The Future of the Industry

by Fred Gault

As consultants we are often too busy with the minutia of daily survival to take time to look at the big picture. As we read debates about details of our industry niche in the trade journals, we often neglect the long view. I would like to share my vision of the future of our industry from a consulting perspective.

Bill Gates of Microsoft has a vision of "a computer for every desktop". His vision has been attained. I believe his next vision is something along the lines of "chips everywhere, Microsoft Windows on every chip". This may sound a little strange - how can we run Windows on a toaster? But how strange did "a computer for every desktop" sound in the early 1980's when Mainframes cost millions and desktop computers were for hobbists and "nurds"? Meanwhile, John Sculley of Apple Computer discussed his vision of the "PDA" (Personal Digital Assistant) at Comdex and MACWorld. A Personal Digital Assistant can be thought of as "chips everywhere, some Apple Software on every chip". That means that there is a future that is obvious to both Apple and Microsoft that involves chips imbedded in all kinds of items (business, personal and household).

Meanwhile there are IBM, UNISYS, TANDEM and other mainframe manufacturers. What about their futures? Corporate data is still critical to survivability in the modern world and corporate data bases require lots of power and storage. Databases in general will start keeping new kinds of data, such as electronic documents (documents that contain video clips and sound as well as text). These kinds of documents will require much more storage than text documents do today. So look for mainframes to remain important in the years to come. Mainframes will have their usual traditional role to play as well, no one will seriously consider printing several million bank statements from a desktop computer! What will change, however, is access to corporate centralized data. The corporate database will no longer exist in one form on one machine. There will be an amorphous network of information nodes that will reside in various locations and will be accessable from anywhere on the globe. What this means is that telecommunications will become more and more critical. With that will come security issues as well. The data need to be accessable but only to the authorized people. Compression will become more valuable as the planet tries to get the maximum value from the available bandwidth.

Data presentation is changing too. The GUI (Graphical User Interface) wars of the last two years have obscured the fact that GUI is now accepted. We will see graphical displays of everything with lots of sound and high quality video. Character based applications will migrate to graphic standards as users demand sound, color, video, pens, centralized device drivers, universal fonts and interoperability with other products.

Lastly, there is going to be a new kind of computer user. And we're beginning to see him already. This is the professional in the field. Workers in warehouses, vehicles and even on the street, will have high powered, well connected computing power at their finger tips. This means pen based computing, voice recognition and portable hardware will be prevalent in the future.

Lets try and draw some conclusions from all of this. How will this affect us as consultants? Well, here are some technical areas that would be nice to know: telecommunications and connectivity in general, data encryption, graphical programming, corporate databases, penpoint programming, embedded systems, and multimedia (full motion video, sound and high quality images). Here are some business things to keep in mind: systems are becoming more complex but on cheaper more powerful hardware. Partnering with other consultants may enhance your ability to compete. Things are changing fast and our work force is becoming increasingly inadequate to handle the demand, so education is money in the bank. As hardware becomes cheaper and telecommunications becomes better it will be likely that you can work away from a client site with your own equipment (Indeed, some large corporations, such as AT&T, are cutting costs by setting up their employees with in-the-home offices). Your knowlege will become more valuable over time provided you keep up. Investing in your own training will be critical.

In a few more years, you will be talking to your toaster telling a future variant of Windows how you like your toast. Your vacuum cleaner will tell your couch to move aside for a moment so the floor can be cleaned. You'll be on-line to Hong Kong with your client who won't know that you're also keeping an eye on the San Jose Giants game in the upper right corner of the screen. You'll have a video call with your business partner in Atlanta up in another corner of the screen (which, bye the way, is a desktop flat panel operated with a pen-like stylus). You may want to give your spouse a quick call on your video wrist phone and a telemarketer may call and ask you to sample a new perfume on line 5 - he would be delighted to fax you a couple of different fragrances to try. An animated cartoon stockbroker pops up on the screen to tell you that Microsoft stock just hit $1000 per share, you tell him to sell and he waddles off into an image of the stock exchange to take care of it - but I digress!

Will you be ready to be a part of the industry?