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future proofing

Future proofing is the attempt to make something impervious to the challenges that it is likely to encounter as time passes. The attempt may be on the part of a product, a system or an organization, among many other possibilities, and the challenges may fall into the categories of known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns.

Some examples of future proofing:

The internet of things (IoT) is creating an enormous expansion of data related to smart devices connecting to networks. That market is forecast to grow from 15.4 billion devices (as of 2015) to 75.4 billion by 2025. More and more devices and systems, including mission-critical systems, will require reliable networks supplying adequate bandwidth for their purposes. The future need for infrastructure and bandwidth is a mostly known known – it’s known that they will be required and experts can make projections about how much of each will be required, and how soon. Although future proofing in this case may be a complex task, those involved in preparing for it have targets and plans for their fulfillment.

Known unknowns can create challenges for future proofing a network. It’s known, or at least safe to assume, that networks will have to support more applications with various requirements in the future. What those applications will be like and what they will require are unknown. To future proof a network in that context may require ensuring flexibility across multiple frequencies, improving coverage and capacity, enhancing connectivity and ensuring the ability to respond to unknown requirements.

Future proofing in light of unknown knowns is a little less daunting. It might involve, for example, having employees with valuable expertise and knowledge but perhaps not being aware of the potential value or even its existence. To realize that value, and have it accessible when it will be to the most benefit, management should seek to ensure that all employees have the opportunity to discuss and demonstrate their particular skill sets and areas of expertise.

The trickiest aspect of future proofing is dealing with unknown unknowns – completely unforeseeable events and circumstances. In project management, disaster recovery planning and security, for example, an unknown unknown is not only an unidentified risk but an unidentifiable risk. Given sufficient time, completely unpredictable events and outcomes are almost certain to occur, and these could have a significant impact on an organization. The best efforts at future proofing, in this case, consist of reserving contingency resources to respond to such situations, and hoping they are adequate.

This was last updated in September 2019

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