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Organizations need the right information at the right time to make accurate decisions and to optimize business processes.
Yet the role of information, and the way an organization’s employees interact with that information, is rapidly changing.
Working with forecasting consultancy Z_punkt, Accenture evaluated the key trends that will shape information practices in the near future and developed scenarios of how workers will use information in 2015.
People are handling and making sense of data in new ways due to globalization, cultural and generational shifts and new technologies. Emerging markets are providing not just new competition for Western firms, but also new customers and new sources of talent.
There is a growing need for “glocalization,” adapting global offerings and organizations to regional needs. Such customization requires a bottom-up approach that captures comprehensive knowledge about regional distinctions.
Even in their native countries, organizations must take into account cultural shifts. In 2015, the majority of the workforce will be from the Millennial generation, which has grown up with digital technology and has shown an interest in flexible working conditions and flat hierarchies.
Consumers are increasingly well-informed and discerning, with technology helping them to compare products. These customers will be less driven by brand loyalty and will seek personalized offerings that provide convenience at any time or location. Traditional roles will blend, as consumers seek to create value themselves, share with others and draw guidance from the collective intelligence of their social networks.
The new corporate culture must embrace constant change. Digital technologies and globalization will allow imitations of successful products and services to come to market even more quickly. This will compel high performers to shorten their innovation cycles and develop quicker, more flexible business models. Relationships among organizations will be formed project-by-project.
New technologies will support the changing workplace. Organizations will no longer need to invest large sums in IT infrastructure. Instead, they will purchase IT capacity as needed, using cloud computing and software as a service.
Computers and sensors will be pervasive, embedded in all manner of objects, from coffee machines to always-on mobile devices. User experience will become more immersive thanks to wall-sized organic LED displays and miniature projectors, called pico beamers, which are capable of projecting on nearby surfaces.
Already, video gamers are moving their bodies to control play, and computer understanding of gestures and speech are advancing to turn the human body into a powerful input device.
Corporate information has reached a level of formidable complexity, all while demands for openness and real-time decision making increase. The challenge is to pick out the most relevant, high-quality information while understanding both the context in which the data was found and the situation in which it will be used.
Three concepts will be central to organizations’ efforts to manage information in 2015: analytics, semantics and bionics. Analytics is the generation of value from mass data. Semantics uses metadata to understand and describe the information. Bionics uses the model of nature to design systems that learn, heal and organize themselves.
Even today, the amount of data stored within organizations is vast and continuing to grow. Metadata, or information that describes information, is needed to make sense of all of the value hidden within.
When every electronic document is described by metadata, computers will be able to make connections across organizational silos, with partner organizations, or across a global semantic web.
Future employees will be able to create queries such as: “Find me all of our research projects between 2010 and 2015 and give me the names of the respective project managers.”
Today’s information worker sits at a personal computer loaded with standardized software drawing on the resources of the local hard drive and processor. If a hard drive crashes or a laptop is stolen, the data stored locally is lost.
In the future, employees will collaborate with their colleagues using cloudtops, always-online, “thin client” computers. These devices will have small processors and operating systems, and will rely on cloud-based data and services. Employees will be able to access customized applications or to create their own mashups using point-and-click toolboxes.
Autonomic computing will keep the IT environment safe by imitating a self-regulating biological system, continuously checking and optimizing its status.
Employees are already collaborating through wikis, blogs, social bookmarking and other tools. But, these applications were developed separately and in parallel.
There is no clear model for how these diverse tools can work together to achieve business goals. By 2015, integrated collaboration suites will enable employees to be more productive. Complex telepresence systems that understand gestures and facial expressions will allow fuller communications than today’s Web conferencing.
The result will be new business models: crowdsourcing will offer just-in-time experts the way that cloud computing offers applications. Bioteaming will use principles learned from nature to optimize how people work together: just as groups of ants or bees achieve goals collectively via non-verbal communication, so will computers share employee status and work information in ways that will help the group complete successful projects.
Four scenarios give a glimpse at what information management may look like in the future.
Real-time Reality Mining
As we move around with our cell phones and as we update social media status, we create an “information shadow” of our activities. When this data is added to information from ubiquitous sensors and Internet-connected objects, computers will have a rich picture of real-world activity to analyze. Predictive algorithms will anticipate behavior both at an individual and collective level.
Such “real-time reality mining” will, on the one hand, enhance the organization’s ability to react instantly to changes in the behavior of customers and competitors. On the other hand, business processes will become more spontaneous and situational and instantly adapt to the state of reality to seize ad-hoc business opportunities.
We can see this technology today in the Citysense iPhone app, which shows iPhone users on a city map, allowing users to find the hot places to be. In another example, Path Intelligence uses cell phone signals to feed data into tools that monitor paths of consumers in shopping locations such as malls. These tools can help mall owners optimize floor plans and tenant mixes.
Augmented Social Workspaces
Augmented reality superimposes computer information onto the real world. For example, a user of the smart phone app TwitARound can visit a public place, such as a park, and see what the people there are posting on Twitter. The smart phone screen will show the view through the phone’s camera and the Twitter messages will appear next to the pictures of the nearby users.
Sixth Sense, a research project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, uses a pico beamer to project data on nearby surfaces. The user can control the application via hand gestures.
These technologies will combine with social networking trends to create augmented social workspaces. In 2015, colleagues will be able to stay in touch wherever they may be, and it will be easy to find the best people for any project. Employees will flexibly mash up presentations, notes, and data, communicating via high-definition video conferences and workspaces with simultaneous document editing features.
Experts as a Service
Just as software as a service (SaaS) allows organizations to quickly ramp up their IT capacity as needed, so “everything as a service” (XaaS) can provide just-in-time brain power rented from a network of experts.
The crowdsourcing platform Humangrid imitates the model of grid computing, coordinating human “processors” to execute small intellectual tasks in parallel, such as creating text, translating documents and classifying text and images. The open innovation platform Innocentive offers 180,000 experts large challenges, where the successful solution can earn as much as US$50,000 to $1 million in compensation.
In 2015, a project manager will rely on a virtual army of experts, a network of skills accessible 24/7. A project manager will be able to post a challenge of any kind and receive a solution in minutes. The project manager can integrate an expert for Indian youth markets or African solar projects just by one click—without entering into separate negotiations with individuals.
The core of the service is the virtual marketplace and bidding engine for challenges and solvers. Skill assessment, matching algorithms, presence and quality management enable the high service quality of XaaS.
Personal Decision Engine
Knowledge workers in 2015 will use personalized information hubs that continuously adapt to their actual tasks. An interface that takes into account the brain and behavior at work will display key performance indicators and alternative scenarios.
Users of this visual decision space will be able to zoom into details and travel back and forth in time with simulations. Visualizations of the complex data facilitate decision making and show the outcomes with predictive analytics.
These personal decision engines will support analytical and creative thinking processes on individual and group levels with pre-defined thinking and decision strategies. Successful solutions will be automatically shared with colleagues. The personal decision engine will dramatically improve a company's ability to create concepts and develop solutions quickly and transparently.
Today, Chordiant's Visual Business Director cockpit enables visualization, testing and execution of company-wide customer experience strategies. Its highly intuitive three-dimensional interface allows users to assess the implications of potential strategies.
As we have seen, there are many potential scenarios for information management in the future. Such scenarios affect organizations on a strategic, high-level perspective as well as in terms of productivity levels to redefine how employees can successfully communicate and collaborate going forward.
Organizations need to evaluate how those same scenarios affect their businesses and develop a strategic roadmap of their information management efforts.
Information management has the power to transform businesses and will even increase its strategic importance in the future. Making sense of data and finding an appropriate balance between openness and security are among the most pressing challenges for business executives today.
Communication and collaboration techniques will be central tenets of the future. Making unconnected steps, therefore, is not enough: a long-term vision must be developed.
March 12, 2010
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