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The Future of IT

My grandmother never learned to drive. She was born around the time Henry Ford invented the production line and began rolling out Model Ts in vast numbers. Those cars were shipped to every corner of the world and quite a few made it to our shores here in New Zealand. Ours were painted black, too. I have a photo of her standing beside the car, smiling: the eternal passenger.

My granddaughter (if I am lucky enough to have one) may never even need to drive. She, too, will probably always be a passenger. It’s amazing that in the span of just a few generations, humankind has gone from the basic internal combustion engine—and countless iterations of cars that require drivers—to standing on the threshold of one of the fastest, deepest transportation revolutions in history.

Technology Think Tank

RethinkX, an independent think tank that analyzes and forecasts the speed and scale of technology-driven disruption, predicts once legislation permitting automated driving is passed in the U.S., change will be rapid ( By 2030, 95 percent of U.S. car travel will be in autonomous, electric, shared vehicles. Volvo plans to release its first self-driving cars by 2020 and has pledged zero fatalities or serious injuries by that time.

IBM i at 35

That’s what the futurists say about how we will be getting to work in the coming decade, but what kind of IT environment will be waiting for us when we get there? It’s not hard to cast your mind back a few years and remember we were all supposed to be working from home by now, and the traditional office would be obsolete. It hasn’t really turned out that way. And though many of us do work remotely, a central office is still critical in most organizations. As Niels Bohr famously said: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” But that’s what makes it fun. So, as IBM i approaches its 30th birthday, I’ll take my best shot at divining what the platform may look like at 35 years old.

For starters, the IBM i will still be around. Let’s get that out of the way! Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. Although we have seen the IBM i user-base of companies steadily shrink over the past decade, the anecdotal evidence suggests this slide is slowing. Have we reached a critical mass of loyal customers intent on staying put? At Maxava, I’ve seen the shrinkage decline from 4 or 5 percent per year a few years back to about 2 percent now. That’s great news! By extrapolating that figure, I estimate that around 120,000 businesses will still be on the platform in 2022.

Will drones deliver spare parts for your system? I don’t think so, given that most IBM i shops are in—or on the fringes of—populated areas, and current battery technology limits drone loads to lightweight parcels transported within a 15-minute flight radius. I have great hope for pizza delivery, however.

If they arrive at all, computer parts will probably ship by autonomous electric trucks. But cloud adoption is going to be huge, so you may never see spare parts, as they will be delivered directly to the service providers at their data centers. Maxava introduced our cloud model a few years back, and now around 50 percent of inquiries are about our cloud services. I think this trend will continue.

Data Security

Under the heading of good news/bad news, people will no longer be kidnapped and held for ransom, but their data will. Cybercriminals have realized a company’s lifeblood is in its data and we will see an increase in the complexity and regularity of ransomware attacks. Data security will continue to be Job No. 1.

Many IBM i shops are still being run by a single support person, and these folks will be five years closer to retirement. I think this will lead to the growth of remote monitoring and management. Companies are already moving to fill their data security gaps to keep their platform well maintained and secure.

Downtime and data loss will become increasingly unacceptable. The recent outage at British Airways, which saw thousands of flights canceled and passengers stranded, illustrates the reputational damage downtime can cause. Fortunately, it’s becoming easier and less expensive to keep multiple copies of a database synchronized in real time and automatically archived.

Artificial Intelligence

Perhaps the biggest change is just now emerging, seven years after Watson* first appeared on “Jeopardy!” “I’ll take ‘artificial intelligence (AI)’ for $200, Alex.” The answer is: $47 billion. If your “Jeopardy!” question was: “What will the AI market be worth by 2020?” you’re a winner!

AI is probably the most exciting and disruptive technology to ever emerge in IT, and it’s hard to overstate its predicted impact. Watson, IBM’s charismatic name for its multibillion-dollar AI effort, has evolved far beyond game shows to uses in medicine, business analytics, voice recognition and genomics. We have already begun to see IBM i and Watson team up on various projects, and I am fascinated to see how this will evolve.

Personally, with my company doing business all over the world, I am keen to see a device that translates English to Japanese or Italian in real time. Now that would be useful. Then perhaps my granddaughter won’t have to learn a second language either.