Ten Tech-pieces that survived big change bolts…so far

By : |December 12, 2012 0

INDIA: Today is December 12. Keeping the other fears aside, if we pause and wonder about some planets from the big black hole of innovation, we will often bump into a technology or a concept that too, faced another sort of Mayan calendar for its survival. 

Like Milind Govekar, Managing Vice President, Gartner Research commented in an interview talking about how CIOs stay rightly invested and not dragged by obsolescence, “Chargeback is a concept used by IT to recover costs for long now. But that system lacked transparency to a big extent.”

The new terminology is ‘showback’. The logic is there is nothing to hide costs but to show costs in the right areas, so there is more transparency. One starts asking about the levers one can use to control costs. New cost allocation models come up and they are very different from the buckets used to fill and count earlier. That was not valid, not predictable, not fair, not controllable and archaic. This is just the opposite.

A lot, and we repeat, a lot, has changed in the last decade itself. New concepts and disruptions keep knocking many erstwhile technologies out of their orbits. Some of them bite the dust too soon, while others kick off another cloud of dust altogether. Of the latter, some technology cowboys are just swagger-walking before their breathe their last, but still there are a few who fight with gusto. No body lives forever, but what matters is who gives at least a good wrestling match to remember before mumbling “Hasta La Vista baby!”

Here are some technologies, some are just dragging till the last possible drop of cash is squeezed out of the cows. And some are just getting more furious and interesting to watch as days and quarters roll by. You may itch to write them off, but may be not right away.

On-premise ERP

 

An old, sorry, an erstwhile technology is shaken out of the cocoons of complacence whenever a new disruption strikes. Something that cloud and its immediate scion, SaaS meant for traditional ERP suites. There was a lot of talk, guess-work and even vendor-hustle-bustle around the arrival of SaaS. Many hoped, and some feared that it will immediately usurp the bastions of on-premise softwares in one smooth swipe. Many cloud-vendors have made a lot of traction in the ERP market. But replacing on-premise and legacy deployments instead of last-mile extensions or non-core applications is still the high-hanging fruit, if not quite a challenge any more.

In fact, in 2011 Gartner data showed how the $12 billion BI and analytics market “is still dominated by traditional on-premise solutions linked to PCs.

And a Panorama Consulting’s 2012 ERP research pointed that the majority of companies implementing ERP systems are taking the traditional approach. As per these findings; 58 percent were deploying via on-premise and 21 percent are rolling out traditional ERP hosted off-site. About 16 per cent were going the SaaS ERP route.

A look at Impanaya‘s 2012 survey of SAP ERP customers tells that 96 per cent of those that run ERP 5.0 or earlier versions are either currently upgrading their software or have plans for a future upgrade.

There is a tough rival for SaaS aspirants for sure and it could be due to many reasons: risk-appetite issues among senior executives; too-deep or long-term investments being done already; good, fat maintenance-fee streams for vendors or the sheer expansion in depth and breadths that on-premise suites themselves have undergone.

In the past 12 months, Gartner has seen a decline in the proportion of SaaS deployed to augment existing applications, as per another Gartner’s report, exploring global SaaS adoption patterns. It unearthed some regional patterns, where SaaS was replacing existing systems in mature markets, and often being the first business solution implemented in emerging markets.

But as it turns out, much of SaaS adoption is fairly recent, with 71 per cent of responding organizations overall reporting that they have been using it for less than three years.

There is a lot of room for SaaS but not before it can simply elbow out on-premise predecessors.

2. Mainframes

 

Ah, those big boxes, the huge ironman we just love writing-off every few months! But something inexorably forces us to consider our assumptions about this giant again.

As per a report by by Richard Fichera from Forrester; x86 servers have been an alternative for low-end Unix workloads in recent years. But two key factors, scalability and reliability, have been the key factors in making them climb the pecking order and being considered for the largest critical enterprise workloads, for instance: enterprise resource planning, financial packages, and other critical systems, for their being too critical and too resource-intensive for migration to x86 systems.

In fact issues around application and infrastructure and operations (I&O) management surfaced as limitations of the candidate environments for migration, notably Linux and Microsoft’s server OS.

Hung Le Hong, a seasoned analyst from Gartner shared earlier that many portfolios in the IT industry will have to confront questions of relevance. “At some point, we will have more devices and platforms that use light-weight operating systems. Heavy-weight OS will face dire questions as more app-store formats surge. The portfolio should be where the market is moving.”

Hong’s prognosis shows how the market is changing in many other areas too.

Notably though, the new generation of x86 servers based on Intel’s Xeon 7500 CPU have offered a viable platform for offloading RISC/Unix workloads from. RISC/Unix servers still continue to have a performance advantage for the largest workloads, as the report outlines.

Reuters also reported recently that IBM will unveil a new version of its iconic mainframe computer, adding new security and data analytics features as it struggles to stem declines in the sluggish market for high-end business computers.

Incidentally, IBM spent more than $1 billion developing the updated machines, focusing on efforts to boost their computing performance, capacity and features.

Officials with IBM also mentioned in this news report that the company has “thousands” of mainframe customers around the globe.

Gartner estimated annual global sales of mainframes through 2016 o nearly $4.7 billion.

Gartner analyst Jeffrey Hewitt highlighted in this report that mainframe customers are likely to stick with the technology. That group includes government agencies, financial services companies and other businesses that require tremendous computing power, extreme speed and very high reliability for certain tasks such as processing credit card transactions.
BMC Software’s Sixth Annual Worldwide Mainframe Survey also showed that mainframe’s importance in driving business applications and services is intact and that the mainframe continues to be a critical platform for the evolving hybrid data center.

As per this survey: 93 per cent of respondents at large companies expect capacity to grow or remain steady; 62 per cent, compared to 56 per cent last year, expect to grow overall capacity; 47 per cent of respondents said new workloads and new business applications are contributing to their capacity growth; and 60 per cent of respondents said the top IT priority is keeping costs down.

These survey results reiterate that companies are still heavily committed to the mainframe and continue to look for new ways to integrate the mainframe into their future data centers.

The BMC mainframe survey confidently argues about the continued need for the mainframe in today’s business, yet, as with the rest of the IT world, the mainframe is not immune to the changing nature of IT.
Competition from less-expensive servers running on x86 chips from Intel Corp and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Software makers; cluster-based options as well as blade and rack formats are heating up the competition nonetheless.

But mainframes have not been new to challenges, starting from the advent of client/server model of computing in the 1980s to adaptation efforts like T-Rex.

As per Gartner forecasts sales of x86 servers will surge 10 percent this year to $39 billion. In the five years to 2016, annual sales of those machines will climb a total of 33 percent to $47 billion.

Will it hit more than 10 times the mainframe market as it forecasts? That would be a good question to keep our attention occupied for the next five years at least.

As Abhijit Kundu from Engineers India Ltd also assesses, mainframes may be going through a survival question but something that will take another eight to ten years for getting an answer for sure.

3. PCs

Ask J S Sodhi, the IT Captain at Amity Group and he shrugs off the very idea of PCs becoming obsolete. In his opinion, tablets have yet to prove their existence.” People are still not using them as a primary device, as he rightly observes.

On the other end of this chain is Rekuram Vardharaj, Marketing Director, Enterprise solutions and growth markets, Dell India who feels that experience that users like on their end devices does not undergo many shifts. It could be a tablet or a smart phone today. It’s not as much about the device as it is about the rationale.

For Kundu, this question of PCs’ existence will surface strongly but only in the next five years

An IDC report on connected devices projected tabletop computer unit sales are projected to grow 1.2 per cent between 2012 and 2016, as Laptop sales may grow at a clip 31 per cent unit growth over the next four years; while it’s 131 per cent for tablet sales. Tablet sales are going to beat laptop sales by just 14 million units: 283 million vs. 269 million.

Companies like Dell are in no mood to spin off PC divisions or write hardware-obituaries in light of software cribs apparently.

The combined desk-based and mobile PC market in India totaled nearly 2.9 million units in the third quarter of 2012. It is a 5.9 per cent decrease over the third quarter of 2011, according to information technology research and advisory company Gartner Inc.

But may be the it’s a slide rather than a free-fall plummeting that many had predicted for PCs. They are definitely struggling to add more years to their life but the hearsay still lacks the hearse. Till the undertaker arrives, PCs continue only to toboggan for all we know.

 

4. Cable companies

 

In an article by John C. Abell for Reuters, one spotted how Apple could be attempting to persuade cable companies to license some manner of Apple TV, the idea being to replace set-top boxes.

While usability, streaming quality, bandwidth issues and on-screen navigation are words that had been alien to this skyline some years back; a lot of changes in the technology world has in fact forced cable industry to look sharp. In India, deadlines to transition to set-top box era were replete this year.

In the US, concepts like TiVo, HD-Boxes or Direct TV have been doing the rounds.

TiVo has been reported to notch about 2 million U.S. subscribers so far where 87 per cent of the market still has cable or satellite.

There may be a lack of right buttons to incentivise cable/satellite players to offer better services, quality and more innovation to their customers.
But till some one pushes the right keys, all is fine at the idiot box it seems.

5. Vending Machines

There is apparently a Coke vending machine somewhere in the oriental side of the atlas which pops out a bottle every time you hug it.

Is that just a gimmick or a bear hug to a landscape fast changing, now that it is dotted with an armada of changes, it’s not hard to guess. From online retailers who ship everything for free to new technology automations and service channel upgrades; the odd kiosk was almost relegated to a corner literally.

But is it too early to kick these boxes hard? Even if they are all set to hug new ways and approaches to delight customer?

Well, the size of the U.S. vending machine industry has stayed steady over the past few years, raking in about $42 billion last year, according to the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA).

Almost 95 per cent of that revenue still came from traditional options such as beverages and snacks.

NAMA president and CEO Carla Balakgie however argued how innovations like touchscreen technology, electronic payment options and unique products could drive the industry forward.

In Japan, over 5.2 million machines generated about $65 billion in 2009 from sales of everything from eggs to pet rhinoceros beetles.

As per a Frost Sullivan report, there has been a surge in interest by this industry to adopt new technologies. There were some 18 million vending machines installed worldwide as of 2010 and things like touch screens, cashless payment and telemetry are changing the keys a lot.

In fact global shipments of intelligent vending machines were forecasted to grow at a 49 per cent CAGR between 2010 to 2016. F&B companies have started testing concepts like card readers, mobile payments, digital signage and user engagement.

No doubt then predictions like those from Gartner also leave a lot to read between the lines. Like by 2015, context-aware promotions will comprise 10 per cent of convenience item promotional activity among consumer goods manufacturers in developed markets.

Through 2015, 80 per cent of multichannel implementations will fail because retailers will retain channel- and product-centric strategies.

6. Joysticks:

Once upon a time we used sticks and consoles to make Mario chase turtles or let our cars overtake others. And then sensor technology came. Microsoft and others tried to ensure that we don’t sit and play but rather stand up and burn some calories too.

Has it cut back any joy for the old joystick makers?

In 2011, Nintendo sold 11.4 million units of its latest handheld gaming system, the 3DS. Its Wii home video game console sales dipped to just 4.5 million units in 2011 in the U.S., apparently a 35 per cent drop from the previous year.

Even Sony‘s SNEPlayStation 3 and Microsoft‘s MSFT Xbox 360 – 2005-era systems are expected to be replaced by more powerful consoles within the next year or two, as per a media report.
Sony could be betting more on PlayStation Vita handheld gaming system to be a hit.

Research firm Strategy Analysts had been heard to predict that the $249 could net Sony $2 billion in hardware and software sales for 2012.

The iPod Touch, iPad, and iPhone have also shaken the space in unthought-of ways.

With a better battery life, and access to tones of cheap apps they have been alleged to be the spoiler in the game that erstwhile players were enjoying.

The prospect of an official Apple controller for an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch is already doing the rounds.

With a hard-to-ignore design lineage, Apple might shake things more in this space.

Virtual tennis rackets or touch screens are still on the upper league of the market, till they penetrate the ground alleys of video-game market.

 

7. BI seeks Intelligence:

Would a more glamorous cousin called in-memory analytics supported by a really wealthy grand-grand-parent Big Data turn the tables of the BI as we know it?

According to Gartner, by 2012, collaborative analytics would provide simulation, prediction, optimization and other analytics bringing in more flexibility for business processes in organizations. Analytics is growing from traditional offline analytics to in- line embedded analytics that focus efforts in the past

Analysts are finding that there is a huge increase in the use of flash memory in consumer devices, entertainment devices and other embedded IT systems. This would demand new application models that would include in-memory analytics, in-memory application servers, event processing platforms, in-memory data management and in-memory messaging.
In fact, it may be so that the in-memory approach will enter the mainstream, as cost and availability of memory intensive hardware platforms reach tipping points by 2013.

At the same time, a new report from Gartner that unravels how the BI market reached $12.2 billion in software revenues in 2011, a 16.4 per cent increase from 2010 revenues of $10.5 billion.

Fuelling this growth are trends like Line-of-business leaders purchasing “self-service data discovery tools and CFOs showing “a renewed interest in BI and performance management, as observed here.

Also interestingly business spending on IT initiatives is still being directed chiefly toward BI. Gartner’s 2012 CIO survey, for instance, showed that “analytics and BI is the No. 1 technology priority for CIOs in 2012.

So yes, BI will stay as long as it keeps painting itself in new shades that innovation harbingers. May be what challenges its survival will per se fuel its relevance ahead.

 

8. Middleware Brothers:

When the decibels around in-memory breakthroughs like HANA or Exalytics picked up really well in the recent past months, one couldn’t help wonder if this would help or harm the other distant cousin called Middleware.

Can it still stay relevant beyond a point?

Adam Binnie, Global VP & GM, Business Intelligence from SAP clarified the question in a CIOL interview like this.

“That’s an administration platform. Organizations using NetWeaver should feel comfortable investing in HANA. SAP would help in complicated transitions if needed. Most companies have been bound in classic OLAP models. Now there are new ways to see knowledge beyond the data paradigms. It would be reporting vs. questions. Different departments can pick from different set of tools in real time and by leveraging a new format of organizational infrastructure. HANA allows to address transformational use cases. Instead of just getting reports a business decision-maker can now dip in and ask any question required.

Adaire Fox-Martin, senior vice president, Industry Business Solutions, APJ, SAP Asia Pte Ltd also commented on the sidelines of a form that if you don’t have HANA, the question of middle layer opens up in an entirely new dimension. It’s a point about relational database.

“Netweaver components are important to integrate other applications and it is an important part of HANA use cases.” He stressed

When questioned about the so-called SAP struggle with Netweaver, Steve Lucas, EVP and General Manager, SAP Database and Technology was confident.

“Those kinds of pieces are usually abstract and invisible. A scalable and secure ERP actually runs on a strong Netweaver but it’s ok if the users do not feel the specifics. That’s not required also. Good plumbing is seldom visible and Netweaver has done a good job at that. It will continue to do so.”

The sentiment resonates beyond the emotional bandwidth too as Manu Govind, IT Head, Synthite Industries shares “Till some time back when we had other systems, Netweaver was a latest feature in SAP stack. That’s how we continued with NetWeaver specially in areas like sales & distribution, production planning and quality management. We have now considered the HCM module and plant maintenance etc so as to extend Netweaver as much as possible.”

Govind says he has seen companies that are still on R3 versions and running fairly ok. It is not much of an issue as long as one can utilize one’s investments. Once business meets requirements only then going to the next level makes any sense. “We have gone live with BusinessObjects also for clearer picture of every department. It is still to be utilized the way it should be. We are working towards that through trainings”

 

9. Ink Jets:

MFPs are here and so are new advances printing their ways into many pages at fierce speeds. But have they etched their mark so strong as to displace ink jets? Or have ink-jets realized that fading away is more to do with dry strategies than dry ink?
To put the big picture into perspective, let’s look at some numbers.

The combined serial inkjet and page printer, copier and multifunction product (MFP) market in India totaled 715,202 units in the second quarter of 2012, a 6.8 per cent increase from the second quarter of 2011, according to Gartner, Inc. Total end user spending stood at $208.1 million, up 35 per cent from the same period last year.

MFP growth in India has been driven by the Banking, Financial Services and Insurance, Education and Government sector, as Amrita Choudhury, research analyst at Gartner observed in the report. It added that Serial inkjet and page technology for both color and monochrome printers and MFPs were well received. Yes, the inkjet printers market declined 7.2 per cent compared to the second quarter of 2011.

In a parallel universe, the inkjet printing market is valued at $33.4 billion in 2011 and forecast to grow to $67.3 billion in 2017. As Smithers Pira sees it in a study titled The Future of Inkjet Printing to 2017: Global Market Forecasts, inkjet is growing because it provides significant advantages across many supply chains.

As it further argues, Inkjet printing is not a discrete market, and the technology is used in many diverse applications using very different types of equipment and materials. Like: textile printing, industrial decoration for glass, ceramics, flooring and synthetic building materials. Or being used in manufacturing display screens, photovoltaics and some electronic products; wherein there is great potential for inkjet to be used as a manufacturing process for precisely applying small quantities of material in additive deposition processes.

To dissect the confidence in specific terms one finds that signage is a sector that helps the largest market sector for inkjet, representing 57 per cent of the value in 2011.

Another area called ceramic tile printing is where inkjet provides many economic and production benefits over screen printing. The technology’s greater flexibility includes infinite variability of natural designs to the edge of the tile, faster response times and lower breakage levels.

There are some 600 inkjet print lines installed, with sales in 2012 of 500 more systems predicted, ranging from $350,000 up to $1.5 million. The other area growing rapidly is textiles, where digital printing is taking off with new, faster technology coming on stream.

Inkjet is also being used in magazine production, as per this study with 300,000 copies of the November edition of Popular Mechanics magazine sent to US subscribers with a personalised cover.

The inkjet market will still account for less than one per cent of print volume by 2017, but will be nearly seven per cent of the market value, as it confidently predicts.

10. Gramophone:

 

In an interesting paper, Stephen L Barraca, also founder, president of BCRI Inc. postulates how technological obsolescence is having a more profound impact on the future economic life of utility property today than in the past.

Also, the current mortality process i.e. using a single mortality survivor curve for all vintage for all future years, grossly understates the true impact of technology obsolescence. He also dwells on a method called substitution analysis, wherein, adoption of a new technology’s adoption is assessed by understanding displacement of an established technology as the new one provides new capabilities, performance or economics.

Initially the old technology survives strongly because it takes time for new ones to confront its maturity and economies of scale. But as the new substitute improves and finds new applications, it keeps getting superior. A period of rapid adoption is reckoned at beginning near the 15 per cent penetration level by Stephen here. This also corresponds with a period of rapid abandonment of the old technology.

Well, there’s a lot that R&D experts and technology vendors can read here, but some exceptions like the Good old Gramophones defy all rules. In a world beaming with online music, digital downloads and streaming technology-advancements, one still spots them carefully preserved in an aficionado’s home, rather than in a museum.

Some things last beyond the ‘so far’ too.

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