Talk about cool jobs—Chris Shipley gets to try hundreds of new IT tools every year and decide which will be presented to users and investors. Shipley is executive producer of DEMO, a twice-yearly event showcasing new IT products. At DEMO, exhibitors have six minutes to demo a product in front of attendees. TiVo, Palm Pilot, and Java 1.0 debuted at earlier DEMO events, and for many companies the event offers a fitting combination of user, decision-maker, and potential financier as audience.

How does Shipley select the 70 or so products that make the event? “How does a pro baseball player know what pitch to swing at? We look at 1500 or more companies a year—we see a lot of not-yet-ready-for-prime time products as well as those that are ready.”

Shipley views new products as “a lens to look at trends. We cast a wide net with DEMO and talk to hundreds of companies and let those products tell us where the market’s going.”

Shipley notes a variety of trends observed through the lens of new products coming to the market this year. Maybe you've observed the same? Check them out:

Increased service and support needs. Not only distributed workforces need support but increasingly consumers require reliable and effective support. The consumer support market “is fractured,” Shipley says. She cites a DEMO 08 participant, Port Space, which is offering a way to “standardize that fractured market space” by certifying support companies for consumers.

A move to proactive IT management. On the enterprise side, she cites demand for moving from problem identification and remediation to granular problem anticipation, from reactive to proactive IT management. She notes another DEMO 08 participant, StackSafe—“they’re basically using virtualization to allow environments to figure out how changes made in one stack will affect other stacks.”

Virtualization. Shipley sees new products “taking virtualization to the next level with streaming virtual desktops.” She notes that Citrix will be showing a virtualization product at DEMO 08.

Stressed networks. Stress on the network, she says, is another area where product innovation is arriving. Consumer applications and devices employees bring to work and use on the company network can affect network performance. She notes Big Gravity as a DEMO 08 participant that’s trying to answer that problem with a solution that addresses how to make network infrastructure more efficient.

Demand for new Web infrastructure. Shipley also notes another participant, Kaazing, “guys out of Oracle who recognized we’ve pushed the Web infrastructure as far as we can. We expect more from Web apps, which means we need a different Web infrastructure to be built.”

Enterprise-type apps for SMBs. Shipley’s seeing a push to bring enterprise-level applications down to the small-to-midsized business (SMB)-level, “without dumbing \[the app\] down.”

DEMO’s Web site lists participants and products from earlier years. For DEMO Fall07, I recognized a few products we’ve heard about at Windows IT Pro, such as Check Point Software, with its ZoneAlarm ForceField security solution, and LogMeIn’s Rescue + Mobile, a Web-based service for remote tech support on mobile devices. Some of the DEMO Fall07 products are enterprise or SMB-oriented, but most that I saw were more for the consumer market.

Shipley says that DEMO isn’t supposed to be a consumer-oriented products event, but she does point to what she calls the “consumerization of the Internet”—where employees bring to the workplace consumer-like expectations of what a computing experience “should” be like. This nudges companies to figure out how to make applications, such as legacy apps for example, more interesting to use. “DEMO is a great place for IT organizations to get a look at where the marketplace is going,” she says. “Maybe a business doesn’t use any of these products within 12 months, but within 18 to 24 months they start to use them.”

In fact, Shipley added a category to DEMO—a “Stuff we’re going to use” category, which highlights products her own team thought they’d find useful in their work. This year’s list includes an enterprise calendaring product, mobile phone headsets, and a project management system that calculates “wiggle room”--the probability of a project actually being finished by a particular date.

“There’s a serendipity to DEMO,” Shipley says. “An attendee brings a perspective that the innovator didn’t expect.” That is, a product that might seem irrelevant or impractical can, if it finds the right users who see ways to apply it, have an important effect on future technology directions. Shipley points to an early DEMO—“’98 or ’99, this little Florida company, Hot Office, was offering a browser-based application. Browsers were immature at the time. A lot of people at the time said ‘People aren’t going to want to use a Web browser to access applications.’ ”

DEMO ’08 will be held January 28-30, 2008 in Palm Springs, with 78 product demos this year. For more information, see the Web site at http://www.demo.com/about.php.