You've honed your list of hot technologies to focus on in 2016, but you also need to make longer-term plans and prepare for changes that are fast approaching by keeping an eye on developments just now taking shape.
What should be on your radar screen as we head into the new year? The 182 IT professionals who participated in the Computerworld Forecast 2016 survey singled out these five potentially disruptive technologies and trends: the rise of DevOps, virtualization 2.0, carbon-reducing technologies, the evolution of the IT-marketing alignment, and a sharpening of IT's focus on the customer experience.
Here's a look at what our survey revealed about each of those emerging areas.
As IT retools to become more responsive to rapidly changing business requirements, approaches like DevOps are gaining solid footing as ways to support agile IT service delivery.
Considered more of a culture shift than a full-blown development methodology, DevOps emphasizes a greater level of collaboration earlier on in the process between the operations and development teams, aided by a set of automation tools. Enterprise IT, under continued pressure to accelerate systems delivery, is rapidly adopting the DevOps philosophy. In the Computerworld Forecast 2016 survey, 44% of respondents said they plan to embrace DevOps this year, up from 37% in 2015.
Research firm Gartner also sees an uptick in DevOps adoption as IT organizations look for ways to improve time to production, enhance business value and save money.
[ Further reading: Forecast 2016: 5 fast-track trends to tackle now ]
"Agility is the driver," says Gartner analyst Ronni Colville. "In the old days, if you pushed out a new function and it didn't work, you started over. In the DevOps style of agile development, new applications are developed in a fast-fail manner. They break, but they're never broken."
A sign that DevOps is maturing is the expansion of automation in areas like testing and monitoring. That said, a successful DevOps strategy has less to do with technology than it does with people, Colville says. "People and culture are always the challenge because people have to work together in ways they didn't before," she explains.
2. Virtualization 2.0
Recognizing that virtualization can reduce costs and wring more performance out of the desktop, IT is now eager to embrace next-generation virtualization technology, which provides similar benefits for other types of systems, not just desktop computing.
Tech professionals participating in Computerworld's Forecast 2016 survey said that they expect to see more money budgeted for virtualization projects over the next 12 months. Thirty-five percent of those polled said they were increasing spending on virtualization efforts, while a combined 64% said they were beta-testing or piloting some kind of virtualization -- be it desktop, server, storage, mobile or network.
As an alternative to full-blown virtualization, some organizations are starting to "containerize" their server, data center and cloud applications. "The reason for containers is all about agility and speed — that's what's pushing it today," says Colville.
3. Carbon-reducing technologies
Companies are paying more attention to their environmental footprints, and that's prompting a flurry of spending on energy-saving technologies.
In this year's Forecast survey, 16% of the respondents indicated that energy-saving or carbon-reducing technologies would be a new area of spending for them in 2016. In the data center, companies are investing in virtualization, new cooling technologies and power management capabilities, among other things, to help reduce energy consumption.
Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is in the midst of moving into Verizon's new, world-class data center in Miami. Energy was a top driver in the decision to move off-campus, according to CIO Tom West. "All of our servers will be virtual, therefore taking up a very small footprint and making us very energy-efficient," he says.
4. IT-marketing alignment
In the age of digital business, technology has become a critical asset in helping companies engage with customers and prospects. As a result, IT and marketing departments are collaborating and forging partnerships that once would have seemed unlikely.
Keith Collins, CIO, SAS Institute
Marketing technology -- everything from marketing automation to email campaign management and analytics -- is a major new area of interest for our survey respondents: 23% said they plan to increase spending on marketing technology in 2016, and 13% said it is a new area of spending for them. As companies place more of an emphasis on nurturing and engaging customers and prospects through multiple digital channels, there's a need for CIOs and CMOs to work together to drive new innovative use cases, ensure successful implementations and improve overall marketing effectiveness.
At SAS Institute, collaboration between marketing and IT is essential given the role technology now plays throughout the customer life cycle, according to Keith Collins, executive vice president and CIO at the Cary, N.C.-based software provider. "Digital transformation is affecting every area of the business, including how you touch customers, how you find customers and how you engage customers," Collins says. "All of this can't be executed without an effective technology plan, which is why there is so much energy in these partnerships."
5. A focus on customer experience
As companies look to deploy systems that simplify interaction and foster engagement with their target audiences, the customer experience has become a priority for IT.
It's certainly a higher priority for Computerworld Forecast survey respondents this year than it was a year ago. Last year, when respondents were asked to rank their top objectives for their single most important IT project, 11% chose "improving customer experience/satisfaction" -- putting it last among the list of options presented. This year, that same choice ranked fourth, picked by 16% of those polled.
At mortgage company PrimeLending, IT is pitching in to help reduce friction and streamline the customer experience to make the mortgage process easier and more accessible for potential clients, says Tim Elkins, executive vice president and CIO at the Dallas-based financial services firm.
Tim Elkins, CIO, PrimeLending
Elkins reports that his team carried out a massive overhaul to PrimeLending's system for handling mortgage applications online, making the process conversational in style. They also created a series of mobile apps that streamline previously paper-laden processes. One of those apps offers a secure way to automatically collect bank statements and other financial information to populate the online forms.
"Customers don't have to enter data, and they don't have to collect forms," Elkins explains. "Now they can go to an open house, make an offer, and enter five to 10 pieces of data in our mortgage app. It then automatically populates the application, runs the credit check, goes through underwriting, and enables them to have approval before they walk out the door. That's our goal."