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7 June 2005

The future of IT

By Andrew Clifford

Most predictions of the future of IT are based on the extrapolation of technological capability or the hopeful self-interest of IT specialists. Predicting the future based on profitability and the self-interest of the majority provides a more realistic view.

I've been doing some research on the future of IT. There are so many conflicting opinions that the vast majority must be wrong. In such a climate, I can confidently make my contribution.

To an extent, predicting the future based on an extrapolation of technological capability is valid. Standards will evolve. Networks will get faster. Storage will get cheaper. Computer attacks and defence will get more sophisticated.

But the technologists don't limit their vision to the technology. They paint a picture of businesses run by intelligent computer systems, of whole industries optimised by automated contracts. Mobile phones will record our entire lives. Refrigerators will negotiate the price of fish on our behalf.

Some parts of these visions might come true. But not all of them. Invention is not necessarily the mother of necessity.

A lot of future predictions are based on hopeful self-interest. The "tide will turn" and the telecoms industry will regenerate. Outsourcing will reverse. Companies will see the value in enterprise architecture. You can almost hear the word "please".

However, the main forces dictating the future will not be technological possibility and the self-interest of the few, but profitability and the self-interest of the many.

On average, IT now takes up more than 50% of companys' capital budgets. In many companies IT spend is greater than profit. There are huge rewards for companies that can reduce this cost.

Cost can be reduced by only using IT where IT will provide value. This means seeing IT as simple automation, not magical business transformation. It means aligning IT closely to the organisation, and moving away from centralised, disassociated IT systems.

People will want IT that is relevant and under their control. They won't want IT specialists in charge. Businesses will want to reshape themselves at will, taking their IT with them, not having to wait to be "lead" by IT.

Based on this, I predict three future trends:

  • The rise of true IT literacy. The current perception of IT literacy amounts to little more than being able to use a desktop computer as a typewriter, calculator, or drawing board. True IT literacy involves understanding what IT is and is not, and learning to apply IT to gain value in business.
  • The second PC revolution. The first PC revolution provided personal productivity tools. The second will let people create their own computer systems to which they can delegate their responsibilities to remember, calculate and communicate, and which will interact with other people and computers on their behalf.
  • The death of the IT department. IT will remain as a technical specialism, but most IT will merge into general business. The in-house IT department will be relegated to a background supporting role.

Over the next few weeks I will explore the drivers behind and details of these potential futures. I welcome your views on these visions of the future.

Next: The rise of true IT literacy


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