Futureproofing revisited

Nov. 1, 2003
For some years, I have railed against the term "futureproofing," saying it is all marketing, with no meat behind it.

For some years, I have railed against the term "futureproofing," saying it is all marketing, with no meat behind it. Once, in 1997, I even wrote an article calling for a ban on the term. Just a few months after that article was published, in true "do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do" fashion, I attempted to do some futureproofing in my personal life. Of course, I didn't realize just how hypocritical I was being.

My attempt at futureproofing came in the form of an automobile purchase. At the time, my wife and I were childless, but we had a vague idea that we would probably like to start a family sometime in the period in which we would own the automobile. So, we looked for a vehicle that had what we needed and wanted at the time, that also included the things we believed we would need when a baby came along, but that didn't have "too much" and was somewhere within (or not too far beyond) our price range.

We wound up purchasing a two-door sport utility vehicle. We knew it met our needs at the time, and were pretty confident it would continue to meet our needs when we became a three-person operation instead of a simple joint partnership.

Fast-forward a couple of years. We're placing our newborn baby into the child-safety seat to take him home for the first time. No sweat. Just push that front seat forward, plop the safety seat in the back (well, don't plop—carefully place the safety seat), and we're ready to go.

Well, after about 15,000 automobile trips with the same routine, we realized that we could have benefited from purchasing a four-door vehicle that wouldn't have required moving the front seat at all. So, basically, we didn't futureproof enough when we purchased.

The next couple of years brought out more details about the SUV. The cloth interior is comfortable, but it is not so good at repelling stains from milk, juice, and other interesting yet unmentionable liquids that have adorned it from time to time. A leather interior would fare better against such accidents. And most unsettling was the high-profile falling out between the automobile's manufacturer and the maker of its tires when consumers nationwide began worrying about life-threatening blowouts.

Finally, just a couple of months ago, with the trusty old vehicle in for some regular maintenance I found out it needed repair work that was going to cost a couple thousand dollars. And wouldn't you know it, the warranty had just expired. That revelation forced my hand and, with a second baby on the way, we made the decision to purchase a new vehicle. This time, we had a couple years' parenting experience behind us to help guide our decision.

I relay this story not to give you anecdotal details of my personal life, but because I think there are parallels to the tough decisions made in our industry.

With my first vehicle, I encountered the following: buy today for what you think you'll need tomorrow; find out that you didn't think of everything, or didn't open your wallet enough to get it; worry about the thing's performance as two suppliers point fingers at each other; find out that just when you need the warranty, it no longer applies.

The key area where my personal experience and that of a cabling-system user do not parallel is in longevity. Realistically, I should not expect a middle-of-the-line automobile to work efficiently and without repair beyond five years or 75,000 miles (whichever comes first). Owners of cabling systems often do expect their systems to last well beyond that time period. On the flipside, a building occupant with a three-year lease might not care about length of warranty.

So, after all that, where do I stand on "futureproofing"? I still refer to it as "futurehoping." We don't know exactly what's coming our way in the next few years. We can buy a system that fulfills our needs today, and hope that it will sufficiently meet our needs tomorrow. I am comfortable with the fact that I learned from my previous experience, took my best guess at what my needs would be in a few years, and made a purchase accordingly.

And yes, the purchase did need approval from the household CFO. So, I made a compelling case for the absolute necessity of the moonroof.

Patrick McLaughlin
Chief Editor
[email protected]

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