Ghost of Christmas Future


By Jim Johnson  

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, four ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge. One of the ghosts is the Ghost of Christmas Future. The future ghost shows Scrooge his likely future based on his past transgressions and present habits. The ghost points out that Scrooge could change his future if he changed his habits. A few years ago, Software Magazine called me the Ghost of Christmas Future based on our ability to spot trends and predict the outcomes. In working with IBM in the mid-’90s, one of my peers predicted the end of the mainframe based on IBM’s current habits and market trends. Those habits made IBM seem like it was using the mainframe as a cash cow and investing in other technologies and services.

Having an inside view, I personally saw the incredible lengths to which IBM and its users went to change their habits and reinvest in the mainframe. Today, the IBM mainframe enjoys both a healthy market and a highly placed position within the IBM product families. A decade and a half later, I would see this same situation with HP in its mainframe division called NonStop. In the late ’90s we (Standish) had done some total cost of ownership (TCO) studies and found that for certain environments the HP NonStop had a remarkable TCO advantage. For a few years we worked with many of the NonStop customers in exploring these advantages. However, each year we saw the HP NonStop TCO advantages dwindling away.

In the fall of 2010, it became evident that there were no advantages left to explore and consequently we stopped providing the TCO service. In my opinion, HP’s habits seemed much like IBM’s prior to the “death” of the mainframe. It seemed to us that HP was using its NonStop mainframe as a cash cow and investing in other technologies and services. In addition, it was my observation that the HP management team was guiding NonStop to a graceful conclusion. As a parting gift to the NonStop community, we predicted the death of NonStop and listed a number of habits that needed to be changed.

In declaring NonStop dead HP could do one of two things: speed up the demise or stimulate real change. It was a dangerous position for us to take and not well accepted by the NonStop community. However, real substantial change did happen. HP changed NonStop management, its habits, and did a major reinvestment in the product. In addition, the greater NonStop community rallied around the product. Together HP and its users reinvigorated the product and today, like the IBM mainframe, HP NonStop enjoys both a healthy market and a highly placed position within the HP product families. The Ghost of Christmas Future is not about predicting the future; it is about envisioning a different future.

Webster defines a futurist as one who studies and predicts the future on the basis on current trends. Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” However, it is not about the predictions themselves. Recently I changed my title from Chairman to Dreamer. It is not that I changed what I do each day, I just find the title more accurately describes what I do each day. I dream of how things can be and work to make those dreams a reality. That is the whole purpose of our Value Optimization Service. We profile your projects with seven constraints and then measure them against our database of 50,000 projects. The output is a prediction of projects that will give you the most value.

We can dream of a better world through more valuable projects. It is not just about predicting the future; it is more about making the future better.

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Subject Matter

Clear Business Objectives

About the Author:


Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is chairman of The Standish Group. He has been professionally involved in the computer industry for over 40 years and has a long list of published books, papers, articles and speeches. He has a combination of technical, marketing, and research achievements focused on mission-critical applications and technology. He is best known for his research on project performance and early recognizing technology trends. Jim is a pioneer of modern research techniques and continues to advance in the research industry through case-based analytical technology.

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