By Jack Vaughan
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A variety of mostly consumer-driven forces challenge enterprise IT and application development today. Cloud computing, Web information, mobile devices and social media innovations are converging to dramatically change modern organizations and their central IT shops. Industry analyst group Gartner Inc. describes these forces as forming a nexus, a connected group of phenomena, which is highly disruptive.
As in earlier shifts to client-server computing and Web-based e-commerce, the mission of IT is likely to come under serious scrutiny. How IT should adjust was a prime topic at this week's Gartner ITxpo conference held in Orlando, Fla.
"A number of things are funneling together to cause major disruption to your environment," David Cearley, vice president and Gartner fellow, told CIOs and other technology leaders among the more than 10,000 assembled at the Orlando conference.
"Mobile has outweighed impact in terms of disruption. The mobile experience is eclipsing the desktop experience," said Cearley, who cited the large number of mobile device types as a challenge to IT shops that had over the years achieved a level of uniformity via a few browsers and PC types. "You need to prepare for heterogeneity," he told the audience.
Crucially, mobile devices coupled with cloud computing can change that basic architecture of modern corporate computing.
"You need to think about 'cloud-client' architecture, instead of client-server," Cearley said. "The cloud becomes your control point for what lives down in the client. Complex applications won't necessarily work in these mobile [settings]."
This could mean significant changes in skill sets required for enterprise application development. The cloud-client architecture will call for better design skills for front-end input. Development teams will have to make tradeoffs between use of native mobile device OSes and HTML5 Web browser alternatives, according to Cearley. The fact that these devices are brought into the organization by end users acting as consumers also is a factor.
"The user experience is changing. Users have new expectations," he said. For application architects and developers, he said, there are "new design skills required around how applications communicate and work with each other."
The consequences are complex. For example, software development and testing is increasingly not simply about whether software works or not, according to one person on hand at Gartner ITxpo. "We get great pressures to improve the quality of service we provide. It's not just the software, it's how the customer interacts with the software," said Dave Miller, vice president of software quality assurance at FedEx Services.
Cloud computing and mobile apps on the horizon
Shifts in software architecture, such as those seen today in cloud and mobile applications, have precedence, said Miko Matsumura, senior vice president of platform marketing and developer relations at Mateo, Calif.-based mobile services firm Kii Inc. In the past, there have been "impedance mismatches," for example, in the match between object software architecture and relational data architecture, he noted.
The effect of mobile development means conventional architecture is evolving. "What happens is you see the breakdown of the programming model," said Matsumura, a longtime SOA thought leader whose firm markets a type of mobile back end as a service offering. "Now we have important new distinctions. A whole class of developers treat mobile from the perspective of cloud."
The changes in application development and application lifecycles are telling, according to Gartner's Jim Duggan, vice president for research. "Mobile devices and cloud -- a lot of these things challenge conventional development," he said. He said Gartner estimates that by 2015 mobile applications will outnumber those for static deployment by four to one. This will mean that IT will have to spend more on training of developers, and will likely do more outsourcing as well.
"Deciding which [are the skills that] you need to have internally is going to change the way your shop evolves," he said.
Look out; the chief digital officer is coming
Underlying the tsunami of disruptive consumerist forces Gartner sees is a wholesale digitization of commerce. At the conference Gartner analysts said such digitization of business segments will lead to a day when every budget becomes an IT budget. Firms will begin to create the role of chief digital officer as part of the business unit leadership, Gartner boldly predicted, estimating 25% of organizations will have chief digital officers in place by 2015.
The chief digital officer title may grow, according to Kii's Matsumura. Often today, marketing departments are controlling the mobile and social media agendas within companies, he said.
"We are seeing a convergence point between the human side of the business -- in the form of marketing -- and the 'machine-side,' in the form of IT," he said.