By Eric Berridge
The fact that a show produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is arguably the biggest destination for finding out what’s next in business software illustrates that IT as we know it is undergoing an incalculable transformation. What strikes me is that even the most “consumery” technologies highlighted at CES have business value. It’s also striking that many of the technologies making headlines at CES are also asserting their presence at the sci-fi heaven known as Comic-Con. With the convergence of social, mobile and cloud-based technologies, we’re at a point where innovation is quickly passing from science fiction to your office.
Tablets: Once for superheroes, now transforming the workplace
My first recollection of a “tablet” comes from the the 2004 Pixar superhero flick “The Incredibles.” Six years later the iPad hits the shelves, quickly becoming not only a way to access the latest entertainment, but a bonafide work tool. While a relatively recent phenomenon, you’re now hard-pressed to sit in a meeting without someone pecking away at their tablet. The fact that these are emerging as the computer terminal of preference for a large percentage of the workforce isn’t hard to understand — for most work the tablet is an ideal portable form factor. And now, with gloves to ease cold-weather touchscreen use, you can ski and work at the same time (I don’t recommend this — just pointing out the possibilities…).
But there’s more than just functionality at play when it comes to the significance of their growing popularity. Tablets run entirely off the cloud, foreshadowing where enterprise software is headed. GoToMyPC recently announced its Android version, so you can run your desktop from your tablet. However, it’s only a matter of time before the typical “desktop” that you’re accessing from your mobile device isn’t even a physical object sitting in an office, but a virtual desktop residing in the cloud.
Tablets also facilitate collaboration — a hallmark of agility — in multiple ways, because they not only allow people to easily connect literally anywhere, but make it much easier for people who share office space to pick up their work and physically visit a colleague for old-fashioned face-time.
3D TV: Helping IT pros with their “soft” skills
Speaking of face-time, consider one of the biggest wow-factors at CES: 3D HD TV . Sure, we all look forward to seeing Star Wars in 3D in our living room without glasses, but consider what this technology might do for phone conferences, or a workforce that increasingly works from home? In an age when business conversations are pocked by impersonality and miscommunication, the ability to read the facial expressions of clients and colleagues in high definition 3D might go a long way toward building real relationships between parties that otherwise don’t personally connect.
As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, the abysmal people skills that many attribute to IT professionals isn’t just an inconvenience. In the new business landscape in which IT plays an infinitely more intertwined role in the day-to-day work of non-IT folks, poor “soft” skills are a serious liability. Anything that contributes to the personal touch of communication between IT and non-IT can help facilitate the kind of ongoing dialogue necessary for IT staff to understand what the departments they serve need.
Interactive coffee tables: Don’t spill your drink
Another one, right out of Star Trek, is the multi-touch display — essentially an interactive coffee table. It’s designed to improve the in-store retail experience, but I see a collaborative tool that brings disparate teams together to design, brainstorm, etc. in a way that is much more natural than the computer screen. In the not-too-distant future, you could hold a virtual meeting with 3D HD TV screens surrounding the multi-touch table so that you could visually interact and exchange ideas with the people you’re talking to as if you were in the same room.
Currently companies are experimenting with “collaborative workspaces,” particularly with design teams who benefit from tactile interaction. This kind of technology offers the potential to create a “virtual collaborative workspace” — science fiction now, but reality soon.
Smart TV: From oxymoron to agile workplace tool
True, the Smart TV is a geek’s dream, enabling you to watch broadcast episodes of Stargate, while simultaneously chatting via social media with other fans, and perusing the show’s website. But don’t let it fool you, this is also a dream for businesses that seek agility. Most conference rooms already have HD TVs — people like them because you can plug just about any device into them. When those TVs are replaced with smart ones that enable video conferencing and every other function of a PC or laptop, you’re going to begin to see a visible boost in the energy and productivity of meetings.
The show to end all shows
CES is missing a branding opportunity. They ought to have a separate entrance and with a banner announcing “BES” (Business Electronics Show). They could lead these two groups of attendees into the same conference and show them the same stuff, but their perception of the items they’re seeing would be totally different. The BES folks would never even know that they were really at CES. Even better, have this year’s Comic-Con convention be next year’s CES/BES, and preview next year’s innovations in this year’s science fiction — IT is becoming that consumerized, and that far out!
In all seriousness, I’ve called out the above areas of innovation because they’re particularly colorful, but the majority of the product categories highlighted at CES have a potential place in the increasingly collaborative, connected workplace. With that said, when they come out with the first 55-inch Smart TV in 3D, then I’ll be really excited.
Eric Berridge is co-founder and principal of agile business consulting firm Bluewolf, which provides lifecycle innovation, cloud implementations, IT staffing, managed services and other services to sync business and IT for efficient, adaptive performance. He also co-authored the book “Iterate or Die” along with Bluewolf co-founder Michael Kirven.