Readers talk technological advancement, future planning, Ray Kurzweil

"Change is the new normal"? Maybe. "Change is the new constant"? Not necessarily. In his Sept. 23 keynote at Global Directions 2013 in Washington, D.C.,

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inventor, author and futurologist Ray Kurzweil argued that nothing is constant when it comes to the changes occurring in IT.

SearchCIO Executive Editor Linda Tucci attended Kurzweil's presentation, and came away with the impression that "the world is changing more and more rapidly, fueled by information technology." In Tucci's column on the keynote, she explained Kurzweil's views on the expansion of technology and the importance of looking at growth exponentially, rather than linearly.

To provide a historical view, Kurzweil presented visuals depicting the consistent, exponential growth of IT in recent times, which avoided dips even during wartime, the Depression and the recent Great Recession, indicating that IT progress is largely fueled by human curiosity and doesn't waver in times of economic hardship. Kurzweil suggested that just as inventors anticipate what the world will be like when their invention is finished, IT and business leaders also must prepare for the next big advance in the role of IT.

To find out what SearchCIO readers felt about thinking exponentially and planning for the future of IT, we asked, "How far in the future can you plan out IT, given how fast technology changes?" Readers could select a timeframe between six months and five years.

Twenty percent of our respondents felt that anywhere between six and 12 months is a suitable timeframe for future IT planning, noting that the technology landscape changes at a rapid rate:

  • "One year at the outermost. In six months, IT can still see new technology introduced that changes the general landscape too much to stick to a course that was set in ignorance of an unknown, surprise innovation."
  • "It depends on the industry, but anything over six months indicates a very mature industry without much innovation."

The most common response to our IT planning question was "one year." Forty-four percent of readers took that stance, but not without some hesitations:

  • "Less than a year is not relevant, and more than a year is not relevant too."
  • "Technology may move fast, but business still plays catch-up to that technology for at least one year. CFOs usually don't want to get the new 'bright and shiny' when what they currently have [is] something that works, especially if it is going to cost a lot."
  • "This depends on what you are trying to achieve. If it is new devices with software, there is a 'do and learn' cycle, which can take more than a year. For normal IT planning, I agree with the majority at one year."

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When it comes to hot-ticket investments like desktop computers and company laptops, 20% of readers felt a five-year planning was most appropriate. One respondent suggested planning any shorter than seven years in advance could force CIOs and IT leaders to become firefighters in their organization:

  • "I believe that five years is enough time for a business to plan out their IT, given that technology keeps changing at a faster pace. But let's say desktops are bought today, only to replace them after a year -- this, I believe, would not be healthy for the finances of the business."
  • "If [your] plan is shorter than three years, preferably seven years, you have no path and will end up in firefighting mode all the time. The challenge is creating 'GPS' verses a 'paper map;' that way you can reroute as the company goals change."

Not all readers felt that IT could be planned to a tee. Sixteen percent responded, "You can't plan!" in our story poll. Said one:

  • "Plans are made in sand, goals are written in stone! Plans change also!"

Planning for IT is becoming increasingly difficult as innovation grows exponentially. Here's what readers had to say on that subject:

  • "Planning out IT is pretty vague. Infrastructure planning can take months (three, six, nine+) depending on the size of the enterprise, and apps can be developed in days… "
  • "IT develops exponentially, but did anybody analyze how problems evolve in time? A good guess would be very frequently also exponentially. So, how is it possible that the effect is still exponential? That's because we tend to solve simpler problems earlier. In very exceptional cases, when we wanted to skip simple solutions, we always got true benefits, guaranteed."
  • "You have to be particularly careful to weigh the risks of large, capital investments that promise nirvana in the future at the expense of locked-in costs today. Years ago ATM [asynchronous transfer mode] was supposed to replace the primitive Ethernet technology. It was a big 'Oops' for those CIOs who spent their firm's cash on a technology bet that went wrong."

What do you think? Should CIOs create an IT planning timeline, or is it a waste of resources? Sound off in the comment section below.

This was first published in November 2013

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