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The Future of the The Future: What life will be like, starting today

Your corporate dashboard is lit up like the cockpit in a fighter jet flying through enemy airspace. A flash message indicates a turn of events in a region of the globe you’ve been watching. You weren’t expecting any activity for months. Yet there it is: an opportunity to finally land some business in that corner of the world. But it has a tight deadline, and you need to act quickly.

Fortunately, the people you were counting on to help have the right RSS feeds in place, and many have already sent e-mails confirming their availability. But two key players are notably missing. Their replies to your IM indicate that although they would have been available if things had gone as planned, because of ongoing commitments, they will be out of pocket for several months.

In response, you log on to your favorite social networking site. An expertise locator matches the needed skill sets to people in your network—now more than two million professionals. And that’s only going three layers out. The system returns several nearly perfect matches. You quickly tap your online library of e-mail templates and find a message one of your colleagues has successfully used in the past to recruit new team members. You merge in the contact information, add a personal note at the end (it’s more like a plea, but carefully worded in a way that doesn’t betray how anxious you really are), and hit the "send" button. At the same instant, the modified letter you’ve just crafted is entered back into the repository. Later on, depending on the response, you’ll give it a score on its effectiveness, enter a few comments and suggestions, and make it available to you and anyone else with a logon ID and password, should a similar situation arise in the future.

Next, you launch your workflow tool and select the process that best fits the upcoming project. Part of what makes your company competitive in these situations is that you have tapped a business process management (BPM) specialist, who has thoroughly mapped out the business processes critical to your success. All you need to do is match the people on the team with the roles in the processes to which they have already agreed, and voila! You’ve created a just-in-time plan for the entire project, from proposal preparation to project closeout.

Satisfied with the plan in its present form, you create a virtual workspace for the project. That triggers an alert message, which sends everyone on the team a link to the site from which they will be working. Through an enterprisewide search tool, they will have access to other sites as well.

Initially, the thought of giving "outsiders" access to internal workspaces was frightening. But the decision became a no-brainer, once executive management realized how much time and money your company had been wasting by repeating mistakes and re-inventing the wheel. Slowly, a culture of information hoarding gave way to a culture of knowledge sharing, which eventually grew into an obsession for "reuse."

Each team member has his or her own workspace, which contains a treasure trove of personal knowledge, case histories, stories and data, accumulated over the years. Privacy regarding certain information is strictly enforced. However, the vast majority of the files are accessible by everyone across the enterprise. The result is a "universe" of knowledge resources available for mining, discovery and reuse, at the individual, team, project, business unit and enterprise level. Funny thing, most of the people working on this project are part of one or more other enterprises, ranging from large global corporations, to non-profit foundations and associations, to freelance consultants.

Your virtual collaboration platform has a scheduling tool, which already shows crucial meeting dates, adjusted to reflect the new, accelerated schedule. More alert messages go out, and the availability of each team member is verified. For dates in which a key team member is unavailable, another message is generated and a backup arranged.

By the way, where did all the secretaries go? They’re at home, having discovered that by going online, they no longer need to work for bosses who demand that they be chained to their desks, sandwiched between hours of driving to and from work. Besides, that would be hard to do when one boss (er, make that, client) is based in Chicago, and another in Sao Paulo.

All of this would not be possible at the speed at which it happens without the use of multiple channels of communication. Set to each individual’s preference, the right combination of voicemail, instant messaging, e-mail, RSS, even text-to-speech conversion, is used. Team members joke about how, with IPv6 and Bluetooth, they "look forward" to the day when they will get your project alerts while on the treadmill, displayed right next to their heart rate, or beeping in tandem with the radar detector in their cars.

You have seen only a glimpse of the inner workings of the Enterprise of the Future. You might ask, "What’s so futuristic about that? We can do all of that today!" But are you really doing it? The answer is, nobody is completely there yet. A true Enterprise of the Future is a never-ending quest. There are always new challenges, new ideas and new efficiencies to be gained.

The world doesn’t sleep, and neither can you. You need to start putting these pieces into place, right now, one brick at a time. As the song goes, "It’s five o’clock somewhere." Five in the morning, that is. 

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