Part of my role managing the Business Technology Futures team at Forrester is to keep an eye on "what's next" for CIOs and their business partners.

My team is chartered to create an early-warning radar screen of new technologies, new business models and new demands from customers that will change technology's role and impact on business.

That's where the VERGE conference comes in. I spent two very engaging days at this GreenBiz event earlier in March, soaking in the conVERGEnce of energy, transport, buildings and information.

And what a great event! I am an experienced consumer of industry conferences and this was one of the best I've attended. The mix of topics, speakers, and formats really clicked for me, because the event featured:

  • Multidisciplinary thinking. Not just across the four big domains, but across three dimensions of convergence taking place within them: technology (analytics meets network meets social), organizational (HR meets marketing meets facilities) and ecosystem (suppliers meet distributors meet customers). Holding this 4 X 3 Rubik's cube in one's head is daunting but also mind-expanding.
  • True thought leaders. From some well-known folks like Amory Lovins and Tim O'Reilly to fascinating but (to me, anyway) lesser-known luminaries, like Robin Chase (founder of Zipcar) and Lisa Gansky (of "The Mesh"), to a personal hero of mine, Jonathan Koomey of Stanford … the lineup was just chock-full of interesting ideas, well-presented. Some of these folks had only 10 minutes on stage to present their "One Great Idea;" and proved that less is more by zeroing in on their central idea.
  • Big ideas. Like "Reinventing Fire" (Lovins' new book). Or society's move from "ownership to access" (Gansky). Or the "global brain" that the Internet is becoming (O'Reilly). Or sensors that use "ambient power" from the air around them (Koomey).

Our Futures agenda at Forrester is more narrowly focused on the impact of IT on business results, but there is plenty of overlap and cross-pollination with the VERGE agenda. This year, my team is working on research like:

  • "What the CIO Needs to Know About Smart Computing." Controlling and managing physical assets is the next big frontier for IT systems, a source of big new workloads for computing systems and incremental spending on those systems by companies across many different industries.
  • "The Smart City CIO." IT is taking on a central role in both managing municipal infrastructure systems (water, transport, public safety) and in actually governing the city through better citizen engagement and communication.
  • "Developing Smarter Products." Networking and software are being embedded in products from complex (autos) to simple (pens). And the development process and customer engagement that product companies use will change dramatically as a result.

Through these and other items on our research agenda, the Futures team at Forrester keeps our clients thinking about what's next — the initiatives that they will be investing in and executing on two or three or four years from now. Conferences like VERGE are vital brain food that help keep our focus on the horizon.

What else should the Forrester Futures team have on its agenda? We welcome your input in the comments below.