Mapping the future

The authors, both who claim to have worked at the sharp end of technology for over two decades, see a technology explosion in 2006.

Business 2010: Mapping the new commercial landscape by Ian Pearson and Michael Lyons (Spiro, $49.95)

The authors, both who claim to have worked at the sharp end of technology for over two decades, see a technology explosion in 2006. Expect fast, tiny, clear, voluminous. Expect instant queries to a “semantic” web from anywhere in natural language. Expect electronic tags in everything, government to be mostly online and biotech and IT (and probably nano) to get closer. Or at least the first or second signs of these trends.

Look, a few years later, for biomimetic networks, which imitate nature’s ideas such as hive insects’ ability to self-organise and evolve. Self-teaching, self-organisation and “synthesised evolution” will, after 2010, help computers overcome the gap between rules-based queries at which they’re already better than us and real intelligence. Expect ultra-simple systems, backed by a computing grid that supplies processing where and when you need it. Peer to peer (or symbiotic) networks of devices such as phones or games machines, which can communicate for free. More wireless devices that interconnect seamlessly using “software radio” to find any signal. Smart filters for entertainment preferences and context-sensitive services. No flying cars, though.

Much of this speculation is extrapolated from past events, and little of it will be of surprise to regular readers of this publication and the IT-related internet.

Business 2010, which is written clearly, is divided into sections suggesting what's going to happen in the next decade, what it means, and how businesses can adapt.

Of most interest to executives concerned with IT decisions will be the last two sections.

The authors identify three features dominating the new economy: the importance of information as an economic, easily reproduceable good; increasing rather than decreasing returns to scale; and the importance of network effects -- that the value of the network increases with size, more rapidly than the network.

By 2010, the authors predict, many routing admin tasks will be automated, and lots of “low-end” professional services will be available online. This is presumably basic medical, legal and accounting. While AI might do away with jobs and skills, the upside -– and these books are almost invariably concerned with the upside –- is that it could make workers “smarter”, allowing them to do more complex and interesting work. These include intelligent monitoring, workflow management and context-sensitive support. This means we will increasingly pay for the human component in work, which will be the basis of the "care economy" that will evolve in earnest around 2015. The authors believe we will revalue human interpersonal, caring skills and new roles -- many in this area -- will be created for the ones smart machines will take over.

A knowledge economy brings with it a shift of power from employer to (perhaps a few highly paid) workers, argue people like Peter Drucker. Control of assets used in manufacturing and logistics may likewise shift from a single integrated firm to partners in a wider extranet and customers. No one will have expert teams of designers, technologists, marketers, so expect more world-class virtual companies or co-operatives which will subcontract production. Automating and outsourcing admin and support will hopefully replace worker routine with "inventiveness and empathy", as long as the new process is not too rigid and thus demotivating. New IT-created business processes, not well designed or implemented, may actually cost hugely in terms of administration and completion. Senior management should resist micromanagement temptations to use IT to gather too much centralised data and control.

Consumer demand -- increasingly sudden, capricious, 24/7 -- will need ever-more-clever ways of being met by suppliers. Manufacturing will resemble the fashion industry. Gear up for continuous innovation (and hence lots of intellectual property issues). However, manufacturers, with the help of global logistics companies and savvy consumers, will truly disintermediate wholesalers and retailers in some areas. Say goodbye to most accountants and clerks with the help of e-commerce audit apps. On the other hand, expect global guilds of specialist workers, though who will be able to afford these elite people is anyone's guess.

The authors even suggest where you might want to put your efforts over the next six years (servicing the complex social market, interfaces, middlemen agencies, etc).

Broatch is books editor of Computerworld.

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