Sizing Up the Next Big Thing

By Jeff Wacker

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There is an explosion coming. It will happen without making a sound. It will devastate more companies and transform more industries than any physical explosion ever could.

It is the coming explosion of information.

While much of this digital information will come from the entertainment industry in the form of digitized movies, music and video, the business environment will (and is) undergo a parallel and equal explosion of content.

Where is all this information coming from and what can companies do to get ready for the future of information?

First of all, it's important to know the challenges and the six primary sources fueling the explosion:

The first is the movement to real time. This transition started with mainframe batch processing and is acceleraing today as companies understand the value of “now.” The movement from transactions to events is already underway, but will accelerate ruthlessly in the near term.

The second is what we call “meta-bytes.” It is information about information. It is the opportunity to understand where, why, who, etc. about the what and when of information now being gathered.

The third represents the explosion at the edge. The embedded technology revolution has begun and is populating our world with computational devices so small as to disappear from the naked eye. Yet each of these devices has the opportunity, indeed the probability, of sending information in unprecedented quantities. Trillions of sensors feeding billions of devices through millions of servers to your enterprise.

The fourth concerns the information exchange with others in the business ecosystem. Maintaining a “four walls” restriction on customer and supplier information is no longer a viable option. Inter-enterprise intimacy is about understanding your customer's information along with that of your supplier.

The fifth element is information that moves us from the present to the future. The type, source and form of information that serves as an indicator of the future varies significantly from traditional corporate information.

And finally, the sixth element is the speed of it all. Even if you have the same amount of information, but you compress it into smaller and smaller timeframes, you've increased the volume of information. Increased speed of business decisions, more accurate and quicker reporting of financial assets, improved visibility into operational processes all require faster, more frequent information flows.

The resulting explosion will drive major changes in infrastructure and applications, people care and management, and in the business processes through which the information will be turned into profit.

Now that you know what challenges await your company and organization, what can you do today to be ready for the future?

The irony in this puzzle is that to get ahead of the information technology explosion requires using technology to acquire, assimilate, analyze, manage, transform, archive and act upon this overwhelming amount of information.

Here is my Top Eight list of technologies to get ahead of the curve:

Ubiquitous/Embedded Technology This is where the real money is made. How a company manages its “edge” will be a strong indicator of its future success. Radio frequency identification (RFID), micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), along with other sensor technologies, as well as embedded computer capabilities must all be managed effectively to understand and optimize the operational aspects of the enterprise.

Mobile Technologies Those individuals who work away from the traditional IT architecture, what we call the “orphans of the information revolution,” are increasingly using information to assist them in accomplishing their jobs. New models are driving mobility deeper into activities of the “field workers” who are utilizing information technology in progressively more aggressive ways.

Web Services A major promise of Web services is to create dynamic applications that drive business flexibility closer to the end user. This, and the transformation of “legacy applications” to an architecture that is flexible, fluid and resilient makes Web services a critical component in everyone's IT strategy.

Intelligent Agent Technology As humans are increasingly unable to withstand the coming onslaught of information, companies will turn to higher and higher degrees of automation. Intelligent agent technology (Agentry) is the class of capabilities that enables this automation and forever changes the role humans play in the business world.

Predictive Technologies The “cause and effect” world requires companies to change faster and faster -- often beyond the ability of the enterprise to function optimally. Through a group of capabilities known as “predictive technologies,” companies will be able to obtain a forward view of probable future change requirements enabling leadership to anticipate earlier the changes coming, allowing for additional “front-end time” to accomplish required transformations.

Modeling & Active Simulation As complexity increases, the ability for organizations to understand and act out the required decisions becomes severely impacted. Tools such as modeling and active simulation hold the promise of multiplying an organization's Hrair, or the ability of its people to concentrate on a maximum of seven things simultaneously.

By expanding the number of things employees can think about and do at one time, these tools can help people provide new levels of insight as well as foresight.

Grid/Utility/Cluster Computing Powering the capabilities above will fall to an entirely new IT infrastructure that economically taps into the exponentially increasing power of computing called for by Moore 's Law.

The Internet The dot-com debacle of the 1990s put a pall over the Internet as a major element of change. But companies are quietly transforming the business landscape through the use of this pervasive technology that is truly transforming the world in which we live.

As companies are overtaken by the explosion of information, they will have varying responses. Those who attempt to scale existing capabilities will not survive. Those who understand the impacts of the explosion will channel it to their benefit and thrive in a new world awash with information.

Jeff Wacker is an EDS fellow and futurist. He can be reached at EDSFellowsBlog@eds.com.