Forrester just published our latest forecast for the US market for business and government purchases of information technology (IT) goods and services (April 1, 2011, "US Tech Market Outlook, Q1 2011 -- Building a Springboard For Even Stronger Growth in 2012"), and we have raised our 2011 and 2012 outlooks: we now forecast 8% growth in the US in 2011 (up from our 7.4% forecast in January) and 10.3% in 2012 (compared with a 9.3% forecast earlier). For the broader ICT market (information and communications technology, adding in telecommunications services), 2011 growth will be 6.8% compared to a 5.1% rise in 2012.
With Japan's triple hit of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant dominating newspaper headlines and TV news, I have gotten some questions from clients about the impact of the disaster on the overall tech market. In general, I think the effects of these disasters on the total 2011 outlook will be small -- at worst, they will hurt tech market growth in Q2 2011 while strengthening growth in Q3 and Q4. However, that outlook assumes that the problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex improve or don't worsen. If that situation turns into a Chernobyl-type disaster that causes permanent evacuations from a multi-mile radius around the plant and possible shutdowns of other nuclear power plants, the impacts on the Japanese economy and on the Japanese tech industry -- not to mention for the people of Japan -- would be very negative, and cause a downward adjustment in our tech market forecast.
The potential impacts of the Japanese disasters show up on both the tech supply side and on the tech demand side, so let's look at both angles.
The tech industry has generally enjoyed a good reputation with the public and with politicians -- unlike those "bad guys" in banking, or health insurance, or oil and gas. However, analysis that I have done in a just-published report -- Caution: IT Investment May Be Hurting US Job Growth -- suggests that this good reputation could be dented by evidence that business investment in technology could be coming at the expense of hiring.
Some background: In preparing Forrester’s tech market forecasts, I spend a lot of time looking at economic indicators. Employment is not an economic indicator that I usually track, because it has no causal connection that I have been able to find with tech market growth. However, given all the press attention that has been paid to an unemployment rate in excess of 9% and monthly employment increases measured in the tens of thousands instead of hundreds of thousands, it has been hard to ignore the fact that US job growth has been remarkably feeble in this economic recovery.
Like many connected with IBM as an employee, a customer, or an analyst, I watched IBM's Watson beat two smart humans in three games of Jeopardy. However, I was able to do so under more privileged conditions than sitting on my couch. Along with my colleague John Rymer, I attended an IBM event in San Francisco, in which two of the IBM scientists who had developed Watson provided background on Watson prior to, during commercial breaks in, and after the broadcast of the third and final Jeopardy game. We learned a lot about the time, effort, and approaches that went into making Watson competitive in Jeopardy (including, in answer to John's question, that its code base was a combination of Java and C++). This background information made clear how impressive Watson is as a milestone in the development of artificial intelligence. But it also made clear how much work still needs to be done to take the Watson technology and deploy it against the IBM-identified business problems in healthcare, customer service and call centers, or security.
The IBM scientists showed a scattergram of the percentage of Jeopardy questions that winning human contestants got right vs. the percentage of questions that they answered, which showed that these winners generally got 80% or more of the answers right for 60% to 70% of the questions. They then showed line charts of how Watson did against the same variables over time, with Watson well below this zone at the beginning, but then month by month moving higher and higher, until by the time of the contest it was winning over two-thirds of the test contests against past Jeopardy winners. But what I noted was how long the training process took before Watson became competitive -- not to mention the amount of computing and human resources IBM put behind the project.
At first glance, our forecast that the global IT market will expand by 7.1% in 2011 is right in line with the 7.2% growth we are estimating occurred in 2010 (see our January 11, 2011, "2010-2012 Global Tech Industry Outlook" report). In fact, there are many points of similarity between the two years besides the overall growth rates, such as comparable growth rates in communications equipment purchases both years, or the US and Asia Pacific growing at similar rates of growth in 2010 and 2011.
However, there are three important points of difference that I think make our projected growth for 2011 more impressive than the almost identical rate of growth that occurred last year:
Minimal rebound effects in 2011. 2010 was the year when IT capital investment bounced back from recession-depressed levels in 2009, especially in computer equipment and to a lesser degree in software. Companies had been cutting back on purchases of servers, personal computers, storage devices, and peripherals like printers and monitors since 2007. That meant a build-up of a lot of deferred demand for replacement equipment, which was unleashed in 2010, helping to drive 11% growth in this category last year. Licensed software also felt some of these effects, with freezes on capital investment pushing purchases from 2009 into 2010. Thus, in both cases, 2010 growth rates were measured off of low bases in 2009. In contrast, the 2011 growth will reflect new demand for IT goods and services, not pent-up demand for prior years. And the 2011 growth rates will be measured off a stronger base that reflects that fact.
Thirteen months ago, I introduced the concept of “Smart Computing,” which I predicted would drive the next big wave of technology innovation and growth in the 2008 to 2016 period (see December 4, 2009, "Smart Computing Drives The New Era of IT Growth"). Smart Computing involves the addition of new awareness technologies like RFID, sensors, and image recognition and new real-time analysis technologies, along with adoption of foundation technologies like service-oriented architectures, unified communications, virtualization, and cloud computing. Since then, I have been tracking the tech market for evidence that this is in fact happening.
One key indicator I am watching is how many vendors have started to incorporate “Smart Computing” terms and language into their marketing, sales, and brand material. This matters, because tech vendors will be the ones that translate the concepts embedded in Smart Computing into actual sales of solutions and products to clients, thereby generating the revenue growth that will cause the tech market to grow twice as fast as the economy as we expect. In fact, that kind of tech market growth has been occurring, at least in the US (December 14, 2010, “US Tech Industry Outlook For 2011 -- 2011 Likely To Replay 2010's 8% Overall Domestic Growth Rate”). But we want to see whether that strong growth is due to adoption of Smart Computing solutions, or other factors.
While the last results for US Senate and House of Representative seats are still trickling in, the overall picture is clear — the Republicans have taken control of the House, but the Democrats will retain their majority in the Senate and of course still hold the presidency. In my view, this outcome is a small positive for the tech market, but doesn’t fundamentally change our outlook for around 8% growth in the US IT market and 7% growth in global IT markets in 2010 and 2011.
On the eve of the election, my big concern from an IT market perspective was that the Republicans would take control of both the House and the Senate. That concern was not driven by my political affiliation (which happens to favor the Democrats), but by the potential for a political stalemate between a confrontational Republican Congress (with hard-line conservative Republicans and Tea Party supporters setting a shut-down-the-government tone) and a combative Democratic president. In that political environment, badly needed measures to help stimulate a lagging economy would get stalled, the political battles could shake already weak business and consumer confidence, and the US economy could then slip into a renewed recession. And an economic downturn of course would be bad for the tech sector.
This past weekend, my wife wanted desperately to attend Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” to support the message of civility and moderation. An injured foot and problems with travel logistics kept her from attending, but we watched it on the Comedy Central network. It was, of course, a counterpoint to the “Restoring Honor” rally that Fox News’ Glen Beck held in August. However, there were two striking commonalities about the two rallies:
First, the ability of cable program show hosts to gather hundreds of thousands of people (estimates seem to be around 100,000 for the Beck rally and 200,000 for the Stewart rally) to travel to Washington for a rally. We’re not talking about rallies organized by a major political leader like President Obama or a media giant like Walter Cronkite with a TV audience of tens of millions of people. Instead, the TV personalities who hosted these events have cable audiences that on a good night may reach 3 to 5 million people.
Second, the absence of attention to substantive economic issues facing this country, such as persistent high unemployment, economic recovery strategies, education and competitiveness, global warming, or budget deficits and priorities. Instead, the rallies focused on culture, tone, and attitudes, with the Beck rally resembling a college homecoming event where the returning alumni complain about how the place has gone downhill since they left, while current seniors crack jokes and make fun of the old geezers wandering around the campus.
Like thousands of Oracle clients and a dozen or so Forrester analysts, I was at Oracle OpenWorld last week. One of the big news items was the announcement of the availability of Fusion Applications. The creation of these new applications has been a massive effort, involving many of Oracle’s top software designers and developers working for over five years. My preliminary opinion, along with my colleagues, is that Fusion apps do have some useful new features and a better user interface than prior Oracle products, as well as providing a more credible SaaS option than Oracle's prior On Demand offerings.
However, there seems to me to be a lack of clarity as to how Fusion apps fit in the evolution of the Oracle family of apps. To its credit, Oracle has stated that it is going to be responsive to clients, not forcing them to convert to Fusion nor make staying on existing apps unattractive by not supporting and enhancing those apps. Instead, it wants to make Fusion apps so attractive that clients will want to adopt them, either (rarely) as a whole suite or (more likely) as step-by-step replacement or additions to existing app products. Still, that leaves unclear what Oracle sees as the endgame for Fusion vs. its other app products.
As I see it, there are four scenarios for how Fusion apps will relate over time to the existing portfolio of apps that Oracle has acquired and continues to support through its Applications Unlimited position:
Fusion apps take over and replace the other applications over time.
Fusion apps become yet another app product line, which co-exists with the other apps.
Fusion app features and functions percolate into and are absorbed into the other apps, which persist indefinitely.
Fusion apps provide new categories of applications, which get brought into the other app families as add-ons.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, Q2 2010 seemed like the best of times or the worst of times for the big software vendors. For Microsoft, it was the best of times; for IBM, it was (comparatively) the worst of times; and for SAP it was in between. IBM on June 19, 2010, reported total revenue growth of just 2% in the fiscal quarter ending June 30, 2010, with its software unit also reporting 2% growth (6%, excluding the revenues of its divested product lifecycle management group from Q2 2009). Those growth rates were down from 5% growth for IBM overall in Q1 2010, and 11% for the software group. In comparison, Microsoft on June 22, 2010, reported 22% growth in its revenues, with Windows revenues up 44%, Server and Tools revenues up 14%, and Microsoft Business Division (Office and Dynamics) up 15%. And SAP on June 27, 2010, posted 12% growth in its revenues in euros, 5% growth on a constant currency basis, and 5% growth when its revenues were converted into dollars.
What do these divergent results for revenue growth say about the state of the enterprise software market?