Millennium Meditations

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

Original versions of this article were published in
Evolving Enterprise, March '99, and
Industrial Controls Intelligence, December '99.

The countdown....

The millennium countdown continues and brings up nightmares and dreams beyond the regular evolution of development and progress in the global village. Although time is measured using a seemingly artificial, man-made clock, the reality of our dependence on technology and its adjuncts begins to dawn on us.

With less than 30 days to go, think about this : where will YOU be on December 31, 1999 as the New Year approaches? Will you choose to travel on that day? In an airplane? In spite of the tremendous preparation for avoidance of Y2K problems - reportedly costing several billion dollars worldwide - how many individuals will actually entrust their lives to the airlines on that day?

How will that visible mirror of business progress - the stock market - respond as the once-in-a-thousand-year event approaches? Will you leave your money in the stock market? Or, will you turn it into hard cash? Will there be a run on the banks? Will you convert your money into gold? Or, hide it under your bed?

After y2k what?

Of course, these considerations go beyond just short-term Y2K prognostications. How will business respond to the challenges of a new millennium? In the fast-moving first decade will the solid, large-cap stocks like AT&T, IBM and GE continue to survive based on their tremendous reserves? Or, in a wired-world, will the new elite - CISCO, Dell, AOL and Yahoo take the lead in a new lineup of leaders? What will become of Microsoft? Does it deserve to be dismantled into "baby Bills" by an interfering Government? Or in a market governed by free enterprise, will it eventually succumb to its own dinosaurish arrogance. In a stock market that is linked with electronic immediacy, will some new financial-flu trigger an inevitable disaster? At the consumer end, will Wal-Mart sales inevitably succumb to the rise of on-line shopping through the likes of Amazon? And just how long will Amazon - a company that has never made a profit and yet has a market-cap in the billions - sustain its bubble?

The new century and millennium comes

Moore's Law is predicted to come to an end by 2017 (by then integrated circuits will be 1 atom thick). So what will become of Intel? Will some new bionic invention provide the equivalent of parallel processing and gigabit memory using biochemical organisms overturn their now dominant technological leadership?

In the industrial controls business we moved during the last half of this century from pneumatic controls (some still around) to electronics (vacuum tubes) to transistors to integrated circuits. Direct Digital Controls (DDC) gave way to DCS. A whole new world of PLCs surged into leadership and is now considered almost a commodity business. With the growth of the internet, every digital and analog I/O point will inevitably become connected, eliminating the old "islands of automation" with one vast array of interconnected "appliances".

In a global market, where will production go? Will there still be factories, making things for sale to whom and where? In a technologically neutral world (where everyone knows everything almost instantly via the internet) where will competitive advantage reside? Can you make the same healthy profit margins on products produced in Indiana or India? Indeed, where can you produce them cheaper and better? In enormous standardized volumes, or personalized, customized units? Is production-efficiency the secret? Can you take manufacturing execution systems far enough to control optimum production of widgets in Wisconsin when the price of a barrel of oil goes up in Bahrain? And, when you find the right algorithm, how quickly can you transfer it to your factory in China?

What about inventory, overheads and gross margins - all relics of obsolete and archaic methods of cost accounting? And, how will everything be sold and distributed? How about discounts in the distribution chain ? Indeed, in a world dominated by e-commerce and overnight delivery, the old concepts of local sales relationships and stocking distributors seem headed for history.

How will society change?

During the latter part of the old century Communism collapsed, leaving Capitalism as the shaky survivor. How long will the old capitalistic icons survive in the new millennium? How much longer will Sadam Hussein be around to pester how many new US Presidents? And how long will local ethnic conflagrations continue while the eclectic, multi-cultural world watches on CNN with a half-hour refresh? In a new, enlightened, global village, will war become outmoded? Or, will someone be mad enough, or bad enough, to push the nuclear button? In the new millennium, perhaps the frontiers will go into outer space as we meet new aliens in new worlds.

Waxing poetic...

I looked up words that rhyme with “millennium” and found quite a few. So, this poetic ditty flowed naturally, to sum up this millennium meditation.

          In the evolving business symposium
          We produce for a global emporium
          With profit part of the curriculum
          But change dissipates our premium

          ‘Tis the eve of the new millennium
          A break in the time continuum
          Will the world collapse in delirium
          With Y2K pandemonium?

          Will the stock market fall in opprobrium?
          Or simply find new equilibrium?
          Will Bill Gates continue his presidium?
          Or will Justice cut down his residuum?

          Will the world find a new moratorium?
          Or explode in a nuclear crematorium?
          Anticipate the swing of the pendulum
          As we enter the new millennium

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