Vendor roadmaps are predictions not prophecy.

IT Journalism often suffers from breathlessly recapitulating vendor talking points. Rarely will you see anyone actually sit back and wonder how much reality there is behind the hype. Great at telling you what the vendors have told them, not so good at figuring out if the vendors themselves actually have a firm grip on where things are and where they are going.

Some commentators will go on about how by 2020 every worker will be carrying around their BYOD tablet that they do all their work on while all the IT infrastructure that they interact with is hosted in the cloud. That’s because that’s “the future” a couple of vendors are telling us about.

The past is full of depictions of the future. Surely you’ve seen web articles here and there that were published 30 or 40 years ago telling us what the world of the future looked like. How many got it right? Technologies that seemed like slam dunks on their technical merits sit disused and forgotten. Technologies that seemed laughably ill-conceived when released become industry standards.

William Gibson, author of the science fiction classic Neuromancer once wrote that science fiction says more about the time it was written than it does about the future it predicts. That’s why science fiction depicting the year 2015 written more than a decade ago seems so wildly out of sync with what things are probably going to look like less than 18 months from now.

What vendors think the future is going to look like is their prediction. It’s a guess. And just like the smartest science fiction writers were wildly inaccurate with their guesses on what the future looked like, there’s no reason to assume that the accuracy of self-interested vendors is going to be much better.

Consider the following:

If you’d asked 100 commentators, journalists, and industry spruikers (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/spruiker) back in 2001 what percentage of computers would be running Windows XP at the start of 2014, how may do you reckon would have been anywhere near close on picking up the correct answer?

If you’d asked 100 commentators, journalists, and industry spruikers back in 2001 to describe the primary focus of some of the biggest tech companies at the start of 2014, how many would have answered “advertising”?

Vendor roadmaps are predictions of what the vendor thinks the future is going to look like. Even when those predictions are parroted by what passes as today’s tech press, as with all predictions, they are going to turn out to be somewhere between mildly and wildly inaccurate. The reality is that while we can hazard a guess what  things are going to look like in 2020, the only way we’ll know what they looked like in 2020 is when we’re woken up on the 1stof January 2021.

Who knows what effects factors such as the Snowden NSA revelations are going to have with respect to prejudices on whether people will migrate their infrastructure to the cloud (though when presenting on Azure backup at TechED Oz and NZ I can tell you that the questions I got indicated that trust in US based cloud providers took a big hit offshore). As a professor of mine once pointed out, even though they are arguably more efficient and safer, look at how many new nuclear plants have been built in the USA after 3 mile island.  Who knows. The cloud may end up a bit like that – a technology that gets sidelined because the compelling financial arguments don’t outweigh the existential ones.

So what to do as an IT pro who wants to ensure that they are reliably employed in 2020? Simple. Stay on the training hamster wheel and remain broadly aware of all the possible ways that things may play out. Remember that just because a technology seems superior doesn’t mean that it will be successful. Also remember that while commentators talk about how fast the industry moves, it won’t move too fast because of the existing inertia. Inertia is why so many computers are running Windows XP today and why, as long as you keep half an eye on what’s going on around you, you should be able to adjust and learn as new trends become more dominant in future.

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Orin Thomas

Orin Thomas is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Windows Security MVP. He has authored or coauthored more than a dozen books for Microsoft Press, and he writes the Hyperbole,...
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