Forecasting the future - routinely

Gazing out office windows, pouring over spreadsheets, and staring at ceilings late at night, trucking industry executives strain to bring the future into focus. It is absolutely impossible to do and absolutely vital to the planning process, especially in the fast-paced, e-world of trucking today.

While no one has managed to thwart time and steal a good look at tomorrow, author and professor of management William E. Halal and his research team at George Washington University are taking forecasting to the highest levels. Their process could give the trucking industry valuable insights about the emerging shape of the future.

For the past decade, Halal's team has been pooling the knowledge of scientists, scholars and other experts from around the world to create one of the most accurate and influential visions of the future. Called the George Washington Forecast, the reports track technologies as they emerge, estimating when they will become a part of the economic mainstream and their probable impacts.

"The GW research team is fully aware that its estimates are fallible, but we do claim that this methodology provides the best possible forecast based on a consensus of the available scientific knowledge," says Halal in his article in the July-August 2000 issue of The Futurist. "We think we have largely overcome the limitations of forecasting, however, because the GW Forecast tracks the technology revolution as it unfolds. The project is not simply an occasional study, but an ongoing effort."

The newest GW Forecast includes several technologies that have also been on trucking's radar screen for some time, and there are some interesting shifts since the 1998 GW Forecast was published. Fuel cell-powered vehicles, for example, were not expected to reach the market until 2016 at the time of the 1998 forecast. Today they are predicted for 2010, less than a decade away, and electric/combustion engine hybrid vehicles are expected to be common by 2007.

E-commerce, floating out in the 2018 time frame in 1998, has zoomed ahead 14 years on the current forecast, which predicts that half of all goods sold in the U.S. will be sold electronically by 2004. The routine use of expert systems to aid decision-making in management, engineering and other fields has slipped out two years, however, from 2010 to 2012.

"Green taxes" are a new trend, emerging out of the blue (or out of the green) since 1998, but expected to be common by 2010 to encourage environmentally friendly manufacturing and commerce. The good news is that alternative energy sources are predicted to be in wide use by 2016, resulting in energy efficiency improvements of 50% by 2018.

Another change since the 1998 forecast has affected the survey itself, which has moved from the mail to online (www.GWForecast.GWU.edu), creating what Halal calls a "virtual think tank for tracking the technology revolution. Now that the project is online, we hope to draw on the knowledge of hundreds of qualified experts from around the globe, [and] expand coverage to include other strategic fields," he says.

One of the areas Halal is interested in expanding is transportation, and he is actively seeking corporate sponsors to move the project ahead. Imagine having hundreds of the best minds in the world helping you forecast the future. For progressive, proactive fleets, it will be commonplace by 2002 - at least that's my prediction.

[Editor's Note: To participate or learn more, you can send e-mail to: Halal@ gwu.edu or call 202-994-5975.]