The Future of ICT — are we there yet?

A relatively safe thing to say when asked to predict the future of the computer industry is, simply, “Amazing”. One need only compare between what is currently available against that of only a few years ago, and the performance improvements have been remarkable.

This is only going to continue for the foreseeable future — ever faster processors with ever more memory and storage. Ridiculously fast graphics cards driving huge monitors, able to render immersive 3D environments in real-time.

But one might be forgiven for wondering at what point will it stop. Not because the industry can’t double the performance again, but because the users don’t need any more computing power. At what point are we done?

“Not yet!”, the IT industry would scream. “We’re not done yet, look what we’ve got coming!”

Intel, AMD and PowerPC (IBM and Apple) are all promising even faster processors. Some designs have “multiple cores” — two or more independent CPUs on a single chip. Need a mainframe on your desk? Just wait.

The ever increasing computing abilities is also being applied in smaller, non-traditional forms. The same techniques which allow for very fast processors also allows for very small designs. Hand-held devices like Palm Pilots, Pocket PCs and latest-generation cell-phones are becoming remarkably powerful.

With cheap and powerful computing now being readily available to almost everyone, anywhere, computers have begun taking over the task of multi-media delivery and two-way communications. Additionally, wireless has suddenly become a market buzz.

Some of the hot wireless communication technologies coming onto the market, or gaining critical mass, include: WiFi and WiMAX, CDMA/GSM, Blue Tooth and Free Space Optics (FSO).

WiFi has been around for some time, offering low-cost wireless networking abilities while avoiding cable runs in a house or office. WiFi has a bad reputation for security risks and has further been hindered by relatively low data-rates and limited public Access Points.

WiMAX is the next generation of this technology, delivering much greater bandwidth even in unfavorable reception areas. The standard defines additional spectrum as defined by the FCC, and should ensure interoperability between equipment from different vendors. WiMAX is expected to greatly increase the build-out of Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP).

Hoping to compete with WiMAX are the cellular providers, offering data services on top of their existing CDMA or GSM networks. While the data-rates are far lower, the much wider general availability of signal makes this a serious consideration for many users.

Blue Tooth is another technology which has been around for a while, but is finally catching on. Designed for very short range, personal “Pico-nets”, Blue Tooth is meant to allow one’s wearable computing devices to talk to each other, and one’s desktop computer.

And, at the other end of the spectrum (no pun intended), Free Space Optics is a relatively new option in wide-area networking which is gaining traction. Offering very high-speed network connections of up to a couple of kilometers, these laser-based devices are remarkably inexpensive thanks to increased market adoption.

Traditional wired networking is also continuing to gain market share. Despite not being as “sexy” as wireless technologies, cable modem and xDSL remain the main means of Internet connectivity. A recent survey found that more homes and businesses are now on high-speed connections rather than dial-up.

This widespread access to high-speed connectivity is allowing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to explode. As discussed at some length in a recent article, VoIP has the potential of completely revolutionizing how a business operates while cutting costs significantly.

OK, admittedly, all very exciting stuff. We’ll be able to connect to our networks from just about anywhere we are, using powerful computers we carry around with us. These will talk to even more powerful desk-top computers back at our offices, and the world at large — we’ll always be in touch!

Will we be done then? Do we really want to always be in touch? (Ask a Blackberry user how often they check their e-mail.)

The reason I ask is I don’t think the question is considered often enough. It is all to easy to get caught up in the euphoric visions of the technology industry without asking a simple, bottom-line question: How does this help me?

Or, put another way, is the continuous need to upgrade one’s ICT infrastructure to the benefit of the purchaser, or the seller? For almost thirty years we’ve been told that ICT investment is required to remain competitive. And yet, study after study shows little correlation.

I would argue that a huge amount of investment in ICT is being squandered because users are not properly trained in its use. I would further argue that the best investment most managers could make in ICT would be training for their users, rather than buying more (sexy, to be sure) kit.

Because, at the end of the day, the tech industry has quite a different agenda than the tech consumer. The industry needs to sell kit — lots of it. The consumer, on the other hand, is usually trying to get a job done.

At some point we’ll have everything we need to accomplish our jobs, and often quite a bit more. For example, before the computer entered the workplace, how many office managers would let their people bring in their own TVs? Almost none — and yet a TV stream is just a point-and-a-click away on most modern workstations.

Personally, I think people are going to realize that they have enough ICT to get their jobs done, and sooner than most expect. In fact, for a great many organizations, they may already be there.

Just don’t tell the tech industry — they’re not ready for us to be done. In fact, their survival depends on us never getting there — forever buying the next upgrade.

Promise, this version fixes all the previous bugs. Honest.

Published in the Victoria Business Examiner.

Write a comment