Do You Need Advice from a Futurist?

IT vendors and analysts keep their ears to the ground when it comes to future technology trends. Shouldn't IT do the same?

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

May 17, 2023

5 Min Read
Blue circuit board as a layer over an AI face
Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

Merriam-Webster defines a futurist as “one who studies and predicts the future especially on the basis of current trends.”

In a technology company, a futurist often is found in product planning, conceptualizing what the next big thing is likely to be in product evolution. He or she looks at the market and at socio-economic and technology trends. Product planners seek out areas of product functionality where there is a need, and then they try to fill it.

The goal for some companies is to be the first to market. For others that are more risk-averse, it is to be present and ready for the next new trend when that trend hits.

Most IT departments fall into the latter bucket. They don’t necessarily want to be “first in” with a new and unproven technology, but they don’t want to be too far behind, either. To position themselves so they won’t be too far behind the new technology adoption curve in their particular industry, they study the market, look for new tech innovations and then plan for implementation and funding. There are also IT departments that don’t do much planning. These organizations are often in smaller companies where, by necessity, the focus must be on keeping the IT running, not necessarily on being positioned as an IT leader.

Must IT Be Aggressive With Futuristic Thinking?

The IT approaches of following early adopters once new technologies are proven, or of just waiting until the price comes down, have worked for many years. However, now there are arguments in some areas of IT for more futuristic planning.

IT security is a prime example. If malware attacks increase or edge computing devices are purchased with lax security, IT can budget and implement security tools as needed to cover those niches as threats arrive, but what threats will happen next?

Someone should be researching cyber-crime trends, reviewing social media posts for red flags, and studying corporate security logs to see which areas of the corporate attack surface have been targeted most often, by what type of attack, and by whom.

An internal IT futurist can meet with security vendors and auditors to see what these parties are seeing. Where do they think the next cyber-threat will come from? What is it likely to involve? Are there solutions in place or available? In this way, companies can prepare for what they likely will encounter next. They can take the results from this planning to construct go-forward budget investments in security, and to implement additional security precautions and training for needed for the future of IT and other departments.

A second area that requires futuristic intelligence gathering is artificial intelligence (AI) and what it’s go-forward impact is likely to be on company business strategies, operations, and systems. Which areas of the company is a technology like ChatGPT likely to disrupt? How will it disrupt things, and what steps should be planned out now? How does the infusion of more AI, machine language and automation change the dynamics and the culture of the company? Which business processes, systems and people will be impacted most?

The answers to these questions could be three to five years out, but someone should be researching them in the present to ensure that they are on IT's strategic roadmap, and that budgets, projects and organizational change are proactively planned for.

Of course, all the above is what a presenter at an IT seminar is likely to tell you. However, once you get back to the office, you look at your project schedule, etc., and the idea of futuristic planning — or of committing someone on your staff to do it — just falls away.

To be sure, there are CIOs who don’t believe that much futuristic thinking or feel that dedication of staff time to look into the future is necessary, but there are many more who do.

Their challenge is finding the time and dedicating the talent to futuristic forecasting, and they struggle with how to answer the problem of researching and planning for the future while still maintaining daily workloads.

Futuristic Strategizing

The best practice is to not give up on the futurist concept.

If your company is small and you don’t have a futurist on your staff, or someone who is even capable of looking at the future and making predictions, you can always go to your IT vendors. Vendors have to know what the future trends are in their respective niches of the market so they can maintain pace with the industry.

A second source of futuristic intelligence is your IT auditors, Auditors see a broad range of companies and know which technologies are trending and how. They are also aware of emerging security threats and new regulatory and legal requirements that are forming on the horizon.

For mid-sized companies, it is possible to engage staff members who enjoy futurist trend research at the same time that these individuals continue to perform their daily IT functions.

In my own experience, I’ve had DBAs, system managers, application development managers and network administrators who all enjoyed researching what the “next big thing” was likely to be in their areas. They presented proposals for roadmaps and budgets, while also doing their day-to-day jobs.

Large enterprises are arguably in the best position to forecast and plan for technology futures, since they can invest in full-time tech futurists on their staffs who do this work.

A Final Word

In July 2022, Gartner reported that “76% of corporate strategy leaders said significant pivots to strategic plans now happen with increasing frequency … strategic and functional leaders must keep up.”

That means that strategic plans must be revisited often, ever with an ear and an eye to the future and how business processes and systems will be impacted.

These strategic trends and sea changes impact every company, regardless of size. They are happening faster than ever, so for companies, exercising futuristic thinking is no longer an option. It is a requirement.

What to Read Next:

IT Budgets in the Face of a Recession: How to Plan

IT Industry Outlook 2023: Trends Likely to Impact the Industry and Tech Pros

Why It's So Hard to Accurately Predict IT Trends

About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights