand, maybe it will just be dark."

Gary Mahieu, CEO

iMart

XML and Web services (connecting older internal systems with Internet technologies); multi-channel commerce (traditional e-commerce is rapidly evolving to multi-channels of communication with the customer/client); wireless networks and handhelds (wireless continues to become more and more pervasive in the corporation and the home); and team collaboration (at global outsourcing) continue to gain momentum. 

"Companies are seeking ways to collaborate using technologies like Grove Networks that will create efficiencies and drive down the cost of IT."

Phil Catlett, vice president

Regent Broadcasting

Ratings technology will become more accurate in measuring viewership of television programs and television commercials. 

"Because of TiVo, many people are no longer watching television ads. Advertisers will need to measure that. 

"When it comes to radio, actual listening will be measured rather than the diary method where listeners currently try to recall what they listened to and write it down. Newspaper readership will continue to diminish due to the increase in media choices and the personalization of media."

Charlie McGrath, director of creative services

Structure Interactive

"The two buzzwords you are going to hear the most are mobility and convergence.

"You're going to see real arguments between people (about) whether the trend is going to be a one-size-fits-all device or are people going to prefer smaller specialized devices. I tend to fall into the smaller specialized device camp, like the iPod.

"Things that we used to feel anchored to a desk for will no longer be the case. Information that you used to be sitting at your desk to use, you can access from a coffee house or from anywhere.

"The other is the idea of convergence. Everything is just getting easier. It's not so much that we're getting new features and new benefits, but things that used to be only restricted to the tech caste — only the geeks could use it, only the geeks could figure it out.

"Three or four years ago, you needed to be a real techie to get a wireless network going, if you could do it at all. Seven years ago you needed to know what you were doing to even get an Internet connection, to get an e-mail address up and running. None of this stuff was easy.

"Today it's something that grandparents can take for granted."

Gail Huff, president, with David Replogle, vice president of IT

Precision Data Products

XML is a language that allows systems to speak to each other, whether it's Linux, Windows, Solaris or a Novell network.

"You are able to make requests of services from each other with XML alone. It's basically going to revolutionize the way people discover new products, but also how they will track orders and return those orders (and) do the whole commerce cycle.

"Another thing is wireless networks. Ottawa County is looking at putting access points across the whole county. No matter where you're at, you can access the Internet using your wireless card — and then there's that fellow in Grand Haven. It's even coming on big in the office.

"Then there's VOIP, and now you have wireless VOIP. We're looking at getting rid of our traditional phone lines here and going with VOIP, which is a fraction of the cost of using a regular telephone."

Ray Hoag, project facilitator

Link Michigan

Enhanced broadband (speed and ubiquitous coverage) will allow more applications at a distance. Voice and video information streams will flow through the enhanced Internet

"Seniors will be able to live longer in independent settings using applications to monitor their health status. Collaboration and learning will be enhanced through effective real-time meetings. Non-productive travel time will be reduced. 

"Homes will be designed to accept goods and services ordered online. More people will telecommute."

Andy Catlin, principal

Ottawa Interactive Reporting

Big business software at small business prices. The most significant new technology for many West Michigan businesses will emerge from the disruptive innovations taking place right now in the software industry. 

"The emergence of Linux and open source are forcing companies like Microsoft and Oracle to create much cheaper, much simpler software. 

"Think about what spreadsheets and QuickBooks have meant for smaller companies. Soon, the family-owned businesses that make up most of our local economy will be able to spend a thousand dollars to implement the portals and decision support systems that just five years ago might have cost a hundred thousand to a million dollars!

"This is going to be especially good news for our local businesses, whose survival depends on each year figuring out how to do more and more with less and less."

Ray DeWinkle, vice president

The Right Place Inc.

"I am really looking forward to the advances in wireless connectivity. An ability to connect in real-time from anywhere should greatly increase productivity and flexibility to get the job done. This is highlighted by Grand Haven's unveiling of its wireless network."

Jenny Fanning, president, CPR Inc.

"If you look at where industry is going, growth is in storage, VOIP and security.

"… A lot of what we're looking at right now is the ability to keep stuff — because they have to — but also have the ability to get at it. The security component will keep growing as long as there are attackers and viruses out there.

"And the VOIP technology is something we've moved into. I now have a single phone number that can contact me on my cell, tablet, office or at home, based on what I ask it to do. This will really help us as a work force."

Gail Torreano, president

SBC Michigan

Internet Protocol (IP) is reshaping the very foundation of the communications industry and VOIP is widely regarded as perhaps the most substantial technological advance in telecommunications in 100 years.  

"Businesses of all sizes stand to receive considerable benefits by consolidating their voice and data traffic onto a single business network.  VOIP can create cost savings in management and capital costs, because businesses have only one network to maintain.  It also offers new levels of features and functionality — such as a unified inbox for voicemail, e-mail and faxes — that were not previously possible, as well as increased convenience and productivity."

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