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

What is automation?

IT automation.pngLately I’ve been talking with teams about ‘automation’. I am beginning to think that automation activities are a lot like innovation for two reasons:

  1. The definition is very dependent on the role of the individual
  2. It can be identified by: I’ll know it when I see it

My definition is:

Anytime a computer/system can do something where a person adds little to no value

 

It’s not just robotics or cognitive computing, it can be as simple as automatically updating information between systems (e.g., master data management) -- so people don’t need to swivel between systems to perform updates.

 

IT related automation can range across a variety of areas:

  • Plan
  • Define
  • Build
  • Run

The role of people and their expertise is critical and one of the things we need to determine is where their attention would be better served and how automation can enable us to maximize the value from it. Each of these areas has a range of tools that are related to incremental or disruptive improvement.

 

The computational capabilities are there to facilitate significantly greater automation, we just need to understand our options. Strategically the options and impact are going to be immense. Cloud computing is essentially enabled by the automation of infrastructure deployment and management. We now need to take it deeper into the Application Portfolio and the business processes themselves.

 

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.

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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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