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

Personal agents and services – we need to expect more

gossip.pngOne area I find exciting is the collaboration between humans and automation that is going to have a significant impact on the future of services. An area that is needed to support this collaboration is Personal agents and there has been substantial interest lately.

 

Bill Gates says he is working on a Personal Agent and you may have seen (included in Windows 10 beta) Cortana -- you know who Cortana is if you play Halo. This is pretty exciting, but I am sure there are some people who remember Clippy and wonder if this will just be a reincarnation. I don’t think so!

 

We have so much more context recognition capability now than we had back then (as well as the computing power to go with it). With all the data around us, there is a need to use agents to help us focus our attention on those areas that need our creativity.

 

I can’t wait to see where the industry takes this, since moving from a generic approach like Cortana to a business specific approach is inevitable. The reassessment and reinvestment in agents is definitely one of the technologies that will shift services in 2015 and later. Industry and even company specific agents will definitely fall out of this work, so we might as well plan to experiment and understand where it will do the most good.

Economic growth but flat energy consumption

1st law of thermo.pngThis seems to strain the first law of thermodynamics.

 

According to this article in IEEE spectrum, the US economy has grown 8% since 2007 but the annualized electricity demand has been flat.

 

“The third annual Sustainable Energy in America fact book from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that electricity demand growth, which has slowed since 1990, has come to a grinding halt.”

For more information, visit the Factbook portal on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy website.

 

Although there is quite a bit of data about what made this happen, energy efficiency through computing had a role to play, through:

  • Smarter buildings
  • Smarter metering
  • And increased efficiency through automation

Most of these efforts have been done in relatively isolation, when we move into a more holistic approach to IoT it will likely fuel even greater efficiencies.

Automation and business restraints…

any ideas illustration.pngThe concept of ‘golden handcuffs’ has been around for a long time. This is a job that has such good benefits or salary that it can be very difficult to leave, no matter how much it frustrates you.

 

As we move into a work environment that has ever greater use of automation in knowledge management roles, there is the likelihood of a ‘steel handcuff’ scenario, where a business benefits greatly from automation but eventually loses the ability to effectively maintain their rules and models. They maximize the financial benefits and reduce the workforce to the point where they no longer have the critical mass of industry knowledge to adjust to future business demands. They essentially get locked into the current model.

 

This issue can be overcome by understanding the skills and value of the industry expertise they have as well as the dynamics and value of the automation components. If they feel they can’t afford to have that expertise available full time, they need to devise a consulting supported approach to keep the expertise available, since it will be needed sometime. Tweaks and experiments should be part of the automation strategic model, since it should never be considered done.

 

Some organizations have experienced this scenario with their existing COBOL environments, for example. Their systems work today, but most of the people who understood it have either retired or been let go. To make a change may require a total redesign/rewrite, to develop a new crop of people who understand the business needs.

 

My view is that the foundations and rules should be viewed as a starting point for continuous adjustment and understanding and not a final product that can be declared complete.  On-going interaction with the business will be needed.

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.

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.

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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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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.