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The Internet - Where to from here?


It has become increasingly difficult for us to come to terms with where computers and the Internet are taking us. I often get asked where I see things going over the next couple of years. It seems that external forces are tossing us around beyond control and the pace of change is so fast that we never quite get to grips with what is happening. This in turn leads to high stress levels and a general frustration with all technology. I hate stress so have decided to don the beta version of my futurist cap and take a closer look at where I think the Internet will take us in the near future.

The first thing that is likely to happen is that corporations are going to start getting a lot more savvy and imaginative about what they do with this technology. The days of getting the MD's son or the IS department to whack together a web site are over. Companies are looking for real utility over the web and want to get a return on every cent they spend on their website.

The Meta group (one of the computer industry's most respected market research companies) has just released the results of their survey of American corporations who have implemented Intranets (computer systems inside their company using Internet technology). Among other things the report stated that 80% of companies surveyed had achieved an average return on investment of 38% on their Intranet developments.

I would be interested to see a similar statistics for corporate Internet web sites. I believe that only those companies who have embraced their web sites and are working hard to incorporate it into their business will get any return at all. Those who put together a few pages and waited for the customers to arrive are probably still waiting.

The website of the future is likely to encompass far more than the desires of the marketing department. Companies are going to want to use their websites to compliment their other interactions with clients and business partners. The drive will be efficiency and a high return on investment. These new look web sites are going to look more and more like business applications.

In the 1970's the airlines grouped together around one innovator who provided a central booking system to the industry. Innovative companies in the next few years are going to steal the market from their competitors by being able to provide the most functional client interactions over the web. Slow starters will end up using their competitors systems to carry out their business.

The web will also start to play more of a role in other business applications. It will not be uncommon to find a web application (or weblication) linking together bits and pieces of many other systems that already exist in an organisation. Clever programming will allow customers to update their own information and get details of previous transactions.

The next thing I think we will see is the demise of the PC in corporations. Let's face it, these things are expensive to run. I spent a few years working for a large corporate (for my sins) and was shocked at the amount of maintenance a PC requires. Thousands of dollars are spent each year just to keep a PC running, that is over and above the original capital cost which depreciates faster than you can pay it off.

Network Computers, the new thin clients that have processing power but store almost nothing locally are likely to start replacing the PC in the near future. The advantages are numerous not least of which the software that runs on them is stored centrally, allowing a single administrator to control upgrades. I remember the poor technicians running around corporate offices updating PC's. It was a bit like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As soon as you finish one end you need to start again at the beginning.

I've found that a good rule of thumb when trying to keep up with technology is to read about the latest developments but only consider implementing something when it is 3 to 6 months old. Trying to stay on the bleeding edge is - well - exactly that.

All in all nothing too much to worry about. The secret is not to resist. The more you resist the more difficult change will be.