Bill Gates' latest publically available e-mail/position paper/market vision statement/Office product feature prequel/outline for a new book tackles the "new world of work":
Advances in pattern recognition, smart content, visualization and simulation, as well as innovations in hardware, displays and wireless networks, all give us an opportunity to re-imagine how software can help people get their jobs done.
For example, "information overload" is becoming a serious drag on productivity -- the typical information worker in North America gets 10 times as much e-mail as in 1997, and that number continues to increase.
Industry analysts estimate that information workers spend up to 30 percent of their working day just looking for data they need. All the time people spend tracking down information, managing and organizing documents, and making sure their teams have the data they need, could be much better spent on analysis, collaboration, insight and other work that adds value.
The next generation of information-worker applications will build on promising technologies -- such as machine learning, rich metadata for data and objects, new services-based standards for collaboration, advances in computing and display hardware, and self-administering, self-configuring applications -- transforming them into software that will truly enhance the way people work --
Gates cited personal productivity; pattern recognition and adaptive filtering; unified communication; presence; team collaboration; optimizing supply chains; finding the right information; spotting trends for business intelligence; and insights and structured workflow as the key areas of transformation.
It's a focus on managing information overload by adding much more predictive analysis into the back end to anticipate what the user wants and needs, and making it easier to glean business value from data scattered throughout an enterprise and beyond.
Of course, Microsoft is working on a "new breed of software applications and services that manage complexity in the background, and extend human capabilities by automating low-value tasks and helping people make sense of complex data"--a future version of the Microsoft Office platform. Lately various company executives have been spilling out details and hints about the next version of Office, due in 2006.
It will take more than one new iteration of Office to increase productivity significantly, and it may not be Microsoft that ultimately delivers a big bang platform that fully transforms the world of work. Microsoft clearly has a head start and the seat licenses, but it won't be the only platform. We all could get to the promised land faster if Microsoft and others influencing the outcome opened up their technology and development processes more (as Microsoft, IBM and other biggies have working on the WS-* protocols) to establish best practices, science and standards for datamining, search, user interfaces, APIs, autonomics and other platform components. That doesn't mean giving away the store and major investments in IP, such as new algorithms for filtering data. It's just continuing to move differentiation up the stack. Right now the bar is set low, and as a result core issues like content filtering, identity management, workflow and collaboration end up in walled gardens...