Analysis: Forum urges technologists to focus on future

IT executives have the woes of the world resting upon their fragile shoulders -- literally.

Participants at a 'thought leadership' conference in France this week have taken the bold step of attempting to become 'visionaries of the future'. The global IT and financial services industry is embracing corporate responsibility as the next phase of the current Information Revolution.

And yes, I know what you're thinking, but put your cynicism aside for just one moment and hear me out.

There are no anti-globalisation protests here; the driver of this initiative is the need to leapfrog into the future with greater certainty by incorporating future-related thinking into business projects. There is a realisation that there is no IT project if there is a worldwide monetary crisis, or if we continue to wreck the planet at our present rate of destruction.

According to the World Bank, speculative trading on foreign exchanges is growing five times faster than the real economy. In France, CIOs, IT vendors and analysts from around the world have come together to focus on using technology to tackle global poverty, monetary instability and environmental problems. Instead of just focusing on the time-to-market pressures of implementing Internet strategies and aligning IT with tactical revenue growth, these guys have formed the Global Future Forum, a think-tank designed to leverage their business and leadership skills to challenge current thought processes.

In a tough economic climate, where cost is really all IT executives can think about, being a ‘futurist' is a tough call. IT executives are forced to make more decisions more often under increasing stress. Let's face it, time is a luxury, so how the hell do you look five years ahead when making decisions and create scenarios involving technology that combine a high degree of personal and social responsibility?

Forum associate director Peter de Jager is frank in his reply: "If technologists aren't thinking about the future ramifications of technology and how it can be used to take us forward, then who is? If not them, who? If not now, when?"

According to de Jager, the forum is not attempting to make predictions but to create scenarios that can address the quality of our future. It goes beyond just doing your job to a new level of consciousness.

"It's about individual thinking; you're not going to make a mark on the world just doing your job or relying on the people you currently see as your leaders," he said.

"Of course, you have to remain focused on your core business but create a spin-off for your vision; that's how leaders, and fortunes, are made.

"Ask where will your IT department be in five years time and where will the world be in five years time?" he said, referring to the dramatic changes seen in IT in the past 15 years and the impact such changes have had on society.

"Even shining a dim light on the future is better than going forward blindly."

In addition to commissioning research, the forum plans to hold conferences annually and its primary means of communication is the Web at www.thegff.com.

Unisys has sponsored the conference currently being held here, which has the theme: Leaders, Lemmings or Laggards, which one are you?

*Sandra Van Dijk is a guest of Unisys at its international management centre in Saint Paul de Vence in France

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