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

Will there be a new dimension to UI design based on cognitive computing?

things.jpgI recently read a report on How Humans Respond to Robots that focused on the social side of robotics. Near the end of the article it started to talk about autonomous cars, autopilots and other devices that are really robots but we don’t normally think of them that way (e.g., smart thermostats) because of their minimal user interface.

 

In a world where we’ll soon have wearable technologies all around us, likely building to a $50 billion market by 2017, pumping out data to feed the autonomous response of cognitive computing, it does make me wonder how enterprise architectures and application portfolios will drive us into the uncanny valley for business automation.

 

As we automate things and find patterns, the automated response could be a bit eerie and unsettling. Likely a new dimension for User Interface Designers of the future will look beyond just the traditional capabilities and more deeply into user intent and the sense of user interactions – so we can accept the assistance as intended.

Start small but think big, when transforming

StartSmallThinkBig.jpgYesterday, I posted about how we’re half-way through the current stage of IT and mentioned how IT needs to change. Today, I saw an interesting post from McKinsey & Company that has some similar views: Reinventing IT to support digitization.

 

They have identified seven elements critical to IT performance improvement:

1)      Clear, central business leadership on digital

2)      Elite IT talent

3)      Sourcing arrangements to scale the workforce rapidly

4)      Agile development and rapid releases

5)      Rapid innovation architecture supported by stable services

6)      Scalable cloud-based infrastructure

7)      High-quality integrated data

 

I agree with all those points, although I’d have dropped off the ‘on digital’ from the first point. I think all too often we continue to unnecessarily isolate the information technology goals and efforts from the business.

 

The article went on to describe a two-speed approach to transformation. This is one area that is as much about risk control as providing new capabilities. Start small but think big – is probably the rule. We can’t change everything at once and when making this kind of change, you need to develop experience.

This was driven home to me the other day when I was talking with my son (who teaches on-line). He was looking for a way to contact his students in a flexible, yet automated fashion. I said “Oh, no problem. I’ll just write an app for your phone.” I’ve written apps for a number of different mobile platforms over the years, so I thought it would be easy. I laid out a storyboard of the various screens. I bounced requirements off him. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, to make it look professional.

 

I dug into coding the first prototype. It seemed everywhere I turned, the Android environment didn’t want to support me in my efforts. It just didn’t have the fundamentals in the OS that I needed (or maybe the way I wanted them). So, I started to break the application down into various components that I could understand, validate and execute. Eventually, I will stitch them all together into a final application, but my first goal now is to get something dumb and functional that he can play with – without all the bells and whistles that were in the early design. A page out of any Agile Development handbook.

 

The same approach is needed as an organization starts to tackle its larger business support role and reinvention of its application portfolio.

Increasing the value of architects in a world of cheap data

 

panning for gold.GIFThere is a great deal of discussion about big data and a move to a data economy. We have collected more data than we might normally be able to use (and we’re trying to collect even more). If you step back and think about the law of supply and demand – if there is an abundance of data it is probably not worth all that much.

 

Having made that bold statement – those who can extract the context described by the data will likely sift out a good living. Much like a gold miner panning for gold, you need to go through a great deal of mud before you find a nugget. Fortunately, the computing capabilities have increased to allow that filtering to happen.

 

IT architects in companies need to look beyond internal information flows, master data definitions, and business processes. Enterprise Architects need to understand the third-party data and service providers and the value they can provide. Suppliers, partners and customers may all have information that can impact the business (and vice versa). It is contextual understanding that’s required.

 

I’d bet that almost every organization has information that it is collecting or metadata that could be derived that is not being used today. Business and information architects should understand the business issues, the methods for segmentation and the available data sources that could be used to bring added value to marketing discussions. As part of architectural planning optimize the data consumption just like architects should optimize the application portfolio.

 

Architects need to become proactive, looking beyond the technology and focus on the business goals and the information available (from whatever source). They need to explain to the business and technical leadership the shifts in what’s possible and valuable. The data scientists can then be applied to those opportunities.

 

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.

Search
Follow Us
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.
Labels
The opinions expressed above are the personal opinions of the authors, not of HP. By using this site, you accept the Terms of Use and Rules of Participation