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

Collaboration between humans and automation

Human Automation.pngFor a long time I have been expressing the need to look at and understand human augmented automation and concepts like attention engineering. Here is an article titled Human-Agent Collectives that recognizes:


“People's activities and collaborations are becoming ever more dependent upon and intertwined with this ubiquitous information substrate.”


And then discusses the issues from a number of perspectives.

Enterprise Automation: a cure for matrix management woes?


automated decisions.pngMatrix management came about to increase communications, flexibility and collaboration between the various parts of an organization. In the process, some people view that it has increased the latency in decision making and the ability of organizations to respond quickly to situations.

In a recent HBR article, Tom Peters wrote about moving Beyond the matrix organization. In the article, he talked about the issues matrix organization structures are trying to address and the various unintended consequences.


We have new tools today that can address communications, flexibility and collaboration (among other characteristics) that didn’t exist when the concept of matrix management was formed. The article states:


“Under the time-honored principle of management by exception, the organization runs itself until divergence from plan triggers off a warning signal. However, in today’s complex organizations, equipped with overly elaborate planning and control systems, warning signals are constantly being triggered. Giving the attention of top management to each (the implicit consequence of matrix structure) means dissipating the company’s sense of direction.”


These seems to be exactly the kind of issue that cognitive computing techniques and automation could be applied, sifting through these triggers and handling the ones that are understood and focusing our creativity on those that actually could benefit – we have the compute power. The alerts coming from these systems would not be distractions, but opportunities. We’re seeing exactly these techniques enabling cloud computing, enabling leveraging of large arrays of resources. Now it just needs to be expanded into the rest of the enterprise.



Hooked on email

email.GIFLike many people, I have written a number of rules in Outlook to pre-scan my mail placing messages into folders based on the likeliness I need to read it right away. I’m essentially trying to do a bit of attention engineering on my use of email.


The various newsletter received go into a “Info” folder. Documents I receive periodically but feel I must read go into a “read me” folder. I filter out a bunch of information into a junk folder, in addition to what the mail system just normally considers spam. I have folders defined on a number of topic specific areas that were important at various points of my career like ITAC certification, Windows support issues,,, I even have the subject of some high priority messages received  from specific individuals forwarded on as SMS to ensure that I see them quickly.


These techniques limit the amount of mail in my inbox by at least half. I didn’t realize the extent of this filtering performed by the Outlook client until a few weeks ago, I was going to be gone for a few days so I turned off my desktop machines (to save electricity) and was just going to use my phone to handle my email -- it was unmanageable.


ComputerWorld recently had an article about Why the enterprise can’t shake its email addiction that discussed why email is so important to business, and why various other tools that we may move to in our personal lives can’t fill the role at work. The items covered in the article reinforced my views that this problem is going to be around for a while.


I don’t see anything really replacing the ubiquity of email any time soon, but we all probably have tricks to share on how we’re digging out of the blizzard that hits us every day. I don’t think I’ll be turning off all my Outlook clients again anytime soon.

How long until we’re all part of the Internet of Cars?

robots and cars.pngThe July issue of MIT Technology Review had an article stating The Internet of Cars Is Approaching a Crossroads.


“Officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, DC, will see the technology in action, in a demonstration organized by experts from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute and various communications equipment and car manufacturers.”


There are a number of efforts in this space including the Car2Car Communications Consortium looking for what to communicate and the best way to do so.


Recently the largest ever real-world vehicle-to-vehicle experiment—involving 2,800 vehicles has been under way in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It involves a wide variety of types of vehicles and drivers.


“The main purpose of the exercise is to record data to determine how effectively information is relayed between vehicles. But some participating drivers also receive dashboard alerts, offering a glimpse of how the technology may eventually work. These participants are shown a warning if, for example, another driver several cars ahead (and out of view) applies the brakes suddenly, or if their onboard computer notices another car approaching an intersection ahead at a speed that could cause a collision.”


This effort focuses on an area that I’ve mentioned before Attention Engineering and actionable information. There is definitely a need to present information into the driving process in a way that a non-technical user can interpret and change their behavior.


I see the potential for all kinds of interesting applications to assist drivers in addressing areas of concern and techniques beyond the current beeps and bells currently applied. Of course most of them need some way to customize them as well.


I purchased a car earlier this year and every time I pull the car out of the garage warnings go off with my car "thinking" that my storage shelf is somehow going to collide with the side of the car. These well understood situations can be identified, understood and avoided to minimize false alarms with the sensors that are in the cars today. Ensuring that the driver’s attention is only drawn to situations where it is needed may be as important as being able to identify the real situation. 

More thoughts about the automation of business processes

I was in a discussion yesterday with one of the researchers at the MIT Center for Digital Business. We were talking about automated workflow, tools like adaptive case management . Case management is normally a response to a request for service. For example: I can’t get to this node on the network or my password doesn’t work.


The Pareto principle comes into play when trying to automate - most of these issues are straightforward. As you look at automation, the degree of variability and unpredictability are core concerns about what can be automated.


As decision making processes take advantage of greater sensing and the analytic capabilities enabled by more processing power they can categorize the variability and understand its structure. If the response required remains unpredictable though, human intervention will still be required. When you are trying to perform attention engineering to maximize the value generation of employees, the decisions that can be automated are important. Automation can say:


  1. It will do the task
  2. It will not do the task because it shouldn’t be done
  3. Some one/thing else to needed to address the situation




Depending on how that decisions making process breaks down, significant amounts of work can be automated.


This is the more utopian view of automation that I mentioned last week.

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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.
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.