|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2004|
|Topic:||The Road to Seamless Computing|
|Title:||Business and Marketing Director|
|Organisation:||Microsoft South Africa|
Mike Cathie is the Business and Marketing Director of Microsoft South Africa. He has an extensive consumer marketing background, Mike’s responsibilities included managing Microsoft’s consumer marketing operation, their business marketing portfolio and the local MSN portal. In this role, he focuses on developing Microsoft’s South African marketplace and their vision of an interconnected environment. Mike Cathie has a national higher diploma in marketing from Technikon Witwatersrand, the IMM AAA diploma and is currently completing his MBA.
Will PCs grow in importance to the point that they start to play an indispensable part in the lives of most people? By the end of this decade, will few want to live without one? The next great opportunity for the technology industry is to create software that breaks down the barriers between people, systems and information. This is the vision of seamless computing; but, if we are to change the way people think about computers, the focus must be on building systems that can be wholly trusted.
No one can deny that the personal computer has had a huge impact on our world in the past quarter century. Ironically though, the PC has not reached the same level of importance to most people as other technological revolutions. Most people could survive without a computer – could they get along without their car or telephone? Integrated world Perhaps this is because, for much of the last 25 years, the typical person’s adaptation to the computer has usually involved sitting down at the PC and interacting through the keyboard and mouse. Then came the Internet and the idea that computers were just powerful storage and number crunching machines went swiftly out the window. Now computers are connected to the social and emotional aspects of life. People use their PCs to exchange e-mail and instant messages with friends and family. People use computers for day-to-day organisation and collaboration with other people. Computer technology has indeed moved from the desktop to power a wide range of devices that surround us and make computing truly personal. The intelligence of the PC has found its way into more and more devices, from personal gadgets such as pagers, to mobile phones, to PDAs. Many people do not leave home without at least one of these. Powerful computer technology is also finding its way into the car. Similarly, wireless networking technologies are becoming more commonplace in homes, offices and public spaces such as airports and coffee shops. The reach of the Internet has moved far beyond the desktop. Is it evident that PCs will grow in importance to the point that they start to play an indispensable part in the lives of most people? Would we agree that, by the end of this decade, few would want to live without one? Technology’s potential If you can conceive the idea that, by the end of the decade, we’ll have over half a billion people who, for so many things that they do – whether it’s scheduling, photos, music, organising meetings, planning forecasts – will need software to carry out the tasks, then you’ll realise that there is more productivity to be gained in the advances that will come in the rest of this decade than the industry has delivered in our entire history up to this date. Technology’s potential is still far from being realised. Realising this potential creates the vision of businesses achieving optimal efficiency, productivity and agility. It means doing more with less at lower cost. It means totally streamlined business processes. For knowledge workers, it is the vision of easy-to-use computers that take work, efficiency and productivity to the limit – whether in the office, on the road or at home. It means software that helps achieve career ambitions. For consumers it is the realisation of affordable access to the latest, greatest technology. It means being connected wherever you want to be. It means taking everything you enjoy – photography, music, home videos, gaming – to a whole new level. It means empowering your children to learn in ways you never dreamed of. For developers, it means the opportunity to create cutting-edge applications and services on the best, most flexible platform. It means enabling a new era of unlimited business opportunity. For underserved communities, it means gaining access to technology that enables them to succeed at work, at school and throughout their lives. The next great opportunity The next great opportunity for the technology industry is to create software that breaks down the barriers between people, systems and information. This is the vision of seamless computing. A seamless computing world is a world in which today’s technology boundaries are transcended – boundaries between people and the technology they use, between systems, between work and home, between applications and between networks, are eliminated. Seamless computing will enable this because it mirrors the way the real world works – it is all about using the power of advanced software to bring computers into your world, rather than forcing you into theirs. Seamless computing unlocks the potential of the incredible advances of software, hardware and connectivity of the coming years. It expands the possibilities of computing, offering new opportunities for software and hardware companies to create compelling services and new customer experiences. The entire industry has the opportunity to drive the next wave of innovation and to make computers an even more significant and essential part of the way we live and work. Software, obviously, plays a key role here. Ultimately, seamless computing puts the user in control of the technology, creating a personalised and consistent experience no matter where they are or what device they’re using. It enables richer and more natural communication across different media, bringing together the best of e-mail, instant messaging, Weblogs, telephones and in-person meetings. It builds security, identity and trust relationships into every layer of the computing ecosystem, hardware to software and services. In the workplace, seamless computing moves beyond isolated applications and data towards tools and services that help every worker easily and quickly find information, make decisions and collaborate in ways that simply aren’t possible today. It seamlessly connects the people, processes, information and relationships that are critical to business success. It enables powerful and capable systems that dynamically organise and manage themselves, making implementation and management chores less of a barrier to technology adoption. It can help companies move beyond one-way customer relationships and create real, productive partnerships with customers. And it can transform the ‘real-time enterprise’ into the ‘real-time industry,’ where companies and their partner and supplier networks operate as a single, coordinated entity. Trustworthy before seamless Yet with the goal to change the way people think about computers, the objective must be focused on trust. How do we engender the same kind of trust and confidence in computing as one would have when using the phone or flipping a light switch? Software does some amazing things, but will the network be reliable enough, robust enough to protect information so that people feel that their privacy is preserved? Against the backdrop of cybercrime will users be willing to use e-mail and avoid the spam and will their computers be reliable and not subject to these attacks? A key piece to realising seamless computing is getting the fundamentals of computing right, namely security, reliability and manageability. The only way to do this is to invest in building these software platforms. The move is toward systems that will recognise speech, that will use ink, provide improved business intelligence and workflow, will give people new ways to communicate. There are, however, a number of different challenges. We need to combine the right tools, the right processes and the right people. Attacks are simply getting more and more sophisticated and every time we eliminate a threat a new opportunity opens up. It’s an unending process. We can make it dramatically more difficult to find vulnerabilities, but we continue to work in a measure-countermeasure type environment. The current statistics on the size of these challenges and the costs of dealing these issues are dramatic. They are also enormously difficult to plan for. Understanding exactly what has to be done has traditionally been difficult. It’s not a case of simply fixing a few vulnerabilities and moving on. The traditional responses, the way that systems are architected and the way they are put together, have to change. In this way we can reduce the threat opportunity, counter-balancing the fact that the attackers get more and more sophisticated. The results are positive. We see progress in this regard but there are many years of work ahead of us. The challenge The vision for seamless computing is both evolutionary and revolutionary. The changes you’ll see are gradual, but the differences between the computing experience of today and the computing experiences five years from now will be like night and day. Hardware development continues to advance and provide increased functionality. The dramatic growth in processor power, disk capacity and network capacity will lead to computers and smart devices that are much more powerful than the PCs of today. We can only begin to imagine what kind of uses we will find for this computing power. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that technology is still out of reach for many who need it most. Bridging the digital divide and fully realising the potential of computing technology will be one of the biggest challenges of the Digital Decade. Industry outreach combined with more advanced, less costly software and hardware could extend technology’s reach beyond the wealthy elite and early adopters using it today. Seamless computing needs to be an industry-wide vision: one that will require continued cooperation at all levels to develop the platform, with standards and technology, upon which the next generation of connected applications and devices can be built; one that can truly help realise people’s potential.