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Seeing into technology's future

By separating technological development into five categories, organizations can better prepare for the future.

BOSTON -- When it comes to the future, CIOs need a systematic approach to evaluating technology, according to a speaker at this week's SIMposium 2005 conference.

At least a few IT professionals discovered a new way of thinking about the future after a presentation from independent scholar and futurist Joel Barker at the conference. SIMposium is an annual peer-to-peer event hosted by the Society for Information Management, where CIOs gather to share technology best practices and business alignment ideas.

"There's no place that doesn't need you," Barker told a crowd of several hundred IT workers gathered in a ballroom at the Boston Marriott Copley Place hotel. "For the future to work out well, we need to handle information technology."

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Barker identified different ways of looking at future technology trends, based on his recently released book, Five Regions of the Future: Preparing Your Business for Tomorrow's Technology Revolution.

Thinking of technology trends in terms of the five distinct categories -- super tech, limits tech, local tech, nature tech and human tech -- can help CIOs better map out ways for their companies to take advantage of these trends and contribute to the future of society, Barker said.

Barker's five technology categories are:

Super tech takes a "bigger-is-beautiful" approach to technology and believes that new technologies like cold fusion power will solve future problems.

Limits tech warns that resources could quickly become scarce, and believes "efficiency is beautiful" like energy efficient LED light bulbs.

Local tech asks residents to think small and make do with available resources, like wind turbines, and takes a "small-and-local-is-beautiful" view.

Nature tech believes "nature is beautiful" and that natural products can be used to improve lives, like using viruses to cure cancer.

Human tech says "we are beautiful" and that stem cells, pheromones and other natural human elements can be used to better people's lives.

"We have technology that needs to be framed," Barker said. "Who's going to do it and when are we going to start?"

In essence, Barker's five categories are intended to provide filters for IT professionals to consider the future chances of success, and potential impact of, technologies like stem cell research, public space flight, Segway scooters and biodiesel fuel. Once CIOs have determined how specific technology will evolve, they can better position their company to meet those needs.

Russ Brown, IS director for Atlanta-based Russell Corp., a seller of athletic apparel, said Barker's presentation provided another tool to help him plan ahead.

"It was a new way of looking at the world," Brown said. Changing customer demographics and expectations are other future trends he thinks about.

"[Barker's ideas] all have some application in our daily lives," said David Briggs, CIO of Andover, Mass.-based Brockway-Smith Co. "Practical to theoretical is a good mixture."

"You have to ask, 'what's going to happen next?'" Briggs added. "You do this, and what are the implications? What if it doesn't happen, what are the unintended implications?"

Barker also discussed a sixth category, universal tech, which includes technologies that overlap into several categories because nearly everyone finds them useful in some way.

"Technology is basically about problem solving," Barker said. "With technology you want real-world solutions."

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