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

Displaying articles for: November 2008

Thankful – Innovation, Creativity, Giving

We live in a time of tremendous change, both in our personal lives and in the Information Technology industry. In this time, as in all times, there are a lot of things to be thankful for. We're thankful for our friends and families. We should also be thankful for the innovators that create the things that help us cope with the stress that comes with change.

Thinking about things to be thankful for in the area of Information Technology (IT), four at the top of my list are:

  • The Computer, and especially the Personal Computer
  • All things Network - TCP/IP, The Internet, HTTP
  • High Level Programming Languages
  • Wireless - soon maybe wireless power

These four, over time have contributed to countless other things to be thankful for. The next big things in IT wouldn't be possible without them.

This is indeed a time of tremendous change - war, financial loss, foreclosure, jobs lost, inflation/deflation, and likely global warming. These are tough challenges which can be met by people from different backgrounds with different perspectives working towards common goals. This could lead to a modern day Renaissance, or re-birth of global proportion, brought on by a modern day Medici Effect.

Remember you humans, "You are at your best when things are worst..." from the movie "Starman".

What are you thankful for and what next big things do you hope to see come out of the latest turmoil that we face as a world community?

Whitespace for higher bandwidth

Recently, a decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened up many frequencies that were allocated to television broadcasters to other device manufacturers. This whitespace of unused frequencies will be made available, in order to significantly increase the bandwidth of data transfer. In many areas of the United States, television channels are unused because broadcasters only occupy a small number of channels in each television market.

The possibility of additional range may extend to the hinterlands, allowing static or mobile devices as well as households to connect to the Internet for the first time.

There are some opponents to the move who will likely try to stop the FCC plan from taking effect, but FCC engineers concluded that interference could be eliminated with the use of devices that rely on spectrum-sensing and geolocation technologies to detect nearby broadcast signals before using a frequency.

Frequency hopping (spread spectrum) technologies have been investigated for a number of years, with the most famous examples invented by Heady Lamarr.

Companies including Motorola, Phillips, Google and Microsoft have all tested prototypes with mixed results, but state they'll have white-space devices soon.

Motorola is one of the first companies to have a white-space radio device that meets the basic requirements of the FCC. The device is smart enough to find empty frequencies while controlling the strength of signals to minimize interference.

The Wireless Innovation Alliance, a consortium of companies, helped convince the FCC to open up white spaces. Hardware manufactures like HP want to build faster broadband wireless Internet cards that have more range than existing ones. Software companies like Microsoft are interested in building software and applications for these new devices.

We'll need to wait and see how it all comes out.

Labels: Communications

If you call a horse’s tail a leg…

Abraham Lincoln had a quick wit. He once asked, "If you call a horse's tail a leg, how many legs does he have? The answer is four, of course, because calling a horse's tail a leg doesn't make it a leg." The idea captured by this saying is as relevant today as ever.

Apparently, lots of people, people who should have known better, thought that pretending a high-risk asset had low risk could actually make it have low risk. As Lincoln's saying predicted, this has proven not to be the case. It should have been obvious that the default rate for people who had to borrow money for their down payment would be higher than the default rate for those who used their own money for the down payment. What is surprising is that anyone would have thought otherwise. Unfortunately, obvious things can take a while to become obvious.

Much of my career has been spent being odd-man out. With a PhD in Statistics, what can you expect; after all, we're taught to think differently, and for some of us it comes naturally. As a result, because I'm often off on a cognitive island by myself, I've had to take comfort knowing that: "In the end, Reality trumps Perception every time." I repeat this saying often; it helps me cope. I need such solace, because, as my colleague Alex Halikias was quick to point out, "This means, of course, that for any given short-enough time frame, Perception can have nothing to do with Reality." In fact, the larger the gap between perception and reality, and the longer the delay for reality to become apparent, the greater the damage that can result, or the greater the opportunity available to take advantage of the incongruity.

This concept is similar in spirit to one that Warren Buffett often quotes from his mentor Benjamin Graham, who said, "In the short run the market is a voting machine. In the long run, it's a weighing machine." This idea works two ways. It arises from unfounded exuberance and optimism, and also from unfounded fear and pessimism. As Buffett describes, the market is like a crazy partner who gives a quote to buy you out every day: sometimes the partner is pessimistic and makes a ridiculously low offer, and sometimes the partner is enthusiastic and makes an irrationally high offer. We've witnessed these effects multiple times over the past decade: the dot-com bubble, Enron, the stock market at 14000, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the current financial crisis, etc.

On the other hand, just as the market can overvalue companies, as it has in the recent past, it can also undervalue them, as it is probably doing today (at least for some companies). Buffett has become a billionaire by taking advantage of the market's irrationality. His simple slogan is: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful."

Labels: Vision

What do you mean by “Green IT” (Part 9)?

Today we conclude the journey of walking around the circle to look at how Green IT can impact the enterprise and the environment.  Part eight of What do you really mean by Green IT??? Also refer to part one, around green IT with regards to green washing, part two, around using IT to green the enterprise, part three, about the green data center, part four, about influences on Green IT, part five, around life cycle events that have significant green impacts, part six, around energy sourcing, part seven, which addresses the digitization of information, and part eight, which discussed the needs for better control through embedded systems.

A lot of effort has been narrowly focused on narrowly defining Green IT to be data center specific, but the true value is found is using Green IT to deliver economically sound ecological sustainability (Eco 2.0tm) to the enterprise and the community. The topic for today is Virtual Presence, also called telepresence, which allows the rich collaboration between geographically dispersed people and organizations using IT technologies.


Desktop video, earlier ISDN-based video conferencing, email, instant messaging and other technologies are all methods of improving interpersonal communications and collaboration. The advent of lower cost high bandwidth network communications, along with more robust software, has opened the door for improved interaction using tools such as Halo for conference room to conference room  meetings with multiple attendees, eliminating a lot of travel related costs and emissions. Running a Halo site for one year full time generates less emissions that one coast-to-coast business trip, improves the interaction quality compared to alternative technologies, and frees up valuable time for business and personal use.

Another type of technology in this space is Teleportec, which is useful speaker to conference room and desktop person to person interactions. The Teleportec device provides two way interactions with 3D imaging, and delivers nuanced communication "eye to eye". In a conference setting, the speaker can interact with the audience as if they were in the room. One example of using Teleportec technology is a kiosk bank; a private room equipped with the conferencing equipment and other devices could be used to connect the client with a variety of experts, such as loan officers and investment specialists, without having them at the physical site. Backed up by CRM systems, the combined nuanced communications and detailed understanding of the client's total relationship will improve the client's satisfaction but also improve the financial institution's economic and ecological efficiency.


Technology today gives us the ability to bring work to the people, instead of the Industrial Age mode of bringing people to the work. I live about three miles from work, so it is convenient for me to drive in for meetings and daily work, but many other folks have much longer drives with inherently greater impacts. Many companies, including EDS, have alternative work arrangements (AWA), allowing remote work on one or more days each week, depending on the type of work and employee capability. There are some technical aspects to allowing secure connections, backup, telecommunications and access control, but also corporate culture and leadership styles that make this a viable approach for some organizations, and not for others. I recently experienced AWA when I had surgery on my foot, making going to work quite a bit more difficult with a cast and crutches, and I did most of my work from my home using my wireless network and cell phone.


Technology will redefine the meaning of work, not only at a personal level, but also inter-enterprise. The notion of a corporation owning the majority of its assets (real estate, capital investments, and expertise) may be a thing of the past; rather, temporary or semi-permanent coalitions to bring together the right talent, capabilities and delivery mechanisms to define, design, source and deliver products and services may replace traditional big business. Development may occur in collaboratories where information and communication networks bring together the social and technical interactions necessary to develop the next generation of products.

If you don't need the massive capital asset base to sustain the organization, could you even have an Open Source workforce? A smaller core focused on strategy, brand management, design and delivery oversight working with the supply chain could allow a company to become more agile than staid competitors, using outsourced manufacturing and supply chains instead of capital investments to achieve market dominance. This is already happening with Nike and with a lot of the IT tech jobs, but having the right combination of business and technical skills allows people to sell their services in an open source market, combining in collaborative efforts to deliver a specific task. Technology such as HP's Remote Graphics will allow the sharing of data while protecting intellectual property, improving system performance and leveraging high performance equipment.

Finally, techniques developed for may redefine the meaning of cloud computing. PCs represent a huge investment, yet generally sit idle for long periods or operate at fractional capacity (like now when I'm just running MS Word). Companies which are able to develop software to scavenge the lost capacity in these machines across the enterprise and turn them into useful work may be able to monetize their investments and generate sizable revenue streams or avoid capital investments.

What do we mean by Green IT?

In nine episodes, I've walked you around the circle of Green IT as we see it in EDS. A lot of the thought leadership in this area I credit to Jeff Wacker, another EDS Fellow and our Futurist. Jeff is extensively quoted in Tom Friedman's latest book Hot, Flat and Crowded and has some great insights. One thing Jeff and I point out is that fixing the problems we face is not simply a matter of choosing one thing in the circle; it requires systemic thinking and understanding of your enterprise, your regulatory and competitive environment, your perception of risk, the relationships you have with your employees, community and investors, all combined to intelligently to plan and execute your strategy to achieve Eco 2.0: economically sound ecological sustainability.


Best of luck on your journey!

Labels: Green IT
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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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