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

Context recognition as a service

gossip.pngI was in a discussion the other day as part of the ISSIP Service Futures meeting where we were discussing context-based computing and its impact on services. One of the concepts that fell out of that discussion was the need for ‘context flow’. This might be a new type (or at least a new use) of middleware to share a common understanding of the context of the user or the application portfolio.

 

Why should all the applications have their own context recognition capabilities? Couldn’t they rely on a common engine for at least a basic understanding of what is going on?? Answering questions like:

  • Where is the user? And why?
  • Is this a busy day?
  • Are they traveling?

Applications could subscribe to this contextual advisor function and change their behavior – treating the user in custom ways to fit the situation they are currently in. I can see all kinds of gamification and augmented reality implications.

 

There could be a standard range of contextual states that the entire environment could take advantage of. Maybe this already exists, but I’ve not seen it.

Rethinking future services and the application portfolio

applications.pngAreas changing within business and IT include the movement away from dedicated hardware for applications, as well as the concept of dedicated applications themselves. In order for these changes to be truly successful there are a number of factors to be addressed.

 

Today there are a wealth of software providers that supply intellectual property to address business problems (e.g., ERP solutions). Although some support more flexible access methods (e.g., SaaS), they are still rigid in what they make available to the business itself. The problems are viewed as IT and not what the business needs. In order for these service providers to address the specific needs of an organization, greater service integration flexibility is required. This allows for real integration of business processes, meeting the businesses unique needs. IT that supports those business processes may come from many different sources.

 

This flexibility will require greater data transport capabilities and analytics, turning generic processing into business differentiation. This movement of data outside the control of a service provider is the bane of most as-a-service solutions, yet when you think about it – whose data is it??

 

To meet the needs of the system users, greater platform independent support is required. This will allow the integration of generic business processes into a context specific solution that can be used by the various business roles to make better business decisions. Since the mobile interface is the enterprise interface going forward, placing the information in the context of the user is critical, on the device the user is actually using. Or if the response is well understood facilitating the systems of action needed to predict and respond to business events.

 

This also means that custom application configuration capabilities will be critical. Rather than having 3rd generation programmers handcrafting new behaviors into the system, standards and tools for customization will be required. Application configuration capabilities will improve the time to market and reduce the maintenance costs -- relying on business-oriented graphical modeling to aggregate functionality from across the portfolio of capabilities. Social capabilities and gamification support will be built into these customization capabilities. This mass-customized contextual portfolio approach is the antithesis of what leveraged service providers enable today.

 

One of the biggest detriments (at least from my perspective) of the dot com era was the view that everyone can code. These coders can do that in a 3rd generation language like Java (or JavaScript for that matter). And finally, that coders actually understand user interface and business process automation design (and security). I don’t think we can afford to put up with these views any longer. The changes in how computing works and is delivered as well the complex possibilities enabled by the abundance of IT capabilities don’t allow it. There has been work to leverage experts and hide complexity over the years, yet most organizations take advantage of very little of this work. It’s time that we move on.

Gamification – required in the service leader toolbox?

gamification.pngI’ve gotten a number of questions about gamification lately. It seems that many more organizations are looking to gamify their internal apps in an attempt to engage employees, solve problems, increase collaboration and generally have a better understanding of progress on goals and initiatives. The use of goal-oriented, metrics-based, behavior modification is entering into the gap analysis phase of application portfolio assessments. It is an area where there are many possibilities, some you can try out today.

 

Gamification is not an approach where you’ll get the right answer the first time, or where there will be one standardized, enterprise approach. It is a technique where you develop a beachhead of understanding and expand through experimentation. Some organizations will stop early while others will use the approach throughout their business to develop a better understanding of its personnel, the roles they play and the progress toward organizational objectives. There is no one right answer.

 

Some of the areas where I’ve seen organizations start their efforts are stimulating the level of collaboration (rewarding individuals that help others) or innovation (through idea generation campaigns). Many HR and Healthcare BPO approaches are embedding gamification into their service in an attempt to improve people’s lives.

 

One issue that many encounter happens if you stimulate the desired behavior, but then don’t act upon the results. The ‘players’ usually figure it out quickly and this perception of inaction will taint future efforts -- make sure that people understand what’s happening.

There was an article last September in ComputerWorld titled: Case study: 3 heavyweights give gamification a go, it covers a number of situations organizations have encountered.

 

I personally feel that it is a skill set that any leader working in the services space will need. It can build upon the abundance of data and processing power that exists today and have impact at many levels in an organization. Within the ISSIP Service Futures SIG, we discuss the strategic impact of gamification about every 6 months.

Is it time for a context portfolio assessment?

ideas.pngBack in 2007, I wrote a post Data is Everywhere but Context is Rare discussing the massive amounts of data being collected and how ‘context is king’ when it comes to understanding it. Now, with all the derived data we can create, tracking what is being create at the same time or who is reading it when, our understanding of the situation can be even deeper then we could think of back in 2007.

 

If you paid any attention to the CES the last couple of years, wearable technology had a great deal of the focus. This is more than just simply tracking basic data. It is about using the combined data of the wearable hardware, social networks and networking to find greater depth of information to use as a foundation of analysis.

 

Google Now is a good example of an application that gathers information from various sources so that your information needs can be anticipated and present information you didn’t even know you needed.

 

For most business (that spend most of their money on systems of record) a more contextually aware approach can take the existing information to whole new levels of value. I posted quite a few times on the concept of application portfolio assessment. It is time that greater focus should be applied to the organizations contextual portfolio. What do we actually know? What should we know? What would it take to address the gap?

Technology education – drivers now and in the future

 

education.pngThe education of future technologists has some interesting conflicts to resolve. The constraints of past success and the opportunities for whole new solutions.

 

Software development is comprised of a tower of Babel consisting of thousands of development languages whose diversity continues to grow every year. Many of these languages are relatively dead (as far as current development), even though they are at the core of many of the systems that facilitate our lives – examples: COBOL and Fortran.

 

COBOL is at the core of many of the systems of record within the financial industry. Few (if any) top tier university programs exist around COBOL (but many community colleges still teach COBOL). Most of the COBOL practitioners are nearing retirement age, and have been for a decade. Planning for this skills gap is something organizations need to do today. If replacement (probably with something more cloud capable) of the programs are part of an application portfolio assessment, it will still require skills in the older environments to flesh out the codified requirements.

 

Software development skills can be standardized and structured, but software development still has an element of creativity. In the talk I gave at the MPICT conference earlier this week, this creative issue was one of the concern areas of ICT educators. The soft skills are critical for developers, since these abilities will be needed to tease out requirements. Developers then need to problem solve and exercise creativity (skills that are also on the soft side). The educators were anxious about the significant pressures to emphasize standard testing and ‘one right answer’ as part of the technical curriculum. This approach may pave over the creative solution that is actually required once the students enter the workforce.

 

I think that most technologists in the field know that our ability to interact with each other and reach consensus on a solution is a critical component of being valuable to an organization. Just being the most creative (or the most right) is not always enough.

 

One of the areas the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals is trying to help organizations and education with is mentoring and coaching on these soft skills to supplement the standard education curriculum. HP is making efforts to expand real work experience as well – I try to sponsor a senior project at UTD every semester (for example). These efforts let students experience the vagaries of real world problems and make mistakes in a safe environment.

 

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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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