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

This week is National Engineer’s Week.

eweek.pngThis week is National Engineer’s Week.

 

Founded by NSPE in 1951, EWeek (February 22–28, 2015) is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers.

 

I mentioned the Raspberry Pi in space effort and will be judging a robotics competition later this week. What engineering related activities will be going on near you?

Rethinking User Interfaces

User interface design has gone down some interesting paths in recent months. I just saw this project based on some work out of Purdue that creates 3D designs much like a potter creates pottery. The project is called Handy-Potter.

 

 

The program demonstrates a gesture-based shape modeling, winning the best paper award in ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conference. The 3D designs created by this approach is much more intuitive than using traditional CAD tools.

 

Now that computers are starting to have more gesture-based interfaces, some real innovation in business applications and their interface should be possible. It may not be limited to PCs though, with the level of surveillance enabled by the Internet of Things, we may just tap into the sensing that's around us.

 

There are also cases where the interface is the sensor itself. A while back, I purchased the Kinect Interface for windows to enable some 3D scanning (of larger objects). It actually worked fairly well even with just the 3D builder from the Microsoft store.

 

 

Most of the real design heavy lifting (to stitch together a 3D model) is left to the software, so the user interface is intuitive.

 

With these relatively low-cost but high-power capabilities, maybe it will bring the Minority Report style interface into normal business applications.

 

As I said back in 2006 when I saw G-Speak:

“I can't wait to see a BPMN interface defined that allows the movement of work functions and resources around a screen. I can easily see a room of business folks really think about the problem differently when they can physically flail around and reach a common understanding of new and existing business functions.”

Why is the IoT viewed with such potential and confusion?

Internet of things.pngThere is a fundamental shift underway from dumb devices where organizations guess about how their being used, when and by whom. Now a physical product (from almost any industry) has the potential to be a first-class participant in its own value chain. It can talk back to its creators in engineering and manufacturing as well as those who service it, cutting downtime and improving its use. It has the potential to talk with (where everyone seems to be focused) those that actually use it, making their life better and more productive. There is also the potential to collaborate with sales and marketing to share what users are thinking based on where, when and how it’s used. Devices/products are becoming members of an environmental view of the context that surrounds them. Although it involves information technology, it is about a shift in business value.

 

This challenges the foundations of many of our existing products and services. Devices can have an active role in CRM and marketing. We can shift the analytics view from the past to the future. We can use the information to gamify processes and shift behaviors. As this understanding increases, what is measured and the decisions made will shift.

 

As I mentioned last month, the impact on our definition of services will shift as we understand and embrace the potential. This change will shift much of what exists (people, products and services) in our environment/industry.

2015 – a year of service innovation

crystalball.gifI believe that 2015 will be reflected on as a year of real service innovation. All those technological trends of the past decade are going to come to roost in the services of organizations in every industry. Establishments that view services as someone else’s problem will be left in the dust by those that realize the technologies of IoT, automation and analytics are causing change into the expectations of business value by the services that surround them. New services will spring into existence enabled by the flexibility of solutions like 3D printing, SDN, OpenStack and software defined anything (SDx). This post will try to justify that prediction, in a number of ways.

 

The US (NSF, White House) and EU governments recognize that there is a transformation taking place with services and are looking to see how governments can invest in service innovation. They know that the models and techniques used previously are not up to the task and are looking to shift those efforts to take advantage of the abundance of information technology capabilities that now exist and improve the understanding and capability in the services space.

 

The wearable devices we’ve seen to date have remained relatively stand-alone, providing a bit of interaction and information. As the services that consume that information advance, we’ll see a 3rd generation of wearable devices that interact with their environment, to provide a more proactive set of capabilities. This will be part of a shift in the Internet of Things that will stand up from its current crawling position to (at least) toddle along moving close to an Internet of Everything (and Anything), focusing on an enabled environment.

 

This will shift business resources away from process workers to a more automated environment consuming more and a different kind of analytics, moving to a human-augmented automation approach in many areas (rather than the other way around). Those interested should invest in the book, The Second Machine Age. These approaches will provide greater insight and transparency to customer actions as well as intent, enabling businesses to proactively provide services.

 

For the consumer the move to services that enable a digital life will continue and accelerate. Using the techniques described above, continuous monitoring and assistance will become a possibility. There will be concerns expressed about this monitoring moving from optional to required, in order to receive certain kinds of services. Similarly, the concerns about autonomous cars will shift from an ‘are they safe’ footing to ‘should they be compulsory’ discussion. Although we’ll not see mandatory automation/tracking… in 2015, the discussion and concerns will move from pockets of zealots into the mainstream, impacting everything from healthcare services to insurance…

 

No discussion of the future is complete without some mention of security and privacy. As enterprises move workloads to the cloud, enterprise-level security needs to follow. Most organizations do not have their processes at this level of maturity so security and privacy will bloom into an even larger service industry, since help will be needed. Although cloud computing helps address the issues of limited energy and resources, security and privacy protection services will become a critical concern in the forefront of business in 2015. The same will be true at the micro level as embedded devices leak more behavior information into the environment and the need for their protection becomes clearer.

 

The services for manufacturing and product production will undergo a shift in 2015 as well. Mass production will still be king, but personalized manufacturing will shake up planning in the global economy. According to Gartner, sales of 3D printers will double each year between 2015 and 2018, and exceed sales of more than 2 million. This will trickle down into transportation, logistics and industries other than manufacturing. We’ll see the products become platforms for further customization. Much like you’ve been able to have Coke or M&Ms personalized for a while now, it will be possible for a greater percentage of products (both physical and services). With the additional of sensors, greater connectivity and computing, these personalized platforms will further expand the momentum for intelligent services. These custom platforms will allow greater consumer engagement, with the producer as well as with the other consumers of the product.

 

In the predictive and analytic space the solutions will shift to enable greater flexibility in engineering the attention of service desk personnel as well as the people who call in. Next generation BPO/call centers will rely on greater levels of automation and less on low cost workers. That shift will not take place in 2015, but the products targeted at this shift will become more prevalent this year. These capabilities will move into other business processes as well, enabling them (HR, Finance…) to become systems of action for the enterprise, shifting to address business goals while at the same time providing greater insight and transparency about shifts in usage and consumption.  

 

The final area I wanted to mention was that the interfaces into these services will change too. We will see a reemergence of augmented reality. Virtual reality research received a great deal of attention in the 1980s, but didn't take off due to the expensive hardware, poor sensing, and display capabilities. All of these limits have now been largely addressed and the ubiquitous mobile device (we all carry) makes it a natural for our always on world. Juniper Research states that annual revenues from mobile augmented reality (AR) services and applications will reach $1.2 billion by 2015, moving beyond the demonstration devices by Google and others onto the edge of mainstream.

 

One aspect of this services shift that needs to be considered is the difference between the desired objectives and the unintended consequences that result. This will be a rapidly changing space, so an iterative approach that starts small and works up will be required. Joining organizations like ISSIP and moinitoring the success (and failures) of others will also be a good investment in 2015.

Automation prioritization

 

Since I have been putting out some posts on automation, I’ve been getting some feedback from coworkers. One was a post titled: 8 Questions to Ask before You Automate. It holds some useful perspectives to evalutate if automation is even applicable to a situation.

 

Back in the early 90s, I led a project called Knowledge-based Tool Design focused on improving the productivity of tooling designers for automotive manufacturing. We used the capabilities of CAD tools to try and automate as much as we could, related to the creation of the machines that facilitate car assembly. This was a high value effort, since late stage engineering changes in the car parts themselves have implications on the tooling and can delay the startup of manufacturing. Anything we could do to address the reengineering of tooling had a direct effect on time-to-market.

 

We would load the car component models that need to be clamped and welded into the CAD system and try to create automated techniques to define and design the tooling needed. After firing rays all over the place to determine entry routes for robotic arms holding the clamping and welding tools, it became clear that people can look at parts and tooling and determine routes for entry very easily compared to doing this programmatically. Creating these designs well definitely involved creativity and intuition.

 

What people could not do reliably was define the underlying Bill-of-Materials need to create that robotic assembly, physically. So yes, I learned back then that it is very useful to understand what people and/or computers are good at, when defining the right approach to address repeatable, higher-value, computationally capable tasks with automation first.

 

Whether it is designing tools, answering calls or writing software – even though the automation capabilities are radically improving, this assessment is still required. I usually think of it as a 3 dimensional matrix and the further away from the origin, the more likely the automation effort will be effective.

 

 automation axis.png

Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do something, especially when there is a constraint on the effort available to tackle a set of tasks. We need to prioritize.

 

 

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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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