The New Beginning, Part 3 (Technology)
The most promising result of the awakening to an interested party such as yourself should be the wave of improved tools at your disposal. In place of misguided management and "Big 6"driven ERP efforts that rarely worked exactly as needed, two competing technologies with a handful of implementations are growing to fill the void: .NET and J2EE.
Unless you've been in a cave for the last year, you've probably heard various stories about the new Microsoft entry into unified development, called .NET (pronounce "dot net"let the wordplays commence). While the antitrust case withers under the well-funded apathy of the new administration, Microsoft has combined a development environment capable of churning out dynamic web pages with relative ease with a surprising (for them) level of standards adherence. As an added bonus, you get a Windows-specific application builder that will not only bring hardcore COBOL developers into the realm of client/server but will also allow developers to focus on good architecture and application design rather the grunt work of twiddling bits and API flags. It whitens whites and brightens brights. It's so promising to the realm of rapid application development that you may even be willing to purchase XP (all other versions require a download of about 20 megs). Oh, and it's still in beta.
I'm being a bit glib, but the truth is that this effort is so large and so commercially and technically promising that the Linux community is rushing to make an Open Source version of it. .NET is simultaneously one of the most platform-integrated and platform-independent ideas Microsoft has ever almost completed. After only a few months of work with it, everything else they've done seems rather antiquated. One downside: This revolution is brought to you by...the suffering of margins at hardware vendors. Resource hog.
In the other corner, somewhat farther along in the product development chain, is Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE). This offering from Sun (or whomever you may choose) is a scrappy, feature-rich contrast to the "hide the details" approach of Microsoft. Companies are now moving from just optimizing JSP and EJB servers to offering full-fledged enterprise solutions. Whether searching for an out-of-the-box product from a third party or endeavoring to build the next generation of business infrastructure, all the major players are working up front-to-back packages. Like Java, hate Microsoft, life is still good.
Both of these efforts have a sleeper target that goes by the handle of "web services." Again, the technical media has been ravenous on this topic, but the benefits are likely to be all-but-invisible to the user for some time to come. Once the adoption rate of service platforms begins to grow, I'm confident that clever business and technical folk will begin to fashion yet another new face for the web.