Futurology: art, science or nonsense?

Recently I was asked to present to a group of MBA students on my view of the future and how technology will shape our world by 2015 through to 2020 and beyond. I decided to deliver the session under the title “Futurology – Science, Art or Nonsense?”.

At this time of year it is tempting to wrap up the events of the year with a forecast of what the future will bring. You may be pleased to know that I am going to resist that temptation!

This is primarily because, early in 2012, we will be refreshing the Fujitsu view of the trends shaping our world and the potential outcomes, Technology Perspectives, so I’ll hold fire for now – although I do commend the current material to you as we will evolve our views not completely re-invent them!

Even so, I couldn’t resist re-reading my blog post from December 2010 and musing on how much of what I talked about was still relevant. The post was primarily about the concept of consumerisation of IT and my sense then that it was not restricted to being the generational trait that in 2010 many of us had linked to “Generation Y”. Twelve months on, I think it is clear that the expectation our corporate workplace will have the same 21st century technology capabilities as the consumer arena has moved into the mainstream. The most frequent topic on which I’ve been asked to give an opinion in 2011 is “Bring Your Own” technology (BYO) in its many variants and consequences for the corporate IT landscape. Indeed at the point where I moved from the CIO position in Fujitsu UK and Ireland to my current role the two topics dominating my CIO barometer of demand were requests for BYO solutions and our moving to support Android based smartphones and tablets within our own BYO initiative.

If you remember with the help of my HR colleagues I was able to have the data set rendered anonymous and then age group analysed. In May when the demand on these topics started to register in the monthly statistics there was a clear Generation Y skew, however by September the total figures for Android support were equally split between Generation Y and Generation X (c45% each of volume) yet the BYO demand remained Generation Y dominated (60% of volume). I’m not going to ponder on the demographic angle in this post but what I will say is that in a company of around 12,000 employees over the period I had over 1,000 requests for BYOT and over 2,500 requests for Android smartphone or tablet support (not necessarily all unique, i.e. people could have requested both). This level of interest mirrored what we saw in the marketplace and in the requests for opinion from CIOs from across our client base.

So whilst I am sidestepping listed some forecasts for 2012 I can say that the most common topic I have been asked to talk about over recently months is “Big Data” and “Smart Cities/Infrastructure” (the Intelligent Society). I no longer have the CIO Barometer to give me some data points but I am willing to assert that I think in 12 months we may well be reflecting on a year that saw that concept become pervasive and examples of business value being derived from it become easy to list.

It seems appropriate to end my last blog post of 2011 in the year which saw the passing of Steve Jobs to end with one of my favourite Apple related quotes. The final line from Apple’s famous Think Different campaign was:

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Clearly 2012 is going to be a challenging year on so many levels for us all, but alongside the challenges there are plenty of opportunities too. Have a restful festive period and return refreshed for what lies ahead.

Stereotypes – Shaken and Stirred?

Last week I was invited to talk at a D Group event on the topic of Generation Y.  The discussion after my monologue was wide ranging and extremely interesting, particularly as it had a business leader perspective rather than a technology orientation. One element of my material that generated a deal of debate was a demographic analysis that I had prepared on ten months worth of my “why can’t I?” email collection. I’ve mentioned this weekly collation of incoming requests and challenges from my user base and how I use it as an insightful barometer of technology demand in an earlier post.  Spookily, the demand alignment to demographic stereotypes is pretty much what you might expect, for example demand for Android based tablets receiving corporate email and other services coming from Generation Y, but the same services for Apple iPhones/iPads coming from Generation X.   An interesting data point for me was that the demand for Microsoft Windows based tablets to be enabled for corporate services was almost entirely from Baby-Boomers which has some interesting implications perhaps for the Nokia/Microsoft link up announced today.  The only other requests overwhelmingly dominated by one demographic related to self selection of of smartphone or computer for use in corporate context; 80% of those requests were from Generation Y.   This is interesting as, just as in many other companies, Generation Y is a minority group within our population but that will change over the coming decade and it signals an emerging demand loud and clear (I’ll discuss the way I meet the demand on social media and also on personal smartphone use in a future post).

The term emerging also figured prominently as I prepared some material to present at the quarterly Fujitsu Executive Discussion Evening event that we provide for our customers.  The topic of the evening was innovation at the sharp end and some event materials may be found on the i-CIO website, including videos taken of speakers and attendees on the night.

I opened my presentation using an infographic which shows the most efficient nations at turning R&D spend into patents submitted in 2008 together with the raw numbers submitted on a world map.  As you view the map from west to east the efficiency dramatically rises until you find that South Korea is massively more efficient than any other country and in the same total number band as the USA and Japan. The United States does relatively poorly on the efficiency measure, certainly not what you might expect for the world’s largest economy; the UK has the same efficiency rating.  Now I would love to see the data repeated for 2009 and 2010 but I think we can probably safely assume that that rise of the countries like China, India and South Korea will not have slowed.

Perhaps what is interesting is to link the demographic perspective from my data set to the population trends in the emerging economic super-powers, and to the efficiency indicated by the infographic, to form a view on the location and drivers for future innovation.  Clearly filing patents is not the same as being certain that the invention will lead to a business innovation, i.e. a change in how we do something in either consumer or corporate space that generates business benefit and ultimately money.  However, it does give pause for though.  At the Intellect Annual Regent Conference last week Mike Lynch (the founder and CEO of Autonomy) gave an excellent interview (as reported by Nick Heath on Silicon.com) in which he said that the majority of start-ups in Silicon Valley today were being established by South Koreans and that, in his view, we need to attract the “uber-talented” to set up their companies in Britain to create jobs and innovation profit engines in our economy.  At the time I was surprised by the reference to South Korea – a day later I saw the infographic discussed above and a penny dropped for me!

It seems that the last a week or so proved some stereotypes to be correct for me but also shook up some of my preconceptions and thinking. All in all, that must have been a jolly good week!

Image credit: © nikkytok – Fotolia.com

[Updated 31 August 2011 to include David’s presentation slides]