The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Displaying articles for: October 2013

Infographic of the future

Earlier this year the BBC put out an infographic titled Tomorrow’s World: A guide to the next 150 years. Not sure how accurate all their predictions are but it is an interesting graphic to think about.

 

Amara's law – "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run."

Tags: future| Trends| Vision
Labels: Future| Trends| Vision

A possible workplace approach for the future…

Since this blog is supposed to be about business and technical trends, one of the trends being bandied about lately is working at home or the office and the type of flexible environment needed to both address the needs of privacy and creativity vs. more public meetings and brainstorming sessions.

 

Although it is a few months old now, I came across this video about Mimic - an office approach that transforms to the user’s requirements and adapts to the office culture and business model of the moment. I found that it has many interesting possibilities.

 

 

“A rigid durable aluminum frame forms the foundation of each unit and can easily be moved to allow for a more open environment. Individual units create a community through adjacencies and the negative space around them. The side and top of the frame feature a collapsible system of rotating electrochromatic glass modules that respond to commands input. Each square of glass is attached to a small servo that would rotate from a completely open position to a completely private position, and anything in between depending on the desire of the user. The tri-slide panel is set up to fulfill some of the basic necessities of an office space with a pinup surface, white board surface, and digital electrochromatic glass.”

 

HP sponsored this design research with Microsoft to address the workplace needs of the future. The servo approach might be a bit overkill since movement like that will likely require maintenance, but some other techniques may be as effective. It is nice that you could open them up for a degree of ventilation. 

Tags: future| Trends| Vision
Labels: Future| Trends| Vision

Use of genomic information and the implications of its storage

DNA Storage.pngIn looking at the technology of 2020, one of the examples I use is based on the precipitous decline in storage costs and the improved understanding of how to compress DNA information. It should be possible to store the genomic information of every person on earth in about $140M worth of storage by 2017 and by 2020 it would be only $25M. It may be even lower if disruptive technologies can be identified. 

 

One of the real problems is getting this information though. There was an article in Fast Company about 23andMe that gives some perspective on what this could be used for a more personalized approach to healthcare, as well as how the information could be gathered.

 

Many other industries need to plan on these effects as well. I just thought the Fast Company article made it more personal. 

Goal-oriented sourcing

handoff.pngOne of the changes the IT service industry is experiencing is a realization that those commodity-oriented contracts that are focused on non-business value oriented SLAs are less than ideal for the change-oriented future that most organizations are experiencing. There is a need for a bit more creativity in the joint development of business-focused, yet quantitative, contract techniques that are mutually agreeable. No one cares if the disks are spinning or lights are flashing (except maybe the IT folks) if the tasks of real value for the business are not getting done.

 

Unfortunately, this means that benchmarking vendors can be significantly harder, since every organization is unique in what they are trying to accomplish. Defining the specific capabilities of a vendor to address the gaps or supplement the weaknesses is going to develop into a core skill for the future. There definitely are commonalities between organizations that can be part of how service organizations are measured, but will those be enough to make a difference?

 

Another dimension of the new expectations for service relationships is the requirement for the various entities to work together. What should a multi-sourced environment look like? Ways to share the success and pain need to be codified in the contract so that there is less finger pointing and more meeting the needs of the day. Once again, this is not a trivial shift in contracting. The current approach to roles and responsibilities try to define a clear “lane in the sand” between vendors. The need is to take the accountability a step further and clearly define the way turnover of responsibly takes place, so it is less “throwing it over the wall” and more of brief, conceptual embrace, ensuring that the handoff takes place effectively. Sure this can be awkward at first, but we live in a culture that demands greater collaboration.  Think of it more like “hug and release” fishing -- no one gets hurt.

 

Joint problem-solving can be a bit of a concern as well since many times it feels like one vendor may be training the other, transferring intellectual property along the way. That may just be a cost of business to reach shared objectives.

 

Those who can be viewed as part of the solution and not part of the problem should win out in the end. But today that kind of perspective is qualitative at best and rarely quantitative at all.

Planning your own succession development

trapeze.pngRecently, I’ve been talking with individuals who are looking to move from their current role to roles in a new organization. These people are very dedicated and pride themselves on their commitment to getting a job done.

 

Unfortunately, when you’re getting ready to make a change you can set up a conflict that you may not even realize is happening. You want to start thinking about the new role, but your whole persona tries to keep control of the current role – you don’t let go. This can easily lead to a poor transfer of control to your replacement, as well as internal frustration.

 

As you begin plan the change in roles, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

1)      Where am I spending my time? And who will do these things when I am gone? What can I do to make them successful?

2)      Is there anything about the approach to my role that others need to know? Should it be documented? Who would be the target audience? If there are gaps how, can they be filled?

 

Leaders are always looking for options, so thinking through and possibly even documenting these issues will help you move on and ease the separation anxiety for everyone else.

 

Of course for those who tend to move around a lot, there should always be one or two people you have in mind who could take over. You may even want to start mentoring them now.

 

I really need to get back to more technical tasks, this is my 3rd post on this kind of topic in the last couple weeks.

Report on occupations and automation from the UK

automation.pngLast week, I wrote a post about the likely decline of the middle management role. Recently, from the UK comes a study that states of 702 defined occupations in the US nearly 50% are at risk from automation. A blog from the London School of Economics and Political Science titled: Improving technology now means that nearly 50 percent of occupations in the US are under threat of computerizationprovides some additional graphs and analysis to illustrate the likely situation.

 

This work is similar to that done by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee from the MIT Center for Digtial Business, a few years back titled: Race against the Machinediscussing if automation is hurting job growth.

 

Gary Reber of For Economic Justice wrote a related post titled: How To Reverse The Increasing Reliance Of Low-Wage Workers On Billions In Aid And Restore Economic Growthfocused on how our perspectives of employment may need to change.

 

When I think about the service futures, it is clear that the signs are there that change is coming. There is much that organizations can do to get the change they desire but they need to take a holistic view of the business goals, employees and the appetite for change. An example from the past to contemplate is the story about why Henry Ford decided to change how his workers were paid

Revisiting technical leadership

leadership2.pngIn yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I was talking to folks about their career goals… Recently, I ran into a situation where some technical leaders were behaving in ways that were inexplicable to me. This caused me to take a bit of time over the weekend and reevaluate my approach.

 

In the process of talking with them I mentioned a few rules that I think are key to being a good technical leader (something I last wrote about way back in 2008):

1)      Don’t discourage them: We need to encourage new ideas and little successes. Don’t let perfection get in the way of goodness. Good enough is often enough at least for now.

2)      If you want personal recognition – go into sales: Technologists work on efforts many times because they are hard problems. We need to celebrate the success of teams, more than individuals, since it usually takes the heavy lifting of teams to actually make things real. I am not saying we should never recognize individuals but don’t be one of those people who expects it.

3)      Rarely is it the technology: There are many things that can cause problem and technologists usually like to lean on technical solutions that is not the case. There are a couple of sub-rules to keep in mind:

a) Err on the side of ignorance rather than animosity – meaning that sometimes behaviors may seem subversive, but usually it is because people don’t know expectations outside their context.

b) You are only as impactful as your network – having a support network with specialists in a wide range of topics is critical to your success.

4)      Be an example: I almost left this one off, since it was so obvious. I include it because of the need to be aware that others are watching and others will note where attention is focused. If you’re an introvert, this may be outside your contextual view of the world.

 

Way back in 1986, Gerald Weinberg wrote a book called Becoming a Technical Leader that I’ve always found helpful. Even though it was written before the age of the Internet, the material still hold true.

 

I am anxious to see what leadership principles are brought out in the up-coming movie Ender’s Game, since the book and its companion Ender’s Shadow were filled with leadership concepts.

 

Are there other rules-of-thumb you view are important??

Labels: Context| Leadership

SDN: Software Defined Networks

sdn thumb.gifI recently facilitated a discussion where we deliberated the business value of Software Defined Networking. This was an interesting exercise, since I was trying to get those involved to move beyond the technology and give examples of why SDN is important to the business itself. In preparation for that discussion, I reviewed the book SDN: Software Defined Networks by Thomas D. Nadeau & Ken Gray among a number of other sources.

 

I found the material in the book to be a useful orientation to the current state of the SDN market as well as develop a contextual understanding of the flexibility provided and the approaches needed to build value through an SDN. One point made clear through reading the material is that one of the key benefits is flexibility. You’ll only internalize what that means to your organization through experimentation and using SDN. This is best summed up through the following sentence from the last chapter.

“Though it’s too early to pick a winning technology, or even a winning definition of SDN, one thing remains true—the explorations into SDN will change our present method of operation.”

 

This book facilitates developing that contextual understanding of what the possibilities could be so that you can plan the approach that works best for you. There is no one right answer.

 

One of the areas I thought could have been brought out a bit more is the strategic implications of SDN on enterprise service functionality and architecture. It appeared the assumption was that there are no real implications on the applications (that generate business value) themselves. It is all about data packets as network traffic being routed more flexibly.

 

There are business value generation areas to be explored that are enabled by SDN allowing network operations unique to data on the move. This is somewhat like the revolution that took place when object-oriented approaches (of the mid to late 80s) shifted how we viewed data class and instance unique processing, while at rest. Data-on-the-move specific processing may be a bit too esoteric for the target audience of this book though.

 

It is clear that the SDN market is at the early stages and there remain many opportunities to understand and address. I thought this book was a worthwhile addition to increase understanding.

People, their goals and technology

support.pngIt has been a crazy week again. One of the items I did twice this week was to talk to individuals about their career goals and what they are doing to make those goals happen. Part of it usually requires informing others about what is trying to be accomplish, so they can be supportive.

 

Technologists sometimes are (spoiler alert) a bit introverted. So telling them they need to open up to others about their personal goals can be a bit of a shock to their psyche. I usually explain to them though that if they expect their leaders or teammates to support them, they need to know what to look for and reinforce.

 

Once I had a person who worked with me where I was his career coach. He managed a small team of email support folks. He said he really wanted to move back to Iowa at some point in his career. I asked him if he ever told his manager that this was one of his goals. He said “no”. So I described how his manager probably saw 10-100 opportunities a week and some of them someday might be in Iowa. It’s probably not the managers first thought that this individual would be interested in one of those jobs. So how did he expected to get to Iowa??! He said he never thought of it that way. I know it may seem obvious from this perspective, but it was outside of the context of this individual that something like this could happen, so he was totally blind to it as a possibility. I’ve mentioned before that technologists need a technical bucket list and they should tell their management and co-workers about it.

 

So what does this have to do with business and technical trends?? Some of the folks at HP (or other technical companies) have exposure to technologies that may not make it to the market for years. If they don’t know a company’s goals, they can’t think about how technologies could be applied to generate value. They also can’t start to “tenderize” the organization so that when the new product or service is ready – the organization is ready to pull the trigger.

 

Information needs to flow in order to be useful. Keeping the data in the dark may seem save and secure but it is not all that valuable.

Access to Vertica for fun and profit…

img-vertica-logo.pngRecently, I was talking with one of my co-workers about the desire of some organizations to test out cloud analytics and see what they can do with their data. He pointed me to an option I didn’t know existed --  Vertica Community Edition.

 

This freemium access (up to 1 TB of data across three nodes for an unlimited time) gives you enough space to develop an understanding of the possibilties without having to buy into a solution. You get access to the Vertica documentation as well as a community to ask questions… and training.

Is middle-management on the cusp of decline?

automation2.pngI saw this article Technology will make businesses more 'human'. It describes a perspective on how organizations can use technology to buy-in to corporate objectives (gamification has a role to play here). The article also discusses the side-effect forcing organizations to become even more flat and enabled (likely through automation driving out levels of knowledge workers -- currently part of middle-management). This frees up employees to focus on leadership and corporate goals where their creativity is needed rather than well understood operational tasks.

 

For those that are affected by this shift in how employees generate value, it reminded me of a post I wrote on letting go of preconceptions, at the time EDS was purchased by HP. All will need to develop new skills and understand new ways of working (probably using new techniques).

 

So agility will need to be a core competency, rather than the rote skills that are generally used in training. Roles like the CIO will need to shift.

IT’s role as an innovator – don’t surprise the business – but you can soften them up

IT Tenderizer.jpgRecently I was reading an article in Business Computing World UK titled: Driving Innovation: Starting With the IT Department. The article echoes many of the perspectives I’ve been writing about: there are new waves of technology that IT organizations need to use to educate and enable the business.

 

“Those able to truly embrace these advancements have been able to create entirely new markets, overtaking large and well established competitors. Amazon, Salesforce and Twitter are just some of the powerful players that have risen to prominence after their innovative use of digital strategy.”

 

“Most businesses are aware that the key to this is obtaining data. But it is how data is used that makes the difference between success and failure. Data alone is meaningless”. It needs to be used to describe the context of the situation or the decision that needs to be made. I’ve mentioned before example of where derived behavior data can be used to help treat disease.

 

The article ends by stating:

“The answer is not throwing the most recent or most cost-effective solution at a problem, but identifying the most intelligent way forward. It’s not possible for one department or individual to ‘do’ innovation, so while the IT department should be the first port of call for identifying these innovations, it must be the responsibility of the organisation as a whole.”

 

IT organizations need to educate the business, as much as perform the role of innovator. The businesses need to be tenderized about the possibilities, long before they will accept them as part of a business critical, goal-oriented approach. If we spring the technology on them and say “surprise, we have a solution”, it usually doesn’t work out as well as we planned.

 

It gets back to the basics of understanding the business strategies, the various options of technology application and their ability to generate value. Inform the leadership, so they can select among options and feel they can own the approach and the results. 

HP enabling another choice – a Chromebook

chromebook.pngRecently HP released a ChromeBook. The nextBench blog had a post Hands-on with HP’s New Chromebook11 thatwas a fairly in-depth look at its capabilities. Not sure that it is something I would want, but it is nice that there is a choice. 

 

Last week when I was up in Canada I was talking about cloud adoption and value generation. That was one of the points I made, HP is not about making choices for you, we’re about enabling you to make choices for yourself. As I have said before this new world is an “and” not an “or” world. Business need to enable choices among things not between things – that is what the new style of IT should enable.

 

There can be situations where you have Overchoice, but even then technology can have a role to play to help address the situation. It is up to us to plan for it.

Happy Birthday to the Moving Assembly Line

Captain James T. Kirk said "Genius doesn't work on an assembly line basis. You can't simply say, 'Today I will be brilliant.'"  and this dichotomy is at the heart of the evolution of businesses.

Juno flyby…

satellite.pngTomorrow (Wednesday) marks the date that the Juno probe will flyby the earth in a slingshot maneuver to generate speed for the long trip to Jupiter.

 

“NASA's 8,000-pound (3,267 kilograms) Juno spacecraft will skim just 350 miles (560 kilometers) above Earth's surface on Wednesday, getting a critical gravity assist more than two years after launching on a circuitous path to the solar system's largest planet. Wednesday's flyby will boost the spacecraft's speed by about 16,330 mph (26,280 km/h).“

 

“The Juno spacecraft will be the first solar-powered probe ever to visit the outer solar system. Juno has three large solar arrays, each of which is roughly the size of a tractor-trailer (about 30 feet long by 9 feet wide, or 10 by 2.7 meters”

 

One of the other interesting aspects of this project is an activity aimed at the amateur radio service and schools called the “Say Hi to Juno” project, where individuals from across the world can interact with the probe as it nears the earth.

This is an example of organizations reaching out through non-traditional means to generate buzz about a project. 

Energy awareness month -- IT's role

energy.GIFOctober is energy awareness month. One way to estimate your impact on energy consumption is to use a Carbon Footprint Calculator.

 

Another is to look at the applications in your business and estimate their watts consumed vs. value generated, as well as the infrastructure required to support those apps. That post focuses on the long lever an apps modernization effort can have whether the scarce resource is time, $$ or watts – you need to take a strategic view.

 

It is easy to forget that our systems build up layer-upon-layer – essentially turning into a monument to our success that can weigh us down. To be agile and efficient means that we need to throw off some deadweight on a regular basis, no matter how fond we are of it.

 

Maybe that is one of the reasons CIOs turn over so often, it allows the new person in the role to reassess the investments of budget impacts of past decisions. Afterall IT was brought into companies to make their business more efficient, transparent and effective.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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