A scary vision of the future at IBM Connect?

Nick Booth looks back at a packed agenda at IBM Connect 2013, and looks ahead to a scary vision of the future

It’s impossible not to get nervous when IT vendors present their vision of the future.

The recent IBM Connect 2013 conference in Las Vegas was no exception. The five imperatives presented by IBM (put mobile first, edit your business processes, integrate, act on data and be open) seemed fairly sensible enough. In my interpretation, these five pillars of its strategy can be edited down to three commandments: top wasting time, stop wasting time and, oh yes, stop wasting so much bloody time.

Mobile First (IBM’s first commandment) has obvious time-saving benefits. So have the concepts of Re-Inventing Business Design and Processes and Adopting A Flexible and Secure Integration Model. Surely they are the same thing. For several decades we have had computers creating automated business systems in order to save us time. Integrating them is the same thing, surely. A category into which IBM’s fifth imperative, Create Open Architectures, also falls. In other words, stop wasting time on stupid systems that can’t work together. The third big idea is to Be Insight and Data Driven, which can be translated to mean, stop wasting time on stupid decisions.

Ultimately then, I think IBM trying to tell us to stop arseing about and get on with things more quickly. Why didn’t they just come out and say it? They could have got the whole conference done in a morning. 

Sometimes I wonder if they’re not taking a long time to state the bleeding obvious. Surely we’ve had business processes since the beginning of time. Making them more efficient is nothing new. Even the world’s oldest profession has always been ‘customer facing’, although they charge more if it’s done the other way. Apparently.

Still, it’s difficult to argue with their logic. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where we squander fewer resources, make brighter decisions and get things done quicker and more efficiently? And if IBM can promote open systems as we move into the cloud, we should all be massively grateful.

But the longer the conference went on, the more scary and inhuman they made the future sound. First they showed us the car of the future. This, we were told, was no longer about the engine or the thrill of the ride. No, it was a moving datacentre. The latest Ford, it transpires, has four processors and 16 million lines of code that help to create a ‘mobile digital lifestyle’. What a horrible prospect. It makes you yearn for a Mark I Cortina.

In the future, judging by the presentations, every third word we use will be leveraging, and every second word will be capability. Two point five quintillion bytes of data will be created every day, so that a stockbroker can trade while he’s at the wheel of his moving datacentre. One point seven quintillion of those bytes will be the word capability, so they’ll struggle to make any sense of that data.

It makes you wonder whether we’d be better off with a quill and a horse and cart.

But the scariest prospect is presented by the cloud. IBM is fighting the good fight to create an open cloud architecture – and good luck to it. Some developments remain out of its control, however, and these could create massive problems in the near future.

IBM’s messaging expert, Michael Curry, confirmed the fears of one of the audience who said that in two years time, the networks will be swamped with data. If we think big data is a challenge now, the volume of traffic created by the Internet of Things will be 100 times worse, as machine chats to machine every millisecond for 24 hours a day. Nobody seems to have given any thought to how the telcos and mobile operators will react to this problem. Their networks will be heaving with traffic, as drinks machines, traffic lights and CCTV cameras spend all day tittle-tattling. When they’re not clogging the networks, they’ll be spreading out across the storage capacity like Japanese knotweed.

It’s only two years away, but it will take a lot longer than that to plan for the massive changes in infrastructure. In a couple of years time, when you’re stock trading in your mobile datacentre, it may not be possible to use your mobile to access that big data you need for your intelligent decision.

It’s going to get very confusing and you won’t be able to find anyone to help you either, according to those who know.

For instance, after a Fireside Chat session two IBM partners revealed how difficult it is to get staff these days. Karen Bollinger, manager of business application systems at Nextgen and Anne Marie Berger, managing partner at Forefront, both complained that the acceleration of development means that projects have to be complete faster. Projects that may have been allocated months are now expected to be finished in weeks. Compromises have to be made, and typically that means that developers don’t have time to document all the work that they have done. Everyone wants their projects completed faster and cheaper, which means nobody pays that little bit extra that’s needed to map out all the changes. But one day, someone is going to need that information and the only person who might have a clue will be long gone.

You won’t be able to get the staff because the few people who do understand how to integrate all the cloud services with the underlying infrastructure will rule the jobs market. They will demand massive premiums for their skills, which will be in such short supply that companies will have to pay them.

Today an SEO can command a day rate of £5,000, just for fine-tuning a newspaper’s web site and making it more search engine friendly. But the web designers and SEOs of this era will seem like philanthropists in comparison to the cloud specialists, who will really have the corporations by the googlies.

The IT industry has been here before. We always get skills shortages and the lack of documentation has caused problems for every generation of IT manager who has inherited a mess caused by a contractor. But the cloud has exacerbated that problem.

It will automate the skills crisis, make systems indecipherable and will leave networks congested. Now that is not a great future.

Surely those are three imperatives that must be tackled. Come on, you solution providers, see if you can sort that one out.

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