With Emerging Technology, Information Management Remains Key

Let’s talk about tablets and smartphones, and the first thing to understand is that it is not about the device, it is about the data. Hand-held devices do not store large amounts of data, and this is where the “cloud” comes in.

In early 2009 I wrote about cloud computing, whereby data is stored in places other than on your computers, and since that time fancy new devices have proliferated the marketplace with their slick applications. It’s not all Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, however; there are actual business reasons for owning tablets, and it has to do with data.

In its predictions for 2012, technology research firm Gartner talks about forces that are taking IT out of the hands of traditional IT departments and putting it in the hands of the business units. They specifically mention cloud computing, social media, mobility, and information management as technological evolutions that are happening despite the controls normally placed on the use of technology by IT management.

Information management is a huge one, in my view. For most of my career, there have been entire departments spending lots of corporate money on Information Management Systems. These are centralized, secure in-house databases, accessed by applications developed by the information systems group.

But now, information is being shared outside of these centralized systems. Gartner goes on to say that within three years, 35 percent of all enterprise IT expenditures will be outside the budget managed by the IT departments, and within five years, over half of the Global 1000 companies will have customer-sensitive data out in the cloud.

That does not mean, however, that there isn’t a requirement to handle corporate data in a responsible way, and technologies are evolving to do just that.

For several years now, pretty well all applications developed by my company have been browser-based, meaning that the data is accessed by nothing more than a web browser.

Sometimes, these are internal applications, and sometimes they are accessed from public web sites. The next step in the evolution is to make sure these applications are what we call “mobile friendly”, i.e. can be accessed effectively by handheld devices.

There are two ways to do that: build “apps” that can be downloaded and run on the devices, or develop software that remains on the server but can be accessed via any handheld device. We generally do the latter for a number of reasons, including security and centralization of corporate data, and not having to write multiple versions of the same application.
But it poses a problem: how do you write applications with a user interface so generic that it will work on any browser on any device? Like all other problems, solutions are emerging, the main ones based on technologies called HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript.

HTML, Hypertext Markup Language, is the language of web sites. It renders web content in a predictable way to any browser. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets, which allow for the consistent presentation of content across a web site, and controls such things as fonts, colour, and text size. So HTML defines the content, and CSS defines the formatting. The third component, JavaScript, is the programming that provides functionality. It can also be used to provide compatibility with older browsers.

These tools provide for what we call “responsive design”, in other words a design that responds to the device that is accessing it. It does so by sensing the size and orientation of the screen on the device, and it doesn’t care what kind of device the screen is on. By using such technologies, information can be managed in a secure fashion and accessed by practically any type of device.

Information management will be a theme I will return to this year, because I think it is very important to understand. Not to worry, I deal with this stuff every day, and I am surrounded by people who can help make sense of it all!

2 replies
  1. M J says:

    It was interesting to read your article on the Cloud the same day as CBC was carrying the story of Dalhousie considering giving up their e-mail and file management to Microsoft, which raises an interesting question: whose cloud is it and where exactly is it?

    I was an early user of the Cloud because I used to travel a lot. With VPN, I had secure access and everyone was happy. However, I knew who controlled the server, who backed up the data, etc.

  2. Pat d'Entremont says:

    Good to hear from you and thank you for your comments. You hit the nail right on the head. Whose cloud is it anyway, and can we manage data responsibly on it?

    The first part is easy: It can be anybody’s cloud, and the technologies I am talking about can be used with any server, be it at Microsoft or Google, or in your office.

    The second part is more complicated, but will eventually be solved. Just like we’re now comfortable exchanging information over the Internet (like we are doing right now) and using ATMs, we will get comfortable with data not stored on our premises. (I even remember hanging on to paper listings and punched cards because I didn’t trust disk drives.) As per Gartner’s observations, we won’t have any choice, at least as corporations. – Pat

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