While Jeff Wacker looks more IT manager than mad scientist, as the futurist for Plano, Tex.-based EDS Corp, he does spend his days looking past the nuts and bolts of IT to what’s coming down the road.

When asked what will be the “next big thing” to fuel IT, Wacker unveils his recipe. “The next big thing always requires three things: a pent-up need; a technology that’s in existence; and a spark, a killer app, that makes legitimate the technology to fill that need.”

Wacker says 2008 looks to be the start of the next cycle, with venture capitalists looking at mid-2007 as the launching point for a host of new capabilities and technologies.

And what’s that next big thing going to be? With a greying workforce and a skills shortage fueling the increasing automation of IT processes, Wacker says simulation modeling and prediction technologies will be the next major technology shift.

He says the cost of an IT failure to the business is becoming increasingly high, and that is fueling the need for complex simulation modeling technology to identify potential problems so that they can be rectified before they occur.

“We’ve got this whole world of predictability that is coming online. Most companies don’t yet have a sense-and-respond model, they have a cause-and-effect model.”

The technology fueling this shift will include the next-generation architecture of multicore processors, with the parallel processing capabilities they enable offering the computing power necessary to run complex simulation programs. This will also mean that massive amounts of data will be required and generated, enabled by new holographic and crystalline storage technologies.

The key, Wacker says, will be getting contextual information rather than historical information. It’s not I sold five umbrellas this time last year so I’ll probably sell five tomorrow, but rather “it’s going to rain tomorrow, therefore I’ll probably sell more umbrellas, so I should put them on display.”