How to snare an 800-pound gorilla

Stun him with a disruptive technology and watch as he stumbles to adapt

IT MAY LOOK like the same old year outside, but inside the InfoWorld Test Center, we've been busy evaluating technologies that have the power to reshape enterprise computing in the new year. In other words, we're looking at "disruptive technologies," technologies not quite ripe for mainstream adoption but packing enough latent momentum to spark sudden change in business and IT strategies.

At first glance the moniker of "disruptive" may be misleading. These are not annoying technologies, like cell phones chirping during Lord of the Rings or pop-up instant messages from your co-workers asking if you can take a smoke break in five.

Rather, disruptive technologies are unsettling to tried-and-true (and often stale) business practices. Almost by definition, they are fringe technologies with no considerable market share, and they often lack refinement, practical application, or commercially acceptable performance. At the outset, at least, they're all buzz and no sting. But as these technologies mature and the niches they serve gain momentum, innovation catches up to customer need and lays a foundation for new business models. Even after the original disruption becomes pervasive, aftershocks may unearth additional innovations and expose new marketable services.

Disruptive technologies can emerge from grassroots efforts, such as work refining the Linux platform, or they can be helped along by benefactors, such as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. government agency responsible for funding the early Internet.

Regardless of where disruptive technologies come from, corporate executives must recognize their significance and how quickly they can bring a previously unstoppable 800-pound corporate gorilla to its knees.

Often mistakenly interpreted as unimportant or low-margin opportunities, disruptive technologies can catch the lumbering enterprise off guard, rendering it unable to capitalize on the potential efficiencies, cost savings, or new sales channels they offer.

Although some disruptive technologies such as biocomputing and molecular computing are still ripening on the vine, others are beginning to bear fruit today.

In this issue, analysts from the InfoWorld Test Center examine 10 disruptive technologies warranting consideration in enterprise planning efforts in 2002. Web services, Microsoft's .Net architecture and C# programming language, 802.11 wireless networking, and the Serial ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) and iSCSI (Internet SCSI) storage interface technologies all made the list.

We also take a look at the impact of next-generation handheld devices, the collaborative enhancements surfacing from peer-to-peer computing and instant messaging, and the potential benefits of Trojan horses and worms in the propagation of self-healing software. The cumulative effect of all these technologies will reshape the enterprise computing model into one that features an increasingly distributed architecture.

Ultimately, the way a company approaches disruption -- as a nuisance or an opportunity -- will determine whether or not it is caught off guard. Use this guide to take stock of the value potential in disruptive technologies and strengthen your ability to adapt nimbly in the coming year.