December is traditionally the month in which to take stock of the year that's ending. Could this year mark the start of a century of maturity, if not yet of wisdom?
In many ways, the last century departed in a bout of hysteria. There were uninformed Doomsday predictions about the effects of the Millennium Bug and unrealistic euphoria surrounded the new dot-coms. To add to that intoxicating mix, ASPs and WAP were going to revolutionise business as we knew it too.
All these subjects of hysteria have now received their come-uppance in one form or another. Although they had some effect on people and businesses, this was mostly of a minor or transitory nature.
Despite the smugness of the conspiracy theorists, seemingly confirmed in their dismissal of the Millennium Bomb as a scare got up by the IT industry, Y2K date calculations did cause many problems, not least at the London Stock Exchange, but the massive Swat teams that had been assembled to deal with them generally cleared them up quickly. Dot-com investors must or should have understood the gamble they were taking and been prepared to react as gamblers - sensible possibilities remain. At their worst, ASPs were a solution without a problem to address and will generally remain such until they find their niche. And WAP has been revealed for what it really is: not even a technology but rather a protocol in search of genuine needs and appropriate technological realisations.
That is not to say that major, even fundamental, changes are not beginning to occur. E-commerce and mobile technologies will certainly reshape our future, but they will take time to mature as technologies and even longer to implement on a widespread and sustainable basis. Arguably, the rapid uptake of mobile phones has had a much more immediate impact on businesses and lifestyles than either e-commerce or WAP.
Unfortunately, all trumpeted utopias put pressures on businesses to react, to 'do something'. Most of the pressure is to spend pots of money when a better course of action would be to exert more brain power. But brains and the time to use them also cost money, and the desire to cut costs by sacking and deskilling staff is universal.
If the panaceas are getting their come-uppance, my fear is that the cause of this happy outcome is the cost of innovation rather than reasoned judgement. The reason is important because, if we are to manage IT and the business opportunities it offers better in the coming century, we'll need to do that on a reasoned and realistic basis. That means several things.
It means understanding that, in most businesses, the practice of the most basic management disciplines of IT, such as inventory, change, security, service and project management, is inadequate. The need to improve all of these will persist, whatever new technologies we adopt. We also need to acknowledge more often that the effective, radical adoption of any new technology takes a long time to implement.
There's another discipline to add, one which is rarely exercised consistently in IT: risk management. The rate of technological change and technology-initiated business change will not slow down in the coming years; it may even increase. And all new technology represents new and mostly high risks. In the past year, the reality of these goldrush risks has been revealed. More widespread and consistent use of standard risk management practices could have avoided much of the pain of the year 2000.
What we have to hope is that we've learned the lessons for the right reasons, because only if that is so will we make consistent progress next year and beyond in the new century.