Prediction

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

–Niels Bohr – Danish Physicist

 

On the eve of the Year 2000 Millennium I ventured to the Kingdom of Tonga, a remote South Pacific archipelago comprising 176 islands scattered over 270,000 square miles at the edge of the International Dateline. The idea was to be one of the first to celebrate the new Millennium and later that same day cross over the dateline and celebrate yet again in Western Samoa.

Although this turned out to be an amazing adventure, at the time many thought it irrational; an IT Manager flying to a remote part of the world on the very day the Millennium Y2K bug hits?

Months before midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, analysts speculated that entire computer networks would crash; causing widespread dysfunction for a global population that had become irreversibly dependent on computers to store, disseminate and analyze its most vital pieces of information. The problem was that many computers had been programmed to record dates using only the last two digits of every year, meaning that the year 2000 would register as the year 1900 or even 19100.

Many warnings of what would happen if nothing was done were particularly dire: there would be a financial collapse around the world, computers would cease to work and airplanes would fall from the sky.

“The Y2K problem is the electronic equivalent of the El Niño and there will be nasty surprises around the globe.” said John Hamre, United States Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Yet when January 1st 2000 arrived, problems that did occur were generally regarded as minor. ..Even in Tonga.

At Tonga’s International Dateline Hotel the only thing not functioning the morning of the New Year were the staff. Having celebrated well into the small hours, dodging a barrage of misdirected fireworks and streets filled with revelers and meandering pigs (this is another story), with heads and bodies slumped in torn Naugahyde chairs, the hotel staff snoozed. Behind the reception desk, the 1980’s 16-bit Compaq DeskPro was awake and working fine. What’s more, The ATM dispensed cash, the credit card cleared, and my flight from Fua’amotu International Airport departed on time and without plunging from the sky. And so the headlines read:

 

-Y2K Doomsayers Admit Predictions Wrong…

 

-Prognosticators Eating Crow After Economic Meltdown Predictions Don’t Materialize…

 

Besides the calamitous Y2K predictions, over the years there have been more than a few predictions that go nicely with crow:

 

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

— Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

 

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”

— Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

 

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

— Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

 

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

— Bill Gates, 1981

 

There was also an early prediction of the “paperless office” made in a 1975 Business Week article. The certainty was that office automation would make paper redundant for routine tasks such as record-keeping and accounting and it came to prominence with the introduction of the personal computer. While the prediction of a PC on every desk was prophetic, the “paperless office” was not.

For instance, accounts payable departments still receive and process piles of paper invoices. Even with advances in receiving electronic invoices, companies typically need to spend a large amount of money on establishing relations with willing vendors and getting connected to an EDI or VAN systems to enable XML invoice automation.  Moreover, existing business processes built around paper handling may not be suited for EDI and require changes to accommodate automated processing of invoices.

Companies are implementing document management systems that automatically acquire documents like invoices from a variety of sources including paper, scan, digital, email, fax, FTP and then imports, categorizes, links, routes, tracks, stores and secures incoming documents electronically within the document management system.

In the case of the paperless office prediction, advances in processing and managing documents electronically will continue. With a click of a mouse, or touch of a screen, disparate documents will be automatically digitized, tracked and processed with data values intelligently recognized, ERP records logically linked and conditional routings routinely determined.  Documents will not be lost, costs will be significantly reduced and companies will be in compliance. All will be well in the business world…Then again; I’m not making any predications.

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