Forecast 2013: Giving top technologies a beta test

These forward-thinking IT shops are testing out new ways to use the latest technologies to drive revenue, enhance customer service and more.

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"This is the way to meet everybody's needs so we don't force people to choose between a mobile app, mobile Web or a full version," says Steven Spadt, the ACP's vice president of digital products and services. "The challenge for us is creating synchronization between all of those, so they can use their iPhone app on the train, full browser in the office and iPad at home." The medical society has developed the apps in-house and will launch them in January 2013.

On the publishing front, the ACP is piloting PressRun from Mobile IQ, a cloud-based digital publishing platform for tablets, to increase speed to market and publishing efficiency for its medical publications. (Mobile IQ was acquired by Quark Software in May.)

"Having a publishing platform connected to apps is something we're going to do more and more," Spadt says. The society is also developing a custom iPad application for its Annals of Internal Medicine journal. "We wanted it to be differentiated from other medical journal apps, which really are just print on your screen," he notes.

The Ken Blanchard Cos. is also beta-testing a mobile technology. In June the Escondido, Calif.-based leadership training firm began testing a mobile app designed to help managers diagnose issues with their direct reports and then suggest action they can take to help them resolve the problems.

Built for iOS, Android and HTML5, the training app has been deployed at a large global telecommunications company in Europe. Users can download the app for free, but activation requires a special code provided by Blanchard.

"This is really a step forward in our move toward a lot more electronic delivery of training materials," says Terry Orletsky, vice president of IT at Blanchard.

Classroom Materials Arrive Reliably With Cloud

Cloud computing projects are under way at 46% of the survey respondents involved in testing, and Blanchard is among the companies with teams working on public, private and hybrid clouds. The training firm is putting the finishing touches on a five-year project to build a cloud-based delivery platform for all of its training materials and documentation. To be released this year, the platform, known as the Blanchard Exchange, will handle the distribution and activation of apps for training materials via the Amazon S3 cloud storage service.

"We've pretty much had logarithmic growth in digital materials in the past five years," says Orletsky. "We've gone from 4% to 5% of our materials distributed electronically to now 75%. We're getting out of the high costs of manufacturing, shipping and logistics" associated with printed materials.

Amazon has the edge over competitors in terms of server locations, says Orletsky. "We are a global organization with our business in Asia, Europe and Africa. Having this stuff nearby geographically cuts down on the potential long download times," he says.

In which technology areas are you now beta-testing or conducting pilot programs?

Virtualization (includes server, storage, network and mobile) 74%
Mobile/wireless devices 62% (includes 34% indicating beta-testing tablets)
Cloud computing 46%
Security 26%
Source: Computerworld Forecast 2013 survey, June 2012

Base: 254 IT executives who said their companies are beta testing or conducting pilot programs.

The Blanchard Exchange has helped cut costs and streamline operations in other areas as well. Five years ago, as the company expanded globally, it encountered problems getting shipments of workbooks through customs in some countries. "We weren't in a position to pay off people in order to get them through," says Orletsky, adding that in one case, the company was unable to deliver a shipment to India, leaving "classes of students high and dry." The cloud-based exchange helps the company avoid such roadblocks. "There are no borders to digital transition of materials," says Orletsky.

The exchange is also more secure than earlier delivery methods. In the old days, the company used special bindings, plastic tabs and special colors to thwart pirating of its printed intellectual property. Now its materials are protected electronically.

The Blanchard Exchange will include homegrown digital rights management tools to keep track of what customers download and where they do it. "A lot of digital rights management platforms are so restrictive in terms of how people consume our stuff," Orletsky says. "We thought we could do it ourselves by having something useful and easy to use in an FTP platform and have people pick what they want and the number of copies they print."

Blanchard has also found another silver lining to the cloud: a disaster recovery solution. "Every company needs reliable off-premises storage," says Orletsky. "The cloud is where this stuff belongs. It's cheaper and more convenient than anything else."

He says the Blanchard Exchange will be fully operational in late 2013. The first phase, completed this summer, included storage and managed distribution of all electronic documentation in Amazon S3. Phase 2 will provide client delivery and some customer self-service. The final test phase will focus on modularization, which will allow customers to select their own courseware from a lineup of 300 products.

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