Imagining IT’s future

Visitors from another planet scouting the state of IT today might report back to their superiors that Earth’s technology industry is very sick and probably dying. The extraterrestrial analysts might be misled by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s self-serving, totally unimaginative and all-too-frequent media appearances portraying competing vendors as a gang of plunging skydivers having but two parachutes to share among themselves.

Both the aliens and Larry would be wrong in their assessments. Our technology future isn’t going to be a soul-destroying slog toward a homogenized only-three-vendors-left-standing endpoint.

Instead, I believe that a significant subset of IT leaders is on the cusp of an imagination-driven renaissance in technology-enabled value creation. There remains a broad assortment of valuable endpoints — things to do with IT — and an intriguing set of options for doing them.

Not everyone will enjoy this renaissance. Research conducted in association with the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University documents that 63 percent of the CIOs in the Global 2,000 got their jobs because their predecessors performed “suboptimally” (academicspeak for “they stunk”). Approximately 25 percent of these CIOs have been in their jobs less than two years. Since it typically takes about 18 to 30 months to remediate a “broken” IT shop, one out of four IT leaders will be too busy fighting alligators to actively engage his technology imagination.

While those CIOs are busy in the swamp, the other 75 percent of IT leaders operate their shops in a nontoxic manner, maintain a pretty good relationship with the suits and have an opportunity to do something very significant with its next round of technology investments. That potential upside will be driven by technology imagination, so we need to explore the art of the possible. What should we do with the amazing array of powerful and increasingly affordable technologies before us?

Lest we forget, in a very soft economy and a very troubled industry, technology vendors continue to spend billions on research and development. Technology advances aren’t slowing down.

“We will make as much progress in the next 18 months as we had during the entire history of computing up to today,” predicts longtime industry player Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence.

Think about it: Processing power continues to double every 18 months. Storage capacity continues to double every 12 months. Bandwidth throughput continues to double every nine months. Our challenge is to imagine how to make bags of money with this silicon cornucopia.

With the mainstream world we live in beginning to take on many of the hyperinformational characteristics of the imaginary world William Gibson created in his novel Neuromancer, many in the mainstream have run out of gas and can’t imagine what comes next. They’re too busy.

But IT doesn’t have to fall into that trap. You not only need to make the time, but you also need to address this exercise properly. Consider adopting the best practices of uberimagineers:

– Never imagine alone.

– Involve thinkers from other disciplines.

– Imagine along your vector of greed (great problems stimulate great imaginings).

– Time-box (hard-deadline) your thinking.

In Gibson’s latest novel, Pattern Recognition, one character tells us, “We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management.” Isn’t the biggest risk that our imaginations will fail to come up with solutions worth building or worlds worth living in?