Accenture's king of blue-sky thinking

Summary:Research director Martin Illsley discusses how utility companies could use Flickr to cut costs and how Evel Knievel relates to strategic technology planning

...compare, contrast, and manage at process level, like a time and motion study. We will manage at this level, rather than manage at the IT-function level.

We also predict closed loop analytics. Where we're at today, we can do predictive analytics. We can predict what will happen with equipment. However, the key aspect is integration. It's no use knowing if a machine is going to break down in three days' time if you haven't organised getting parts or a maintenance crew. More subtly, if you have limited resources, what is the best course of action to take if you have a situation where this machine will break down in two days, this in one, this in five? It's like when aircraft break down: do you put the passengers in a hotel; do you try to repair the aircraft; what are the consequences of each course? It can get very complicated.

One of Accenture's areas of research is communications. What are your thoughts on convergence?
We predict fluid collaboration platforms. In some organisations you have videoconferencing rooms that lie empty, then some conference calls with 20 or 30 people, and nothing gets done. There's nothing wrong with the tools, there's just no formalisation of the process of inviting the right people integrated into systems. If the object of a meeting is to make certain decisions, tools should make sure the right people are there.

Mobility for enterprise applications will also become important. There's a trend for consumer usage, but there's a lot more that can be done on the enterprise side. As we get 3G video capabilities, there are large implications for business — a field force could send pictures and videos to each other. But people haven't thought through the implications of how to deal with video in a call-centre way.

What can businesses gain from Web 2.0? Should businesses be concerned about the proliferation of new applications that have to be assimilated into their systems?
Web 2.0 has two parts. With end-user computing, it's scary how many mashups are appearing — it reminds me of PowerBuilder, which allowed business users to write and build reports. The IT department had to manage these applications, and maybe didn't know where or what they were. If business users are now creating non-standard applications, the poor old IT department has to manage this. Mashups are a powerful capability, but businesses have to be careful. It's the same with socialising.

What are your views on customer discussion in online forums?
There are lots of benefits of having online forums where customers can hammer out solutions to issues, but this can have a negative side. If there is an issue, it becomes an open, visible thing. If it's not true, it's even worse. It's a matter of getting the balance right.

User content can be used — YouTube and Flickr get tons of content from people. If you're a utility company, you could set up a mass-participation site where people send in pics of damage to infrastructure, cutting down on inspection costs. Okay, 70 percent of the pictures may be rubbish, but 30 percent will be useful. It can be a powerful tool with useful cost benefits. However, it's also publicising the damage.

Organisations need to classify content. They tend to be conservative; they don't go through their data to tag corporate information. They need to define which information can be talked about with which groups. They have to do that before they are too abundant with throwing out information.

Are there other Web 2.0 technologies that could be disruptive?
We predict a greater use of widgets — internet applications with a simple interface that are not part of the browser. We've invented a widget that can be back-ended to an enterprise resource planning system, [and] that can then drag out information and push it onto a mobile device. There's a lot of scope in that — giving access to business systems through this type of technology. As the mobile widgets are sandboxed on the platform, security is not an issue.

What other blue-sky areas of research is Accenture involved in?
The industrialisation of software development. We're interested in code that, with a slight modification, can change itself. At the moment we write code and have to throw it away and build from the ground up to put in another bit. Ultimately we'd like to have code development done only once, then it will handle any changes that need to be made itself. When you build a house, you don't want to knock it down and start again every time you want to make a change, and it should be the same with code development.

So you're talking about code with artificial intelligence capabilities?
Not exactly, but code could track whether it is used or not and, if it wasn't used over time, it would self delete, using an intelligent approach to self correct. This would require a more formal description of what software is supposed to do. You could also monitor services — which are being used and which aren't.

Topics: Emerging Tech

About

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com, writing about all manner of security and open-source issues.Tom had various jobs after leaving university, including working for a company that hired out computers as props for films and television, and a role turning the entire back catalogue of a publisher into e-books.Tom eventually found tha... Full Bio

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