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

Context, automation and the future of services

looking for direction.jpgThere recently was a story about a computer program that passed the Turing Test. When you get into the details of what was actually done, I am not sure it really qualifies. The fact that people are talking about the event though is enough to show that we’re pretty far down the road toward breaking down the perceived barriers between machines and human interaction.

 

These advanced levels of interaction capability are enabled by a new wave of AI applications that can capture context at scale and in near real-time. These solutions when they move out of the labs should be able to consume massive amounts of information and generate contextual understanding at a level that even the most intuitive individual would find difficult to match.

 

You might ask what does this mean for the future of services. Or where will it be of use to my organization? It should be applicable at just about any point where a conversation occurs with customer or between:

  • employee and employee
  • organization and organization
  • government and citizen

We may be able to automate interaction that isn’t face-to-face and even then it may need to be person to person with the likelihood we can overcome the uncanny valley.

 

These new context-aware, AI enabled interactions can provide a multi-level view on engagements and ‘experience’, allowing organizations to filter through the noise and latency (for example waiting for certain skills -- Spanish language) and shift the focus to an enriching experience, relationships, and achieving goals. I can easily see a future talking with an AI agent at the drive-up window, as a low-hanging opportunity.

 

The recent book The Second Machine Age, examines how society, the economy, and business will transform as digital technologies and smarter machines increasingly take over human occupations.

 

It makes you look for direction about who will robots put out of work? This interactive graphic from Quartz takes a stab at answering that question—exploring which U.S. jobs are most likely to become automated, and how many workers could be affected.

Half-way through the current wave of technology

I was preparing for HP Discover and it got me thinking about a presentation we pulled together almost 10 years ago (see illustration below - notice it didn't predict the downturn starting in 2008). The presentation did discussed the numerous technological ages in the history of corporate IT, starting with the mainframe, moving to client server, the internet and introduced the concept of a Next Big Thing wave related to computing everywhere. We are now halfway into the latest stage– and it is the second half of a stage where the real value comes to light and the wide-spread deployment takes place.

 

waves of computing.jpg

 

What’s interesting is that this is also the point where the organizations that are not dabbling in the leading edge pop their heads up, look around and wonder how they got there.

 

Everyone is realizing that IT needs to change. Many organizations have a portfolio of solutions that have built up, layer-by-layer from their previous successes, to the point where they're calcified and unable to take on much new. This is usually described as having 80% of the budget locked into keeping the lights on, rather than focused on generating new value for the organization – even though the business may have changed.

 

By now, most organizations have experimented with cloud, big data and automation. We’ve seen the value of automation on IT processes, since that is what enables the kind of productivity improvement we’re experiencing in the cloud computing space. Now it’s time to use those same pattern recognition and analytic techniques on the rest of the business. This is where the abundance of IT capabilities can shine.

 

Unfortunately, it is too easy to think about all this change being relatively new, when it has actually built up over time. We can’t take advantage of it effectively, unless we look at the possibilities in new ways. For example, shifting to view that ‘time to value’ and flexibility as the new measures of performance for IT projects, instead of non-business, commodity measures like system uptime or utilization. That change in perspective is what I'm hoping to discuss in my presentation.

Facilitating a session on the Next Generation CIO

CIO.pngThis past week, I facilitated a session at a CIO conference in LA. The focus of the session I facilitate was The Next Generation CIO. Before we got started I had a brief introduction about the changes taking place from my view as a chief technologist perspective.  Here is a summary of my kick-off comments:

 

It seems today that you can’t pick up an IT magazine or listen to a conference keynote without someone lamenting the state of the relationship between the CIO and the business or IT’s capabilities to generate new value for corporations.

Let’s face it things have changed in recent years. For the past few decades we've been successful deploying and maintaining the systems of record that have been the backbone of decision-making for organizations. We’ve built up layer upon layer of successful projects to the point where we’re calcified by our own success. Unfortunately this means that it is common to hear people talk about having 80% of their budget consumed before the year even starts (just keeping the lights on) with little to nothing left over to add new business value. It may be as important what we stop doing as what we can start.

 

Having stated that we’ve had all this success, it is good to recognize that almost all the solutions in production today were built with a scarcity assumption. There was never enough data, storage, network or computing capacity.

In many cases, those limitations have been overcome and we live in a world of abundant IT capabilities. We now can take that abundance of data and computing capacity and use analytic techniques to perform complex tasks like context recognition and sentiment analysis – tasks that just a few years ago were the domain of human knowledge workers. We can now begin to recognize ‘normal’ situations and automate them, freeing up people to focus on the anomalies and turn them into opportunities.

 

 

Infrastructure as a Service is an example of a business process we're all familiar with. At its core it is the business process of instantiation and monitoring of virtual machines. Today, it has been automated to a large extent. What we can do today is just the tip of the iceberg of change headed our way as even greater IT capabilities allow us to take these techniques and apply them throughout the business. Instead of automating VM instantiation, we should be able to automate hiring personnel or even most of the middle management role in some organizations.

 

This abundance perspective can fundamentally shift how value is generated and the role of IT within organizations. If we don’t understand and capitalize on these technology shifts to address the business shifts underway, others will come in and eat our lunch.

 

With this as a starting point, we had a very active discussion covering a wide range of topics some of which were:

  •          Can is really be called Shadow IT if the CIO helps the business by applying their expertise to help steer, rather than running alongside and trying to slow it down?
  •          What can we do to help our people transition from traditional IT to a newer more flexible and business centric approach? Unfortunately, not all of them will be able to make the transition.
  •          What do CIOs need to do to sharpen the sword, for themselves and their people? One of the key points of this discussion was spending time with the business. Live it.
  •          Don’t strive for perfection – be flexible and enable the business to adjust as needed.

I had to draw the session to a close when time ran out but afterward there were a number of clusters that were still talking – and that discussion was likely more important than the discussion of the bigger group.

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.

 

Is there a clash between automation and human-centered design?

 

human centered automation.jpgI was in a discussion a few weeks ago when someone raised the point that all future designs should be human-centered. When I first heard this, it conflicted a bit with my perspective about automation and the need to separate normal from the unusual.

 

I then began to think about what they probably meant. They didn’t really mean that human’s need to be in the center of everything but instead: if human interaction is required then focus first on designing and delivering great user experiences.

 

My view is that the automation of the mundane is part of having a human-centered solution. Why would someone want to be there if they are not adding value? Automating out normal is really empathizing with the user’s needs and pain points.

 

When we’re doing a human-centered system, we should be assessing the need to engage user and maximize outcomes. Some say that in order to be human-centered, you need to develop an emotional connection. Since there are positive and negative emotions, I’d rather the solution be one where the user feels needed as opposed to along for the ride.

 

Using the understanding of the users, their skills, availability and connections provides the contextual understanding to facilitate interactions helping users find each other and build a community. So I don’t think there is a conflict at all, as long as we’re maximizing the value of the user’s time.

 

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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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