With hindsight, I believe we can look back over the decade just finished and see ten years in which a fundamental transformation took place in the culture of computing, one that finally acknowledged the central role that people the ultimate end users play in computing. That's a shift that will create important new opportunities over the next few years.
Most of the history of computing has been the story of a quest to eliminate the human element. The very invention of computing was fueled by a need to do repetitive calculations faster than humanly possible. Shared and networked computing evolved largely to eliminate the errors caused when humans manually transferred information from one computer system to another (operations commonly derided as 'swivel chair integration' or 'sneakernet'). But many technologists seemed to believe the science fiction rhetoric of popular culture (from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Terminator and many more) that machines would ultimately make humans redundant. Enterprise computing increasingly sought to exclude all human contact with any data or processes, with the exception of a few highly trained
high priests individuals with specialized knowledge and expertise.
The decade of the noughties has witnessed the rise of a countervailing trend, one that prizes human interaction and puts people at the center of computing rather than leaving them at the periphery. Twitter founder Biz Stone summed up this cultural shift in an article this week looking back on 2009:
"For us, it has been a year during which we realised that no matter how sophisticated the algorithms get, no matter how many machines we add to the network, our work is not about the triumph of technology, it is about the triumph of humanity."
This is a trend that I've taken to calling The democratization of IT: overthrowing the complexity and exclusivity of 'Soviet-era software' to put the people that actually use computing, as opposed to those that make or manage it, in the driving seat:
"... the pendulum is starting to swing back towards acknowledging the qualitative role that human beings play in processes and operations. The technology is no longer trying to keep them out of the equation. Instead, its role is to provide automation that helps them do a better job of collaborating with each other, focusing their motivation and acknowledging the experience, insight and creativity they bring to their roles."
I've used the term people-oriented architecture to make a deliberate contrast with our experience of service-oriented architecture in the past decade. Unlike SOA which too often sought to remake the way that computers talk to one another without any reference to or consideration of user needs and business results people-oriented architectures have to be developed collaboratively and iteratively with users and business owners, giving them as much freedom and autonomy as possible to control and manage information and processes to achieve the results they want. It's an acknowledgement that people are both the commanding providers and the ultimate end consumers of any of the services in a computing architecture.
Here are some of the growth areas, fueled by people-oriented architectures, to look out for in the coming year:
User experience (UX) design. The hero programmers of the coming decade won't be those who build new operating systems or network protocols. Instead, we'll be celebrating those who build visually inspired, instantly intuitive and effortlessly productive user interfaces.
Iterative, collaborative development. The ability to work remotely while in constant contact and collaboration with users and process owners will become the norm for application development, and any techniques and tools that make the task simpler and more productive will be prized.
Ad hoc, custom computing. People want to be able to grab and adapt automation tools on demand. As a result, we're seeing massive expansion in cloud computing, enterprise mashups and on-demand development and customization.
Enterprise 2.0. All forms of social computing or 'collaboration', as people in the enterprise sphere prefer to call it are expanding as people find new ways to productively share knowledge and information either within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.
Social CRM/HRM/ERP There's been a lot of talk recently about Social CRM (listen to my podcast with Bob Warfield on From Soviet-Era CRM to the Social Fabric of the Web). I think we'll see the same emphasis on real-time information sharing and collaborative feedback expanding into all forms of enterprise application, including ERP, just as we've seen it already begin to creep into various aspects of HR and talent management, from social recruiting to performance management.