Glimpse of the Future: SCL Lecture 1998

April 30, 1998

We all look ahead and make predictions, and often predicting thefar-distant future is appealing. If we try and identify the singer at No 1 atChristmas or the FA Cup winner (a 50/50 bet), we are likely get it wrong andhear others point out that we got it wrong. If we confidently predict that byend of the next millennium all men and women will be clones of the one persondeemed most perfect and that Preston North End will lead an inter-galacticPremiership, we may hear the odd contrary opinion expressed but we are unlikelyto be proved wrong in our lifetime. Making predictions about the likelydevelopment of IT and its social and economic effects over the next few decadescan seem more like the latter type of prediction than the former – distant, andunscientific. Sometimes that is precisely what it is but that is not what GrahamWhitehead, the presenter of the SCL 1998 Lecture, will offer.

In a world where strategic planning is vital and where today’s decisionscan affect market position in 20 years’ time, businesses need reasoned andrealistic predictions about the future. BT is, of course, an internationalheavyweight operating in an area where speedy technological change is a constantand crucial factor, and where making the right assumptions about the level ofchange and its social and economic effects is critical to the company’slong-term success. BT therefore has invested in forms of research anddevelopment which go beyond the normal examination and improvement of productsfor tomorrow’s market. At BT Labs they have an internationally recognisedcentre which looks at the cutting-edge of today’s developments and makescomprehensive and exciting predictions of the way these may affect our dailylives. This year’s SCL Lecture will be an opportunity for SCL members to sharein the perceptions of BT’s Advanced Concepts Manager, and perhaps take thechance to make use of those perceptions in their own strategic planning. GrahamWhitehead will be looking particularly at the Information Age and itsimplications.

Graham Whitehead joined the British Post Office in 1968 as a Post OfficeUniversity Student. He spent 12 months, before attending university, in allparts of the business from the chairman’s office to the deepest, muddiest holein the ground. He graduated from Leeds University in 1972 with a BSc honoursdegree in Mechanical Engineering. He is a member of the IMechE and IEE. Hejoined the BT Laboratories after graduation and has worked in a wide variety ofdisciplines such as mechanical connections and structures, optical transmissionsystems, the packaging and cabling of optical fibres, hydrospace engineering,and he was production manager of the optical receiver project which designed andmanufactured the receivers used in the TAT-8, PTAT and NPC trans-Atlantic andtrans-Pacific submarine systems. For the latter he was awarded the Queen’sAward for Technology in 1990.

In 1989 he moved to the USA on secondment to Du Pont as the productionmanager and co-ordinator for the manufacture of the optical amplifiers andtuneable narrow linewidth lasers which were part of product portfolio ofBT&D, a joint venture of the two companies. In 1990 he returned to the BTLabs and was appointed manager of the Business Systems Group which investigatesthe modelling of business structures and their mutual interactions. In 1992 hebecame BT’s Advanced Concepts Manager. Over the last few years he hasspecialised in presenting the work of the BT Labs to both customers and otherparts of BT. He has produced a series of video tapes and contributes to manyjournals, newspapers, radio and TV programmes.