IT Is the Future

As you read through this week's issue, two things should become readily apparent: how far IT, and the function of harnessing computing power, has come in a relatively short period of time; and how forward-looking much of our 35th Anniversary retrospective is. And for good reason.

For three and a half decades, from its infancy into a struggling adolescence, Computerworld has been covering our industry from the viewpoint of the people who create, deploy and maintain the country's IT infrastructure. I've been along for the ride here for 21 years and have watched technology over that period become ever more tightly woven into the fabric of our lives. More recently, I've watched the internal debate and gnashing of teeth over the loss of IT jobs and the sometimes wholesale outsourcing of the IT function.

Although some ponder whether there is a future in IT, I think they've missed the point. While the business side wrestles - sometimes badly - with how best to manage its information systems, the corporate world has vastly increased its dependence on technology. Can there really be any doubt that IT is the future? How exciting is that?

It's true we're a bit in the dark right now as to the form it will take. Our op-ed columnists this week are right - the past is often not the best predictor of the future, and no matter how well considered they may seem at the time, our best efforts to peer ahead are often wrong.

But sometimes they're right. Technology has enabled pioneering businesses to ratchet ahead of the competition and, in some cases, trigger information revolutions within and across vertical industries. It is replacing conventional warfare, and it is redefining marketplaces. Once-absurd notions - a computer on every desk, Dick Tracy-like communicating wristwatches - have long since become reality. We keep cramming more and more power into microscopic circuitry. And yet we have barely scratched the surface.

Many of the visionaries whose imagination and drive have brought us these advances aren't resting on their laurels. That's why we devoted a major chunk of our anniversary issue to probing their current obsessions and longer-term predictions.

As a group, these visionaries say that ubiquitous, embedded technology will enhance and improve our lives and that wireless will explode everywhere, as computing and communications converge, voice recognition and video take center stage and personal identifiers and tracking come of age. Other coming benefits include less of a need to travel, increased productivity, advanced problem-solving and simply more opportunities. The visionaries talk about concepts like the "architecture of coordination" and "Internet telemetry and control" while criticizing the quality and complexity of the products produced today.

A more deeply computerized and connected universe can only call for more IT workers at every level, even if it forces a radical overhaul of how they're employed today. After 35 years, this isn't the end of the road, nor is it the end of your careers.

You don't need to be a visionary to conclude that IT has spent the past three decades just getting warmed up. We know, without knowing how, that technology will become ever more central to our personal, business and national interests. How that shakes out for IT professionals is in great part up to us. We just have to be open to the possibilities. They seem endless to me.

Patricia Keefe is editorial director at Computerworld. You can contact her at patricia_keefe@computerworld.com.

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