Those old enough to remember the 1980s will also remember that IT pundits were predicting the paperless office by the turn of the century.
This is a prediction that will raise a hollow laugh from anyone walking past me and seeing the state of my desk - it looks about as accurate as predictions in the 60s that we'd all be wearing spacesuits and living on the moon by the year 2000.
You could dismiss the paperless office prediction as one of the battier ideas from a batty decade - along with liking Banarama or white socks with slip-on shoes, but there's still currency to be made out of making batty predictions.
Take the pronouncement by one Charles Black, the CEO of Nasstar. "The end of the IT department by 2013" trumpets a press release from Nasstar's PR agency postulating a future where IT staff are surplus to requirements while the Internet will deliver all an organisations computing needs. It goes without saying that Nasstar supplies software over the Internet.
There's nothing wrong with an organisation talking up its own product but this seems a particularly bold prediction, to say the least. The idea that within five years, artefacts such as corporate PCs and networks will have disappeared and all the security issues connected with the Internet will have been solved is pretty far-fetched.
This, of course, is nothing new. The death of the IT department has been predicted before notably by Nicholas Carr's well-argued book The Big Switch, released earlier this year and reviewed by Techworld here.
Carr's arguments have been covered by every publication, blogger and his dog. But one thing that Carr does avoid is making specific predictions about time. That doesn't stop Black and his bald assertion that the IT department will be dead by 2013 - a startingly short timeframe.
And that's what reminded me of the paperless office predictions. It's not that I don't believe that organisations gradually will run without the need for paper -despite the squalor of my desk, I'm already using fewer sheets that I was using 10 years ago - but that these things always take longer than is predicted. I mentioned the paperless office but I could easily have picked some other predictions from the era: the death of the mainframe and the integration of voice and data for example. The mainframe is in rude health and while we finally seeing the IP-based voice networks, we're a long way from full deployment of the technology.
I certainly don't think that Black's wrong with his (and Carr's) central premise - I think it's inevitable that organisations will move to a utility-based model in time - but if the majority of UK companies have dispensed with their IT departments by the end of 2013, I'll spend the next New Year's Day standing on one leg in the middle of Trafalgar Square, wearing a monkey suit, singing the Albanian national anthem. Because what Black has failed to grasp is that just because the utility computing is available, it doesn't necessarily mean that enterprises will be ready to adopt it.
There are many reasons why businesses are not yet ready to adopt this sort of approach. For a start, companies have made investments in IT equipment and datacentres that they're not quite ready to write off just yet. Then there are the huge problems of security and compliance to crack - a survey from Rackspace last year revealed that 87 percent of companies weren't prepared to share their server with another company, that's a lot of reluctance to crack. Finally, companies have to look at how all the legacy data on their systems is going be used - will it just be abandoned?
At the service provider's end, there are the problems of building data centres large enough to support hundreds or thousands of businesses; there's the issue of supplying the power to those centres and then you have to find staff for them.
But above all, the nature of business will have to change. We still operate in the same way as Victorians did, travelling long miles to get to the office at 9.00, like 21st century Pooters until it's time to go home. Large numbers of us could already work from home but we don't, simply because we need to be in the office for meetings or to to talk to colleagues.
And if there's a need to gather in an office, then there will be people who will be needed to take an outside connection and set up a network, someone to scramble on the floor, someone to install software on PCs, someone to fix the software screw-ups, someone to hit the printer when it breaks down - an IT department in other words. Who else is going to do this? It's too fanciful to suggest that the users would fix their own problems -in fact, talk to any IT person and he - and it normally is a he - will tell you that the users are the problem. It's true that some companies are looking to a future where the users will have more control over their PCs - petrochemical company BP is running such a trial right now - but these are still early days for such frivolities.
Chinese communist politician Zhou Enlaii said when questioned on the repercussions of the French Revolution that it was "too soon to tell". That's how I feel about the effects of the Internet cloud on business: there's no doubt that it will radically transform business; there's no doubt that the IT departments will look very different in ten years time and even more different in 25 years. I'm with Nicholas Carr on this - we're at the start of a revolution in the way we work and the way IT is used but only at the start, we're talking about a longer time-frame than five years.
But what of Charles Black's Nasstar - will that company look the same? I think he's right that more companies will look to use hosted software but where will these hosted companies be sited? What's to stop a company accessing its software from a datacentre in India, or Albania, or Vietnam or wherever costs are lowest? Land, electricity, buildings and staff will certainly be considerably cheaper away from the UK so even if Black's predictions are proved correct, would he be the beneficiary?
There's certainly movement towards the idea of utility computing but at the moment, there are just pockets. Do you think your company is ready to look at the idea or maybe you already are - we'd love to hear about your experiences.