Editorial: January 2004

The goal of scenario planning is not to predict the future, but to present a range of possible futures, all of which should be taken into account in your strategic planning. That said, the results of this month’s research study are not meant as an exercise in scenario planning. What we’ve done, in the sections devoted to predictions five years out, is to present the results as they came in; the accompanying findings are designed to bring out the salient points. My assessment: Our respondents, top IT executives all, are a very conservative and generally optimistic bunch. They expect that little will have changed on the economic front, the process of IT management will be essentially unchanged, the business environment will continue to be risky, and corporate information technologies will advance inexorably but predictably.

We’d like to think, however, that the survey might also come in handy by helping CIOs imagine different, less obvious scenarios. Consider the section on the economy. Most respondents think economic growth in the U.S. will be strong over the next five years. But what would the world in which we do business look like if that didn’t come to pass? How might continuing weak economic growth affect, say, the ongoing technological progress anticipated in the section on technology. Might weak growth accelerate the vendor consolidation anticipated in the management section. Or make it even more difficult to combat the terrorist acts contemplated in the section on risk management.

The technology predictions offer similar alternatives. Most respondents think it unlikely that autonomous computing will become a strong enough force to affect IT staffing levels significantly. But what if it does? Would a smaller staffing base erode the power of the CIO? Would that hasten the trend toward on-demand computing? Would that in turn force the business units to absorb the strategic role of IT more quickly? Would that speed up the trend toward outsourcing IT tasks? Does that make it more or less likely that your company will employ a CIO in five years?

We like our technology to move forward pretty quickly, but we like that to happen in a world where everything else can be controlled, like a scientific experiment. But the world doesn’t operate that way. And we don’t need another Sept. 11 to tell us that. Just ask the nearly 5,000 IBM engineers whose jobs are going offshore.

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