If you’re a fan of the future, it’s time to write a letter.

K. A. Boriskin, a long-time correspondent, reports that there is a movement among science fiction readers to get the USPS to issue a stamp commemorating Isaac Asimov. Click here for details. Mr. Boriskin adds, “Unfortunately we’re dealing with the Postal Service here, so there’s no email address available, only snail mail.”

My 37 cents worth? Ask for the big three: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and John W. Campbell, who together transformed the field. Send the letter to: Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, C/O Stamp Development, 475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW, Room 5670, Washington, D. C., 20260-2437. And don’t complain that the USPS requires a letter. It is, after all, in the snail mail business — why would it encourage you to use its competition?

No, don’t answer that …

Speaking of the future, the future of IT (the organization, not the stuff) is that it will go away. That, at least, is the gist of a recent Gartner exercise in futurism, as reported and critiqued here last week. The quick version: Because tools for configuring and reconfiguring workflows are becoming user-friendly enough to transition to business units, IT will become unnecessary. The here-on-this-planet version: So what? Business units don’t reconfigure workflows very often, because have you ever tried to change a business process? If you have, you know it’s hard to do no matter how good the information technology.

The hard fact is that designing a good process is an engineering task, not just a matter of dragging connectors in Visio. The harder fact is that once you do, you have to actually get employees to do their work differently. And the hardest fact of all is that once you do that, you have to fix all the gaps in your process design, because no process designer has ever anticipated everything that can happen once actual work starts flowing through.

You just don’t want to go through this all that often.

But while Gartner-bashing might be fun (and “might be” is a pale description of the joyful reality), it isn’t fair to criticize without offering an alternative. Luckily, I am (to quote Asimov) “a keen-eyed peerer into the future,” and so, I will.

What’s the organizational future of information technology?

From a business planning perspective, anything beyond three years or so is little more than science fiction without the science. Within that window there are no obviously transformational technologies or trends that suggest a need for radical change. For most businesses:

  • IT operations will continue to be semi-automated. Systems management tools continue to improve; systems complexity continues to increase; the likelihood of true “lights out” operation is still far away. Savvy CIOs already know their job is to shift budget out of operations, but only as much as they can without harming the quality of service they provide.
  • IT’s bread-and-butter work will still be application maintenance and enhancement (small non-discretionary and discretionary changes, respectively). Today’s rules won’t change: Organize talent into teams that know the major applications inside-out and sideways; batch changes into scheduled releases; and make sure you’re very, very good at integration and regression testing.
  • Most companies will continue to organize their technical architecture around one or a very small number of enterprise applications — usually an ERP suite. Integration will be hub-and-spoke with those applications. If it isn’t already, make it so. And integration will continue to be more about data than about business logic: The former is a necessity, the latter is a convenience. ERP suites will continue to simplify the process of integrating peripheral applications into their architecture. That’s great news — but not the stuff of organizational change.

In the next three years, IT will transform in one very important respect: Its role in the business. At the risk of flogging even further a horse that’s already been tortured in this space, IT, in most companies, will stop trying to be a supplier to its internal customers, and will start being a partner and collaborator in the achievement of business change.

The change will hit business analysts the hardest. Much of what they know today will become irrelevant. Much of what they don’t know will become essential. More than anything else, they will have to become experts in the disciplines of process design, and in designing large-scale change programs that translate strategic intent into achievable action.

Are they ready for this? Ask them. They’ll probably tell you, “We’re doing that already.” If they do, it’s possible they’re right. It’s more likely that they don’t know what they don’t know.