We're moving away from stand-alone applications, documents and users and toward universally ac cepted file formats, shared documents and real-time collaboration. In the past, documents were kept in separate files that were easy to organize and retrieve. Now document management software is a necessity for many firms. And many documents exist only when a database produces them in response to a query.

Database proliferation. One way to tie information together is abandoning the document development and storage mode. The alternative is storing information in a database and then generating documents based on information you need.

Databases form the backbone of today's software for accounting, project management, CAD work, e-commerce and more. And to thrive in today's fast-paced business environment, you must involve database-savvy people in your business. Not only will you need such expertise to stay cost-competitive, but also you will need to interact with the databases of clients and suppliers.

Webcentricity. Four years ago, companies were just putting "brochureware" on the Web. Then, they started using dynamic forms and dabbling in e-commerce. This was part of a trend that involves database-driven Web applications and increasing Web-dependency. Yesterday, clients wanted your phone number from your Web site. Today, clients want to interact with your Web site. Tomorrow, clients will want to conduct more business online.

Outsourced software. Application Service Providers (ASPs) maintain software on their servers, so clients use it over the Internet. One example is online permit processing. One ASP has a database of more than 1,000 cities.

ASPs limit your system to the speed of your Web connection, regardless of your computer's speed. However, Internet connections are speeding up. Wireless will soon run at 144 kb/sec. Cable modems deliver an amazing 100 Mb/sec for about $40 a month. Corporations can get 600 Mb lines. Internal networks can deliver 1GB/sec over Cat. 5e.

Information integration. Companies strive to reduce the cost of their business processes. One way to do this is by eliminating steps - and paper-based processes are prime targets. When your database talks to a vendor's database, you eliminate the cost of handling paper invoices. You fill out a Web-based form or your program interacts directly with theirs, integrating your information.

Overcoming obstacles. Information systems are major investments of capital and labor. However, legacy systems pose a problem. Many companies can't read each other's files. You send a bid or invoice electronically, and your customer prints it out and enters it into its system manually. Then, the company sends you everything on paper, raising your costs. The Web alleviates this platform incompatibility without requiring replacement of existing systems. This fuels Webcentricity.

Suppose a company's legacy system can't use an "off the shelf" program such as enterprise-wide project management or their systems can't talk with other systems. That's where Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) software comes in.

Previously, matching old to new required maybe $100,000 of hand coding. Now, EAI software pulls information from the applications and sends it to a server that acts as an information broker so all the applications can share data.

This trend affects you in two ways. First, it may alleviate your need to upgrade your own information systems if your customers have legacy systems. Second, it allows you access to customers whose proprietary information technologies are incompatible with yours.

What are these software trends pointing to? You will see a streamlining of application software, so you can access customer information from a handheld device with instant Web access. E-mail and voice will converge. The new Mac OSX is a derivative of BSD, which is the brains of many an e-commerce server. The one thing you can count on in years to come is change.