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2004: A tech odyssey

Will 2004 be even better, or is the current rally a brief, shining moment? To find out, we asked some major players at top tech companies to tell us what they see in the year ahead.

In 2003, the technology sector seemed to start its slow ascent back to greatness, after a few bloody years on a downward spiral. Will 2004 be even better, or is the current rally a brief, shining moment? What will be the big happenings in tech this year? To find out, we went to tech movers, shakers, and gurus and asked them what they see for the next dozen months. And, bless ’em, they actually answered us. From equipment to training to gaming, here’s where they see us headed.

Toshio Morohoshi, president and CEO, Fujitsu PC Corp.: The introduction of the Microsoft Tablet PC operating system, powerful new processors, and the proliferation of high-speed wireless connectivity are bringing new usage models and functionality to ultraportable notebooks and tablet computers. This has the potential of bringing a whole new level of productivity and efficiency to the modern business world.

Gary Shapiro, president, Consumer Electronics Association: The consumer tech market is very hot, and it will continue to be. After 9/11, people got used to staying at home, and investing money in their homes, and they will still do that. The availability of broadband, and the growth of Wi-Fi will make a huge difference this year in giving people the ability to receive, enjoy, and transfer content, and that will result in more and more people getting connected.

Jerril Yoo, character technical director, LucasArts: Game development is a very dynamic industry that’s constantly evolving and changing, although in some ways it’s still young. I think in the next year and beyond there will be many changes in the industry, with more complexity coming and exciting content on the horizon. Programmers and artists are working hand-in-hand, game design teams are getting larger, and that can only result in some very dynamic games in the next year.

Rob Stewart, vice president, Xerox Channels Group: In 2004, there will be a continued shift from standalone machines to connected products. By using networked devices to replace and consolidate old hardware, organizations will save on supply and maintenance costs while increasing overall efficiency in managing documents in both digital and paper form.

Jeff Taylor, founder and chief monster, The technology job market is still in a slow recovery mode, as technology workers are likely to continue to face the effects of the boom-and-bust period. Technology spending will gradually increase, but that won’t necessarily lead to a return of double-digit salary increases and the large bonuses that we saw back in 1999 and 2000. With companies continuing to closely monitor expenditures in all areas, money will be used efficiently for technology and for technology workers.

William Vanderbilt, director of CompTIA’s Technology Learning Group: It is clear that organizations are investing in technology implementations and projects that require employees to be well versed in technical issues. It is important that traditional training organizations take a project approach to the work they do, consultatively selling their products and services to customers. The key for survival is to move toward a variable cost model that emphasizes customer productivity instead of simply offering off-the-shelf training solutions. Organizations that have already begun to make this shift are thriving, whereas organizations that haven’t yet “seen the light” are squeaking by, trying to figure out how much longer they can last.

Roby Clyde, vice president and CTO, Symantec: Over the coming year and beyond, we will see a rise in more professional types of attackers, targeting specific crucial online systems and posing great potential dangers, not only to the Internet, but also to our national security, and ultimately our entire way of life. Going forward, organizations will have to employ a more holistic strategy–one that clearly incorporates and addresses the core objectives of a comprehensive security environment. This comprehensive approach will include alerting capabilities through early warning systems, integrated security solutions at every level of the network, and the implementation of response frameworks that utilize both technology and hands-on expertise to address security threats as they develop. Each of these components must be tied together under a central, open security management system to ensure both reactive and proactive protection.

Hector V. Barreto, administrator, Small Business Administration: I think that 2004 is really shaping up well for small business. The economic problems are subsiding, and business confidence is going up. The President’s Jobs and Growth tax cuts are going to help small business a lot–giving them the incentive and the confidence to make essential investments in their businesses–which ultimately means more jobs will be created. All signs indicate that small business is well positioned to lead, and to enjoy, full economic recovery. And, as always, the SBA is here to be a partner and an advocate as entrepreneurs work to achieve their dreams of success.

Mike Mulkey, strategic marketing manager, Sun Microsystems: One of the biggest things that’s going on right now is a move toward low-cost computing. For example, we’re aggressive–competing at the low end, which is a big shift from just a few years ago. I think you’re going to see those kind of strategies continuing as IT departments try to keep a lid on costs.

Martin Bean, CEO, New Horizons Computer Learning Centers: E-learning will continue to surpass the growth of instructor-led training as companies continue to look for the best of both worlds in an integrated learning solution. Also, the demand for learning management systems will continue to be driven by the need for companies to manage the development of their employees and the content they hold, whether that content is classroom-based training or delivered over the Internet.

Bryson Gordon, chief spam prevention officer, McAfee: This year, there will be more sophistication in the antispam product market. You’ll have better probability-based analysis, machine learning, and intelligent filtering. Also, there will be better user interfaces to help users set their own filters more effectively. People have begun to realize that spam is much more than just a nuisance, it’s a security threat, and they’ll begin to act accordingly.

Howard Dulany, division worldwide manager of mobile market development, IBM: A key trend is that wireless is going mainstream, it’s being used everywhere. As more business users take advantage of the hotspot trend, you’re going to see the wireless LAN landscape starting to stabilize. Also, as wireless is aggressively rolled out at places like universities, more hotspot locations will be created.

Joe Moss, executive director, United Cyber Games Association, organizer of the World Cyber Games: I think 2004 will bring increased growth and a continued push into the minds of mainstream video gamers. An increase in the number of events worldwide will make these competitions more accessible to both hardcore and casual gamers, as will improved online tournaments. We will certainly see an increase in representation of console games in WCG competitions, and I think it’s very likely that wireless games will be introduced to the mix next year as well.

Bob Morrill, technical planning manager, Sprint: The whole market is moving into IP. In a few years, I expect only remnants of circuit-switched systems as packet-switching takes over. At Sprint, we’re moving into a voice-over IP network architecture. Sprint has long recognized that voice-over packet is a key architecture. As the technology becomes more prevalent, the value increases, and that fuels faster development.

Michael Vanderslice, vice president of operations, Geeks On Call: In 2004, the number of wireless networks being used in homes and offices will continue to grow. This is due in large part to the ease with which laptop computers are able to share files and Internet connections with desktop computers, without the need for massive quantities of cables strung across floors and ceilings. As small, home-based businesses and telecommuting continue to become more popular, there has become a need for affordable, easy-to-use computer equipment that enables the non-technically inclined to get the same features and benefits that, until recently, were the sole domain of larger companies that spent big chunks of cash on IT products.

Jehmu Greene, president, Rock the Vote: Overseas military personnel will be able to vote online in 2004, and we think this is a great start toward seeing more voting activity being done electronically. I think more voter registration will be executed online, and we look forward to the day that electronic signatures are added to the mix. It’s a technology age, and young people in particular are more comfortable with doing things online, like banking. There’s no reason that voter registration and voting can’t come online as well, and this year I think there’ll be more a movement toward doing that.

Jeff Klaus, marketing programs and communications, Intel: Technology is advancing, there’s no question about that. We’re seeing better tech, a quicker time to market, more capability, and more features. I think in the coming year we’ll see the next generation of products, especially in the digital home infrastructure and in a Microsoft operating system. Hardware and software is coming together to allow for a digital home, from networks to PCs to PVRs.

Nate Tyler, public relations manager, Google: This year I think you’ll be seeing companies working to organize their internal information in a more efficient way. Having a great deal of data has become the norm, and now there will be a push toward organizing it in a way that’s relevant, and putting search capability into it. Having search capability on the desktop that’s specific to your company via a search appliance will begin to catch on more and more.

Frank Hanzlik, managing director, Wi-Fi Alliance: We have a few key initiatives that are going to be coming in the next year. First is a quality of service capability that will enable some multimedia applications, and that’s an area that has people excited. Also, we’re working on making security more robust and adding some enhancements there.

Peter Lowe, director of marketing for applications and services, Apple Computer: The interaction between developers and consumer electronics companies is very interesting right now, and it should go a long way toward making 2004 a year of entertainment for the consumer. The greatest challenge to us, and to others in the industry, has been in making technology not only meaningful to people, but also easy to use. Now, people are much more comfortable using the computer for digital pictures, music, and gaming, and we’ll see that reflected in the coming months. It’s going to be a good year.

Mike Mulholland, founder and vice chairman, Evergreen Assurance: We will see more enterprises building out their disaster recovery plans in an effort to maintain high productivity. Any interruption, no matter how small, can have serious and costly consequences for a business–an unacceptable risk for many companies. Subsequently, companies will begin to focus on establishing business continuity plans that provide for continuous availability of applications and technology architecture so that, regardless of the crisis, it is always business as usual.

Michael Choi, vice president of marketing and business development, RNT: To meet consumer demand for greater computing power and complexity, chip developers are constantly offering new innovations. Because current methods of cooling chips are about to hit a ceiling, the industry’s need for new solutions will greatly increase–time-tested methods for improving heat dissipation will no longer work. As smart CFOs realize the need to invest development funds in thermal solutions, this creates an attractive business proposition for companies developing new products and technologies that address this need.

Dr. John C. Hermansen, founder and CEO, Language Analysis Systems: With all the buzz surrounding biometric identification technology, some have been asking what the future holds for advanced technology in name recognition. In a nutshell, you can count on names being the principal form of identification and file entry for some time to come. The real problem we face now in the field of name recognition comes from the growing globalization of businesses and other institutions, and the impact of that on the information that they need to survive.

Steinar Svalesen, CEO, Telenor Mobile Interactive: Wireless premium text messaging is an emerging technology that is generating revenue for both media companies and wireless carriers. Wireless users will not only continue to text message votes to reality shows and promotions, but they will also be given the chance to participate in television news programs and talk shows, as well as radio shows and even be able to text message advertisers through ads and commercials.

Paul Sparta, chairman and CEO, Plateau Systems: Technology investments will again focus on enterprise software. Specifically, the trend will tip toward corporations investing in learning management systems that allow organizations to manage, track, and plan a blend of employee training from classroom-based training to e-learning. This trend is important because it indicates a shift in strategy for employee training, and it represents a bigger idea that will drive the future of workforce training.

Siki Giunta, CEO, Managed Objects: More companies will use IT resources to outpace competitors–either by initiating and winning pricing battles, or by creating and improving service offerings. The question is, What will separate the winners from the losers? It won’t come down to servers and routers. It’ll be about who gets the most business value from IT.

Brian Finan, director, Strategic Programs & Homeland Security, Symantec Corp.: I expect continuation of a number of information assurance trends, primarily around government agencies looking to acquire available threat intelligence, deploy integrated defense technologies, and evaluate how they can upgrade security management, which is ultimately the make-or-break element.

Bob Belshaw, vice president, INSIGHT: I expect resurgence in optimism and spending in the high tech world in 2004, but nothing similar to the late 1990’s. The marketplace focus will be on fundamentals and incremental improvements, within a larger strategic vision. Smaller projects will be the norm, with more accountability in technology spending and results.

Ken Farmer, president, DataManagement: Four or five years from the last technology boom is now. Hardware and other network infrastructure are becoming obsolete quicker than ever before. Consequently, 2004 and 2005 will be years that forward-thinking companies move to replace outdated equipment, creating conditions for another boom cycle in the technology industry. Take, for example, bandwidth, and the high-speed data cabling needed to accommodate higher bandwidth demands. Just three years ago, Cat-5 cabling was state-of-the-industry, capable of transmitting data at 100 megabits per second. Today, Cat-6 wire is the industry standard, transmitting data at a rate up to one gig per second–10 times faster than its predecessor. And the industry is currently working on 10 gigabit over copper. To keep pace with emerging technology, companies will look to upgrade their cabling infrastructure, as well as their computers, hubs, routers, switches, etc. Otherwise, all the new technology in the world won’t keep a system running at maximum performance when paired with obsolete cabling.

And as these companies upgrade their technology, more and more organizations will demand that their IT networks–the very lifeline of their operations–be designed and engineered. No longer will pulling cable and throwing it over a girder be acceptable. When a business’s very survival relies on technology, companies will increasingly demand that their networks, cabling and hardware be integrated with a sound plan and design, before the first foot of cable is ever pulled.

Theresa M. Welbourne, founder, president and CEO, eePulse: We will see the next wave in what was known as the “War for Talent.” As I read through the thousands of comments I get weekly from employees around the world, my sense is that the minute the economic improvement sustains itself, many incredibly talented people will be leaving their current employers. This is not because employees don’t like their companies or their coworkers, but because they have been working really, really hard with little or no recognition for just too long. They are ready to bail.

This mass exodus will inevitably create a need for employers to figure out how to save good people, but after years of what some employees consider “abuse,” short-term fix-it strategies will not work. People are hurt, and some will be leaving. The churn in the economy will create change, and even though this change will cause turmoil, it can be a very good thing for employees and for their employers. This event, hopefully, will force learning. Companies will have to reconsider how they manage human capital and leap beyond the status quo. This will create a market for new ideas, new technologies, and new processes that drive value through people.

Gene Thomas, president & COO, Computer Builders Warehouse: In 2004, customers will be focusing on not only upgrading their aging computer systems, but adding a second unit for their home. We see many home computer users looking for a second system, so parents and children don’t have to fight for the use of the family computer, and giving the parents the opportunity to get the latest and greatest on the market while letting the kids use the older system.

Another new technology that should be making its way into the mainstream by late 2004 is the “digital home” technology, a PC-based system that is in control of your home appliances, including turning on the stove, locking the doors, setting the alarm, activating the lights, and so on.

Besides upgrading your existing system, I see more and more people buying laptops rather than a PC. The WiFi technology will be making its way in the marketplace providing people with easy access for mobile computing. The outlook for laptop sales should double in 2004.

Nick Brigman, VP, Product Strategy, RedSiren: Expect to see “active agent” technology deployed at the desktop in the form of new products and expanded functionality from existing products. Today’s desktops must run a wide range of security utilities (e.g., file encryption, cookie monitor, pop-up stoppers, personal firewall, anti-virus, policy monitoring, patch scanning, and VPN) that don’t always play well with one another. Look for an increased focus on interoperability. Meanwhile, end-user education will be stressed as essential, and you should expect to see a greater focus on training that is simple, personalized to the business, and incorporates corporate policies.

Jeff Levin, President, FMP Media Solutions: I think some interesting things will happen with webcasting this year. While airline traffic is beginning to see signs of increasing, levels still fall far short of pre-9/11 travel. Yet the need to meet as a necessary part of doing business continues, for both small meetings and large conferences. We see webcasting playing an increasing role for firms seeking to balance the need for convening large groups of people to convey key information, with the expense of doing so. Many publicly traded firms have already begun webcasting quarterly investor conferences, to comply with the provisions of the SEC’s Regulation FD; other enterprises routinely webcast sales meetings or company conferences.

Adrien Knowles, Managing Director, AEI Digital: Coming soon to a courtroom near you: digital reality. 2004 will mark a bellwether year, as the same 3D animation used to score points in video games and wow audiences at the theater achieves greater acceptance in order to score points in trials. Animated 3D visualization for legal purposes has already been demonstrated to have value, in both civil and criminal cases.

Michael Stalbaum, CEO & General Counsel of UNreal Marketing Solutions: I see a trend for increased ad spending focused on highly targeted and cost-effective strategies such as search engine marketing, and direct response media. In the world of online advertising, these services have proven their cost-effectiveness and, more important, they drive results.

Brian Turley, President, Strohl Systems: As the economy begins to emerge from its slump and we are reaching or have passed compliance deadlines for acts such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and HIPAA, organizations will begin to address privacy and security in 2004. Technology will be not only be the focus of these efforts but it will also be the solution to them. Products in the fields of information security, business continuity and disaster recovery, and physical security will be in demand as organizations seek to meet privacy, security, and accountability requirements.

Tim Wallace, CEO, FullTilt Solutions: We believe a few technologies will make a major impact on the way companies do business. For starters, Microsoft’s .NET technologies are quickly revolutionizing Internet development and more and more applications are being built using the .NET framework. We see this trend continuing throughout 2004 as a result of the ongoing adoption of Web services and the fact that numerous companies are looking into the porting of legacy systems to .NET.

Edward Denzler, CEO of The Training Camp: As prevalent as the Internet is now across the spectrum of business, so will security be in 2004. That will require integrating security measures into every aspect of your organization. If companies are prepared to proactively manage security in the enterprise, it will save so much time and money otherwise spent on fighting fires, like the Blaster worm. While the threats to enterprise security and productivity seem to be increasing, the outlook should be positive. There are great opportunities for people to learn new skills and develop their careers in this area. And businesses that invest wisely in staff and training will be well placed to battle the next year from a secure vantage point.

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