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

Displaying articles for: February 2012

Leap day 2012 – it should be an interesting day

leap day.pngIt doesn’t come around often, but today is a leap day.  There are some interesting traditions and reasons for having the leap day. Some people actually make a plan on what to do to take advantage of this extra day.


It will be interesting to see how the technology community celebrates leap day – beyond Microsoft releasing the Customer Preview of Windows 8.

Born to code…

scratch.jpgTechnology review asks the question How Young is Too Young to Learn to Code?In the article they talk about a report by Heather Chaplin from KQED about new software that will be aimed squarely at children who have barely learned their colors, much less how to read.


Talk about Digital Natives…


Anyone who has an iPhone and a two year old will probably tell you that touch interfaces are allowing children to spend more time with computers than ever. Although too much screen time in a day has been linked to psychological problems.


The redesigned programming environment is called Scratch, Jr. You can access the development environment and run programs from the web. It is a re-designed version of Scratch, which has been used to teach programming principles to elementary school-age children, that has been simplified. When I looked at the commands it reminded me of a graphical version of a simplified Logo.


I’ve seen some business process modeling tools that could use some of the techniques from this environment

Richness vs. Reach or why do I have better IT at home than at work?

Apps, social media & collaboration tools have created a powerful personal IT experience. In many ways a better one than most people experience at work. How can we leverage this power in the business environment?

Simulating reactions in the world of tomorrow

business gaming.pngAnyone who has looked at the goarmy efforts know that the US army is into virtual worlds. This form of serious gaming is regularly used to develop skills and strengthen understanding.  The Army’s latest call for research proposals is looking for ways to develop a “Virtual Laboratory of Aggregate Behavior,” (VLAB). This program proposes the development of a digital domain wherein hundreds or thousands of individuals could be involved in the Army’s “randomized controlled trial experiments”. We’re not talking about AmericasArmy or other typical military simulations here though…


They want a simulation platform that can offer robust testing for behavioral theories. For example, understanding how a community will react during a crisis, or how and why certain groups come together in a situation while others fall into chaos.


There are numerous social projects already underway like the Pentagon’s Minerva program (focused on bridging the cultural divide) and the Army’s Human Terrain System that embedded social scientists into combat units. Most of these are focused on smaller groups though. This research proposal is trying to look at the macro level.


Since some of these efforts deal with commerce issues and the behavior of various types of groups, it seems like the results developed here would be of interest to businesses as well.

Software licensing and cloud – is there a silver lining here?

Cloud optimist.pngOne thing that has been clear since the days when the ASP model was first discussed (or long before that with the service bureaus of the  60s and 70s) is that today’s software licensing models are not really set up for this level of flexibility, even if the machines are hosted internally.


Virtualization has increased the license cost drastically in many situations, providing extra revenues to the software vendors (ISV) -- Cloud computing is disrupting the software licensing model.  It almost forces the software vendor to move into a SaaS model to address many of the issues. For those software companies that are used to a model where they write the product once but sell it many times over, replacing their license revenues with transaction or hourly access models may disrupt their cash flow. It does provide an on-going revenue stream but can still be scary at the start.


This leaves the opportunity open for start-ups that do not have such concerns and actually view the OPEX intensive cloud model as a good thing, since it allows them an opportunity to expand quickly when they are still cash strapped.


For businesses who need services, understanding the drivers for the service vendors and how they benefit from the offering over the long haul can be a key differentiator. There is almost always a degree of lock-in for SaaS offerings, so your company can be on the line as much as the service provider when things go south.

Is Cloud Secure?

Almost every day articles appear claiming the cloud is more secure than legacy IT, at the same time there is a stream of articles cloud is completely insecure. What's the real story?

Tags: Cloud| security

Edible sensors

Microchip-Pill.pngOne thing I’ve blogged about for a while is that ubiquitous computing is becoming more common. The fact that as devices get smaller and they consume less power at the same time as our ability to create sensors to monitor a wider variety of our lives, mean that they can our lives in whole new ways – literally.





Tags: Trends

Your organization, you and name recognition


I was in a discussion this week with a person who has moved between a number of organizations in their career. They stated when they wanted to evaluate their imprint on an organization they would put that organization name along with their own first name, into a search engine. So I tried it for myself – when I put “HP Charlie” into Bing -- I come out on top. When I put it into Google, I came in second.


Your ego falls apart though when someone with the same first name is placed in very prolific/visible role like happened to me when Charlie Feld moved into EDS a number of years back.


Maybe it’s just me but I’d never thought about impact assessment like this before. It was a verifiable and constantly changing way to assess your effect on an organization and its market presence.

Tags: Trends

What happened to Nanotechnology?

I was in a conversation the other day with a large organization and one of the leaders said: “What happened to Nanotechnology? I don’t really hear about it anymore.” I immediately came back to a comparison to software development in the 80s. If you remember back that far, there was all this excitement about object oriented development. I remember going to a large organization in the UK right around 2000 and the CIO said “What ever happened to Object Oriented techniques? I don’t really hear about it anymore.” I went on to explain to him that we don’t talk about it anymore because “it’s just in there.”


Granted nanotechnology is not quite that ubiquitous, but it is getting closer all the time. I talked with him about some of the current work in the sensing space within HP labs that is using nanotechnology.


The area where it is becoming common is in the materials space. That was brought home to me again this morning by this Solve for X video about “low power wireless everywhere” spray on antennas. If you’ve not seen it and are into radio and related areas, it is quite interesting and appears to be generating some buzz.  



The innovation uses nano-materials as part of a commercial product. Work has been going on in this area for a while but this appears to be the first spray on antenna you can buy. I believe the ham nation podcast will be doing some experimentation with it at some point in the near future.


These nanomaterials are cropping up in products everywhere, to the point that it is no longer marketed as “nano” directly.

Service Science and Innovation

technical servant.pngI had a chance to have dinner with Jim Spohrer (from IBM), Ammar Reyes (from Cisco) and Robin Williams (not that Robin Williams but a retired Life Fellow IEEE, Fellow ACM and [still] thought leader), while I was out in Cupertino this week, where we talked about services and an industry and a science. We discussed some of the service standards organizations (like SRII) and the degree of rigor and effort devoted to Service Research and Innovation . Has the curriculum changed at universities…??


Although there have been advances in this space, it is clear that there is not nearly enough based on the impact of service activities on the GDP and humanity as a whole. We discussed how it can be multiple generations before the changes are actually incorporated in the experience of students, since it takes a whole generation to replace the existing professors with those who have the context to take advantage of the shifts.


I mentioned to them that I’d talk with the HP folks about speaking at the SRII annual conference later this year, since I feel  strongly about the need to rethink the whole service approach from one based on scarcity to one enabled by abundance. In fact, I am giving a similar presentation to a telecom entity today (shortly after I finish writing this post). Getting ready to talk with them made me realize that what we might take for granted as abundant (in this case telecom bandwidth), someone somewhere had to create and they clearly didn’t think it was abundant to get where they are.


The service industry needs to be on both sides of this scarcity and abundance issue and that is why there is so much opportunity for innovation.

Envisioning the needs of the future enterprise (part 2)

I blogged earlier about the extrapolated nature of 2017 and the technical drivers that will shift our thinking. Since that time, I’ve had a few people say: “Those are some interesting numbers, but what will that mean to me.”  So I thought I’d write down a few thoughts about what those numbers can actually mean.


Computing and sensing will be everywhere, embedded in everything. The world around us will be programmable and interactive with the rest of the environment around it. Roads, buildings, traffic, clothing — your computing needs will be addressed by an aggregation of the capabilities of your surroundings. Since I am on a trip today, it causes me to think about the annoyances that surround me every day. The rental car can call ahead for repairs, if it notices a problem. Entering the airport can check you in for your flight. The act of leaving the restaurant can pay your bill, so you will no longer need to flag down the service staff to get your check. I have this small screen that I am typing this on and a 40 inch screen on the wall, why don't think know about each other and let me use that display too. This kind of shift from isolation to integration will revolutionize every industry, changing the whole concept of computing – shifting it into the background and just enabling you to live. The concept of information and processing in the cloud will be so commonplace and natural that it will permeate the human experience on a global scale


Sensing devices will initiate actions that will call upon the attention of people only when their insight is needed. If your “agents” know how to handle the situation – they just take care of it. The interruptions are for anomalies where your insight is needed. This will be driven by the exascale information flow and the desire to drive latency out of the response to events. We will move from reactive to proactive to predictive and change the definition of response time to a negative number. Naturally, this will not happen for everyone at the same rate, but it will become a passion for some. The ongoing shift in design will cause circuits to be smaller and require less power, this will enable a wide range of ambient power generation sufficient for most devices, with devices power by ambient light, barometric shifts or the RF in the air around us.  This will make this environmental approach to computing untethered as well -- opening up whole new levels of possibility for identity, business and entertainment.


We should see the power of natural-language interfaces and advanced hybrid human/cloud insight capabilities that are always available allowing enterprises to support people in the field. We’ll have access to the knowledge of the enterprise at unprecedented levels, enabling new types of work styles and environments. Employees will be able to have instant knowledge of “who the experts are” based on their situation and what they are working on at any point in time. This will increase the value of the experts as well as the capabilities of every employee.


The security needs of the future will be merged and uniquely tailored to the role being performed at the time. The concept of a mobile device vs. a smart card vs. corporate/government identity will begin to blur as trusted identity services become linked and more flexible. Security standards will actually strengthen security rather than weaken it as our fragmented approach does today. This trust will allow for greater flexibility in our lives, since roles can be derived based on where I am as well as who I am.


The business IT environment will become an aggregation of services, provided by internal and external service providers. Business IT budgets will shift away from paying for licenses for software to paying for service levels – based on the businesses requirements. ERP and software vendors will not sell you software; service providers will provide access to meet your processing needs. The integration and security requirements will become the deciding factor for where to subscribe for services. This will cause businesses to have a much deeper understanding of their needs, since the service providers will be self-selecting the markets they want to support.


There will also be a shift from a data oriented view of how value is generated to a more context centric approach. Owning the data will be a cost of entry, the service providers who can provide the clarity and insight on the decision making process will have a significant advantage over those who remain data centric. The application of the vast computing capabilities on the roles, situations and information turning that contextual understanding into timely action by the businesses and its personnel will be the key measure of quality in a service provider.


The IT industry of 2017 is information fueled and the organizations the can bring the right combination of automation and employee attention together will be far ahead of their competitors. Big service providers will provide industry information, low cost processing, analytical insight, and security allowing businesses to focus on revenue generation optimization.

Envisioning the needs of the future enterprise (part 1)

predictive.pngLast week, I was part of a panel discussing innovation and technical adoption with a number of CEOs in the Dallas Texas area. During the discussion we talked about the opportunities that exist around us and the new type of business models that will be driving organizations forward.


I was asked what kind of research is needed to for organizations today to match the new service opportunities of tomorrow, After the meeting  some other folks in the HP Services and Solutions lab went through a few iterations to come up with a short paragraph that captures the essence of our thinking:


“Staying aligned with rapidly evolving business needs will require future enterprises to be agile and dynamic. The ability to identify and link related data, establish the right information flow, connect people and information, and provide insights on information is crucial in enabling decision making from an ever increasing stream of information. Research is needed to reduce the time to action for the enterprise, and streamline the organizational changes necessary to proactively react to the competitive landscape of the firm. In the enterprise of the future, not only employees but also customers influence success, it is important to establish the relationships and foster the collaborative culture among employees, customers, suppliers and the enterprise, and engage this ecosystem in generating value. Enabling this vision will require automated capture of digital information, technologies for connecting people-to-people and people-to-information, platforms for data analysis, response automation, context recognition, dynamic configuration capabilities, innovative collaborative technologies and knowledge enabled decision-making. As business becomes more digital (and social), these advances will be the foundation and measure for the value of IT in the enterprise.”


Tomorrow I’ll have another post about the vision implied by this research.  

Will innovative technologies change the way companies view Unified Communications in 2012?

traffic flow at night.jpg2012 will see CIOs defining their Unified Communications (UC) strategies for the rest of the decade, according to a recent Web Business article by Tessa Reed titled Unified communications and the year ahead. Reed quotes Wayne Speechly, communications services executive at Internet Solutions, who says “2012 will see an acceleration of VoIP uptake and that fragmented UC will start to take shape as sellable products.“


Unified Communications has been a hot topic during the last few month with everyone, including me, making predictions for UC’s future. Some of these perspective have been going off in many directions though, so I thought I’d try to help define a vision of the flow going forward:


Part of that vision is that much of the UC deployment activities will take place in the Cloud: From the same Web Business article, Bennie Langenhoven, managing executive at Tellumat Communications, notes that there will be more talk about UC in the cloud in 2012 but asks “Will companies actually make the move?” I believe they will, since the technology capabilities have advanced so far and their applicability to business are so direct. There is a degree of complexity that may not be readily apparent, so a cloud approach can help minimize cost and leverage the understanding of others. Organizations need to at least incorporate the current capabilities of UC into their maintenance and investment plans, so that even if they don’t make the move right now their systems will be ready.


Hosted Unified Communications (one way to have cloud based UC) is still in a state of flux, leaving many organizations to ask: "What is it and how does it work?" Frost and Sullivan put out a white paper on the topic of hosted Unified Communications last year. There is also a HP/Avaya presentation with some interesting facts that cover quite a bit more areas than what you might think of when you hear UC and hosted environments. For example:

- HP + Avaya are now serving 426 of Fortune 500 clients with UCC Solutions.

- Gartner believes that HP is one of the few vendors that can fulfill all Communications Outsourcing and Professional Services (COPS) opportunities independent of size.

- HP + Avaya manage 500,000 SharePoint & 500,000 Office Communications Server (OCS) seats globally.


For organizations that are thinking about the internal use of social media (SoMe) techniques and the effect of UC, you might ask questions like: “Will social media and unified communications become more integrated? Will companies be forced to adopt UC so employees can communicate/collaborate via SoMe?”


I believe the answer is yes to both these questions as well. Intersection of the personalization side of SoMe with the enterprise business context can drive a much more flexible and powerful enterprise business model. The addition of mobile apps and the consumerization of IT adds fuel to the fire under UC. Organizations that incorporate this more dynamic view of the interaction between the enterprise and the employee (and automation) will have a significant advantage.


So I have to asked "What game-changing technologies do you see as having an effect on whether or not companies define/adopt a unified communications strategy?"


There is more about how HP is helping clients implement UCC solutions from the following resources:


HP Labs Annual Report for 2011

HPL_2011_Annual_Report_Thumb.jpgHP labs produced numerous outstanding achievements in the pursuit of our research agenda and delivery of innovations to HP’s business and our customers.  The HP Labs 2011 Annual Research Report is an outline of our current research efforts, spotlighting some of our most exciting accomplishments – including technology commercialization, demonstrators and open innovation activities – and most importantly, introduce our team.


You can download the report at right, or order a custom-printed copy of the report through HP, a print-on-demand service created in HP Labs. 

Can you have grand challenges in your organization?

strategic thinking.pngLast year at the WorldFuture Conference, Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute offered up Eight Grand Challenges for humanity. If you look at these grand challenges, you will either be frustrated by their constraints, snicker at their impossibility or start trying to work out how they could actually happen. 


I didn’t think much about it when I first saw them, but there was an article in The Futurist recently that made me wonder about them again.  The article talked about structuring a prize mechanism around them.


What really spurred my thinking was based on some of the posts I’d done recently about gamification and business. From that perspective, I looked at how the challenges were structured -- What was measured and why? Why were the constraints so tight? Was there a clear goal? 


Then it made me think about if it is useful for businesses to define their own grand challenges to address. We live in a world of exponential change and potential, where the constraints that we have lived within may no longer exist. We need to start thinking about the opportunities differently.


The concept of having “grand challenges” may not require that they change the entire world. They just require a perspective on a different world. They may not even require they change the whole company. What are some grand challenges for IT going forward? How would you measure them? How would you award addressing them?


The greatest benefit to answering those questions would likely be that you put your vision down on paper in a way that can be quantified. We all know that IT organizations usually respond to that.

New possibilities for business process optimization

optimized automation.pngI was fortunate enough to spend a day at MIT this week in the Center for Digital Business talking with them about their research. A while back I wrote a post about the jobless recovery where I included a list to a short book from the CBD titled Race Against the Machine.


Near the end of the book the author talked about an example of how the current chess champion is not a machine or a person. Instead “the action moved to ‘freestyle’ competitions, allowing any combination of people and machines. The overall winner in a recent freestyle tournament had neither the best human players nor the most powerful computers. As Kasparov writes, it instead consisted of:

a pair of amateur American chess players using three computers at the same time. Their skill at manipulating and 'coaching' their computers to look very deeply into positions effectively counteracted the superior chess understanding of their grandmaster opponents and the greater computational power of other participants. … Weak human +machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkably, superior to a strong human + machine + inferior process.”


Although this was reported on a while ago, I still l believe this is an area where we’re going to see a great deal of effort in the near future. With the abundance of computing capability, and the optimization of resource usage based on their unique strength, whole new levels of productivity will be possible. It is clear that abstract pattern matching is an area where humans excel, and repeatable tasks are where automation and computing can be applied.
Organizations that recognize that and capitalize on the difference will excel.

Automated formation flying demonstration

I just saw this video of a set of robotic flying quadrotor drones flying in computer controlled formation that I found fascinating:



Maybe it was just the nearness of the Super Bowl, but I could see a whole other dimension of halftime show coming from this.


Seriously though, Roboticists at the University of Pennsylvania’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) lab are able to get as many as 20 of their autonomous microcopters to fly in formation and perform complex maneuvers flawlessly. They also have documented a series of videos showing bots flying hoops and building a tower-like structure.


It did make me wonder about where these techniques could be applied to business and what the risks associated with their use would be.

Beyond the Obvious -- the book

beyond the obvious.pngPhil McKinney who was once the Chief Technologist of the Personal Systems Group of HP has just written a book titled: Beyond The Obvious. I have not seen a copy yet, since it has not been released until Tuesday (Feb 7). I hope to get a chnace to see it at a book launch event, since I'll be in town.


Phil has been blogging on topics related to innovation for years. The publisher Hyperion has made Chapter 1: Why Questions Matter available as a free download. 


The following is an excerpt of a review recently published by Publishers Weekly.

”To help companies ignite these ideas, McKinney shares a system called the 'Killer Questions': a tool that prompts re-evaluation of old organizational beliefs that dictate how a company operates but which may no longer hold value. To do so requires negotiating the forces inside an organization that challenge innovation as well as dealing with outside curve balls.


While re-examining core beliefs is hardly new advice, McKinney's system helps distinguish valuable ideas from others with less potential as well as paying attention to delivering value to customers, the value chain, manufacturing and supply, marketing and sales, shipping and distribution, and the customer experience.


McKinney also provides an invaluable guide to extracting ideas from the book and applying them within an organization. He includes a helpful time line and six rules to keep companies on track. Offering concrete advice, McKinney gives organizations the tools they need to generate ideas and know that they're moving in the right direction."


You can look to the book’s site:, if you’d like to know more.

Tags: Innovation
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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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