Archive for The Future of IT

UI of the future

// November 17th, 2008 // No Comments » // Collaboration, The Future of IT

Remember the holographic, hand gesture computers used in the movie Minority Report? Well it turns out that the technology was more real that we believed. One of the co-founders of Oblong (see video below) was the science advisor for the flick and much of what we saw in the movie was developed in his lab at MIT.

This technology is now available, sort of, to everyone (if you have the dough). As this system is meant to interact with projectors and computers in a specially designed room, it’s probably not something you are going to be able to buy at your local best buy soon. But it does bode well for the future, as more and more emerging UI technologies become main stream. The advent of multi-touch interfaces and the now infamous “Electoral Map” screen used by CNN during the election, means some of this stuff will start being main stream.

I for one, am excited about that prospect. The keyboard and mouse, and a single small screen (yes, even your 22″ wide screen is small) are limitations to creativity and the visual relationship of data.

Have a look at the future:

g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

The future is here my friends, and it looks bright.

Email by Pony Express?

// June 11th, 2008 // No Comments » // Email, Tech for the masses, The Future of IT

I was stumbing around the Net and I found this article on the Popular Mechanics web site of all places. It talks about an initiative to bring the information age to remote villages in 3rd world countries by using store and forward technology. Each village has a local server which store cached web pages and email, and then this company has buses, scooters and oxen decked out with wireless equipment that picks up the date from the local servers as they drive thru the village. They then drive into or near by a bigger city that has wireless access to the Internet and automatically forwards the email on, and picks up any emails destined for the local village.

See article here.

This brings things into perspective a couple of things for me. One is how much we take for granted our instant and high speed access to the Net, and the other is how creative people can get to solve real world problems.

One of the disturbing aspects to the explosion in use of the web and wireless technology in the developed nations, is the widening divide between the information haves have and have nots. This article shows that although that divide is real, it may not be quite as dire as I thought it was.

I’d be interested in hearing of other unique and creative methods being used to give people access to the web. Maybe a google search for another day!

A whole lot of dough just to get BO

// October 10th, 2007 // No Comments » // Business Intelligence, The business of IT, The Future of IT

Well the big news this week is the acquisition of Business Objects (they don”t like it shortened to BO, but it’s just natural to do so) by ERP giant SAP. (SAP buys Business Objects) SAP paid dearly to get BO, $6.8 billion to be precise. The question is where are the synergies and will they make their money back! BO is an SAP business partner and have constructed their products to access the SAP databases directly. SAP has their own line of analytic tools that they hawk to their ERP customers, but I suspect that will slowly be phased out in favour of the superior BO products.

Apparently, SAP is looking to grow it’s install base for it’s main ERP platform, and believes that existing BO customers will be a captive market for it. SAP needs to grow it’s foothold in the SMB market and sees BO as a way to expand it. However, it’s a bit like the tail wagging the dog. Smaller companies who can and do leverage the BO product suite will not necessarily want to be burdened with the expense and overhead of an SAP ERP. In fact, it’s probably a safe bet, that any company that is utilizing the BO tools effectively, already has some sort of ERP or other sophisticated solutions managing their business. After all, the analytics don’t help you if your data is crap, and to have good data requires good systems (and good people to use them).

So, will SAP penetrate the SMB market via BO? Probably a little but, but I doubt it will move many SMBs off their existing systems. They are saying, initially, BO will remain a separate operating unit, but with that much invested, you know that won’t stay that way for long. I hope they are not foolish enough to build in special features and functionality in the BO suite that will only work if you have the SAP ERP in place. That would be suicide. To me this is an act of desperation as the market for the big bang ERPs like SAP wanes, and the market for improved analytics grows.

Unfortunately for SAP, the availability of low cost alternatives to BO will force prices down. BO’s new SaaS offering is a good go forward strategy, but with the relatively low cost of Compute power and Network access that is available, they will soon have competitors in the SaaS space as well. That, combined with the growth in the open source market will spell less and less licensing revenue in the long term.

I wish SAP luck, and I hope they are successful, but I hope they kept a little bit of money in the bank to buy some deodorant if the BO gets too bad.

Like it or not, Spreadsheets are here to stay

// October 3rd, 2007 // No Comments » // Business Intelligence, Collaboration, Office 2.0, The Future of IT

The venerable and well respected site CIO.COM has posted an article called “How to Say Goodbye to Spreadsheets“, which caught my eye. Having lived through the early years of spreadsheets, and having witnessed their evolution into a standard tool of business, I was curious. Having had to deal with the follies and foibles of spreadsheet usage within the companies for whom I have worked, I was hopeful.

But alas, just another case of sensationalized, presumptuous and misleading headlines.

To think that BI tools will eliminate spreadsheets is naive in the extreme. Can BI reduce your dependency on spreadsheets, absolutely, but eliminate them?? No way. I herein cite several major reasons for why spreadsheets are here to stay:

  1. People are basically lazy. Spreadsheets are easy and accessible, BI tools take time to configure and are generally restricted to a select few (due to high licensing costs primarily) within an organization. The poor relations will still be using spreadsheets and thumbing their noses at the BI enabled elite.
  2. BI tools are only as good at the data they have access to (ie: the predefined views that some techie type has deemed acceptable for the users to, well, view) A good portion of spreadsheets in any size organization will no doubt have data that exists no where else but in the spreadsheet. This goes back to number one above, as it’s easier to create a spreadsheet to track new data points than to get IT to build it into existing systems, and then get it into the views accessible to the BI tools.
  3. My experience with two major deployments of BI tools in large organizations, is… that most BI tool users, use the BI tools for 90% of the job and then export to Excel to finish it. It may be stupid, redundant and unnecessary, but that’s reality
  4. Spreadsheets are the tool of the masses. They are available to everyone and are easily shared. It allows anyone with just a little bit of training and a good deal of spare time, to build, maintain, discard and re-build virtually anything and everything. Just as Wikis have allowed anyone to contribute their ideas on any topic on the wiki, spreadsheets have enabled business users to do their own thing. It’s called freedom baby.

Now, I am not condoning the misuse of spreadsheets and I agree wholeheartedly with the reasons why BI tools are better, but from a practical standpoint, it will be a long long time, if ever, before spreadsheets are gone. Just look at all the free open source and free web based spreadsheet tools out there (eg: Open Office, ZOHO, Google Documents, etc…) and you’ll see their usage is growing. Even if corporate IT departments were to deploy MS Office without Excel, people will find a way to get access to the spreadsheets they need.
So, Philosphically, using BI tools in place of spreadsheets would be almost nirvana for large companies, but philosophies are what gets the user’s jobs done.

What’s your take?

Geeks of the world unite and get Chic

// October 2nd, 2007 // No Comments » // IT Professionalism, The Future of IT

Can “Geek Chic” help reverse the IT staffing shortage? This is an interesting article I read at about the shortage of IT staff and how we aren’t doing enough to attract High School and College kids to follow a technical track. Athough it touches on the real issue of shortage of qualified staff, it’s more an article no how the Geek image of IT is partly to blame for not attracting young folks. It also goes on to say how people are trying to change that image, and that the TV Networks are now making Nerds and Geeks primetime stars with shows like “Chuck“.

From my perspective, turning IT types into caricatures will only help to reinforce the negative stereotype. It may bring it to more households, but me thinks very few young adults are saying to themselves, I want to be a Geek when I grow up. I don’t think the answer is to make Geek more Chic, but to attack the Stereotype (I haven’t used a pocket protector in years!!) head-on. If you look at almost any profession, and you will find a subset of profession specific “Geeks”, but they don’t define the profession. IT professionals cross the entire political, ethnic, sexual orentation and religious (and non-religious) spectrum.

That’s why I applaud the efforts of the British¬† e-Skills UK for their Revitalize IT initiative to promote IT professionalism and understand what impression kids really have of IT. Is there a similar initiative in the US or Canada? If anyone knows, please comment and let us know. I know there are groups like CIPS in Canada that do a lot to promote professionalism, and I know many companies have campaigns to market the IT profession to University grads, but who is educating the kids in high school, before they make their past secondary decisions?

So, let’s make this a call to all IT professionals out there to help kill the Geek stereotype and promote it to our young¬† folk. If you don’t believe there is a crisis ahead, check out this article that shows enrollment in Computer Science programs is 39% lower than in 2000. Couple that with the number of Baby Boomer who will be retiring in the next 5-10 years, and you’ve got a big void coming. The risk is economic and has significant implications to whether North America will maintain it’s forefront status in Technological innovation. I’m sure there are many who thing it;’s already too late, but I say better late than never.