A Day at the IT Forum in Vancouver
Breakfast and a Keynote
The IT Business Forum is a free, single day traveling event, making its way to twelve destinations in the United States and Canada throughout the months of March through May. At each location, the content mostly changes, with some of the talks repeated in multiple cities and some general trends toward including security topics, and even open source.
According to Chris Cannard, Executive Director of IT Forum International, this event came about when vendors expressed interest in a more intimate and upscale venue with more time available to talk one on one with conference attendees.
Shrinking the focus to specifically IT, instead of the broader "computer stuff" vagueness of many large high tech conferences, helps to make sure that vendors and the audience are properly matched, and also naturally limits the attendance numbers. The goal for this year was five-hundred registrations. Cannard said that they hit that mark, and so were pretty happy.
I'm not entirely sure all 500 showed up... but then on the radio during my drive in, the DJs were bragging about the heavy overnight snowfall up at Whistler Mountain Resort and suggesting that this particular Friday might be a good one to come down with a mysterious illness and have to miss work.
Conference day began with a continental breakfast, giving attendees the chance to talk to one another ahead of time. I took the opportunity to ask people what draws them to events like these, with two tracks of talks spanning a single day. The answers from the IT folk spanned the gamut of "I thought the email invitation looked pretty interesting" (that's what got my own attention), "Because my boss wanted me to come," to "I'm avoiding something," to "I'm between jobs and am hoping to make some new contacts while I'm here." There were also people from the fringes of the IT industry, who mostly have clients in IT and so like to keep up with what's happening in this space.
By the time the keynote began, the breakfast room as packed with over one-hundred people. Latecomers crammed into the back and stood as Peter Firstbrook, a Senior Research Analyst from the META Group, Inc., launched into a talk on how to handle the increasingly mobile workforce.
According to Firstbrook, IT budgets are indeed starting to recover, but only for specific projects. The META Group is seeing a five percent budget increase, but with all of that newly available money aimed specifically at finishing projects that were begun before finances forced them to stall, or those things such as upgrades that could no longer be put off. Any dip in the market could result in those projects being canceled to protect the company's march toward its business goals at the potential expense of IT's goals.
So, somehow IT must start to look at how to handle workforce mobility within this framework. Since most mobile technology lasts around eighteen months--except for laptops, which tend to last around three years--this challenge will be constant, but a solid framework will help IT to keep up with the demand once it's implemented.
One of the key issues he discussed include the fact that cell phone providers are going to have to start offering ways for people to use a single cell phone for both work and personal use, with the charges tracked accordingly.
Another problem that will have to be solved is that voice in general is increasingly becoming a remote access issue. How can your roving or home-based employees dial out through your own PBX, for example? (Voice Over IP, anyone?) Yet another interesting point was that the pendulum is swinging back away from putting new applications into browsers. Browser-driven interfaces just don't translate well to small handheld devices.
As far as trend predictions, apparently the North American pager industry shrinking rapidly (and is already mostly dead in Europe) as it's replaced by SMS, only remaining strong in hospitals where cell phones aren't often allowed these days.
Also, he predicts that office hotelling will become more common since so many companies waste so much office space with many employees being on the road more often than at their desks. Wi-Fi, Firstbrook predicts, is also going to be big in 2004. The standards are solidifying and he expects great things to happen there.
Firstbrook had many more interesting observations, stories, and information to share on this topic, but alas, eventually all keynotes must end. Rather than going straight to the first set of talks, I decided to hit the vendor room and find out not only who was there, but why.