Since the end of 2010 more smartphones have been sold than PCs, and according to leading analyst Gartner, 900 million tablet computers will be in circulation by 2016.

It Department

The explosive growth in these new devices is both symbolic of and driving the new, digital age. We are already feeling its impact: in economic terms, with the growing value of intangible assets; socially, as the barriers break down between private and public, business and personal life; and at a geo-strategic level, with issues of sovereignty and transparency.

Of all the factors in this revolution, the maturity of technologies (consumerisation) and users (the rise of Generation Y, who will make up 40 percent of the workforce by 2015) plays the leading role.

Post-PC age

In the post-PC age, the information system has to comply with users' expectations and their choice of hardware and ergonomics, not the other way round. For Gartner, this is a paradigm shift that marks the start of a whole new phase for information technology.

Having been "pushed" by technology since the 1970s, innovation is now being "pulled" by usage. What counts now are users' needs and technology's role to meet these in a simple, secure and effective way.

Four major trends are emerging that are likely to be key facets of the digital revolution over the coming years. Taken together, these will have consequences for the information systems used by public and private sector businesses. Increasingly they are likely to have a significant impact on the role of the IT department within these organisations.

Explosion in Processing Needs

The first key development is the on-going explosion in processing needs. Between the origins of man and 2003, around five exabytes of information were created. Today, we produce that in two days.

By 2013, 1,000 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, and the resulting traffic will increase nine-fold, putting pressure on hardware systems to deliver vast processing power and to prove their total reliability because such systems are more and more critical, and offer optimum energy efficiency, given the growing weight of economic and environmental issues.

Second, we are seeing a transition to as-a-service delivery - most typically in the form of cloud computing. In a constantly evolving IT environment, most users are focused above all on accessing the most appropriate tools for their needs rather than owning them.

In other words, they want to subscribe to a made-to-measure, configurable service, instead of having to conform to the constraints of a nonflexible system.

So the cloud is resulting in a dual development: with users appropriating the ergonomic and functional aspects on the one hand and on the other, production and dissemination resources being increasingly concentrated in the hands of expert providers.

This transition is now well under way, and we are seeing various new forms of cloud (public, private, specialised) emerge and combine to create hybrid, enterprise clouds that are oriented in different ways depending on the particular requirements of each process being supported.

Business Computing

The third trend is the growth of business computing. Now that users have more say in the choice of tools, functionality and ergonomy, they also have an expanded role in information systems governance.

As analyst Forrester sums up the challenge of new technologies will now be to create value for the business. Users will expect their computing tools to mimic their working habits and usage, and to deliver real operational added value.

Mobility, business intelligence, and paperless processes are all seen as especially valuable. What's more, solutions must be flexible enough to rapidly take on board new products, new organisational structures and new information. Users increasingly want to be able to make these kinds of changes themselves, without recourse to software development.

Finally, we are witnessing a growing focus on security. If today's users are to fully adopt technology, it has to inspire their trust, which is why security is now the number one concern when it comes to all digital solutions. Equally, the more value inherent in information assets, the more costly any damage to them becomes.

Fundamental change

Taken together, these developments are fundamentally changing the way IT services are delivered and consumed and they are redefining the role of IT departments and the scope of their interventions.

Some tasks that have previously weighed them down are being removed - either upstream, to suppliers of outsourcing or cloud services, or downstream to users - but they remain the indispensable guarantors of the security, coherence and sustainability of information systems.

The IT department will also remain the main source of ideas when it comes to using emerging technologies to tackle challenges of business innovation, operational excellence, customer relationship and risk management, and regulatory compliance.

To do this, it has to rely on partners who can support it with both the technological and business aspects. This, in turn, offers great opportunities for technology providers who have both technical expertise in IT infrastructures and an in-depth understanding of end-user challenges.

Andrew Carr Bull Information Systems