According to our predictions

“In the year 5555

Your arms are hanging limp at your sides,

Your legs got nothing to do

Some machine’s doing that for you.”

Zager and Evans, In the Year 2525

I am always fascinated by IT pundits and prognosticators. They sound so convincing when they tell us what’s coming in the next few years, but then are often proven wrong.

It’s worth listening to them, though, because being off the mark 75 per cent of the time means a one-in-four hit rate, and those hits may impart valuable information.

It’s no surprise that futurists are often misguided; the ability to look forward is invariably grounded in present-day realities. Take Isaac Asimov, mathematician, scientist and – most importantly – sci-fi author. His early stories depict a mainframe-based future in which huge boxes grew bigger as their capabilities increased, and he therefore missed the move towards separate but interconnected computers. For example, in a story called “The Bard” the personal computer is almost unknown, and only the tech-elite are able to own one. Similarly, only a very small number of people are smart enough to interact with computers, and these experts are held in great esteem.

These views are a reflection of Asimov’s time: computer’s were extremely expensive and only MIS staff were allowed inside the glass house.

The same phenomenon can be seen in the Star Trek of the late ’60s. Control panels were studded with coloured buttons and slide switches, and clocks employed rotating mechanical numbers, reminiscent of the times.

Also well-known to Trekkies are voice-based computer interfaces, a technology many pundits are tagging as this year’s big news. Of course, they’ve been saying that for four consecutive years, but one of these days…

The point here is that futurists are often correct, and companies that can somehow figure out when to listen can reap rewards. Consider the following innovations:

Client/Server: It was a tough sell in many organizations, and it has always been a mixed blessing, but few would opt to trade in their powerful clients for dumb mainframe terminals.

Enterprise resource planning: If your company got a solid ERP system working ahead of your competition, you had an advantage. The same holds true for CRM.

E-commerce: It’s common wisdom that the first to the Web with a good idea wins. Look at eBay, Amazon and Chapters.

E-anything-else: The Internet has taken off, and not too many predicted it. If you did, you’re probably reading this from the shores of your own mid-Pacific island.

Linux: Companies that started with a belief in an obscure OS – RedHat and Caldera, for example – are now rolling in the dough.

One company that has annually climbed out on the foretelling limb is PricewaterhouseCoopers. The company has just released its 11th Technology Forecast, and in the words of Bill Cross, a partner in the Toronto office, its predictions are “not exactly earth-shattering stuff.” That’s true – the company pegged CRM, hand-helds, Web-based customer service, and advanced cellular systems as big upcoming successes. But that conservative approach may improve the hit rate. Decide for yourself. Our coverage of the report is on page 10.