Like a Disney animation?where the broom speaks to the dustpan and the teapot talks to the teacup?we are approaching a world where objects will routinely converse with each other and with us. Combining computing, communications and content, these intelligent objects will drag us into an environment where everything is always on, always aware and always acting as a channel of service.
Consider the following examples.
Smart or radio frequency identification (RFID) tags will give a printer the ability to recognize when it is out of ink and allow it to order new cartridges as needed.
On an emergency room medical cart, supplies will be restocked in real-time effortlessly. As items are pulled from the cart, the health insurer will automatically receive notification, allowing the hospital to bill the patient accordingly.
Companies will have new ways to track inventory more efficiently. Warehouses, for instance, will be able to identify each specially tagged can of soup (“Seven ounces of chicken noodle soup, packed in the Kansas City plant on May 23, 2001, at 3:51 p.m. by machine number 399910”).
A utility company will be able to price energy based on temperature, time of day and total demand. This will encourage consumers to shift loads to balance overall needs and conserve energy.
Additionally, what Accenture calls ubiquitous computing?or uCommerce?will enable lifestyle-altering applications that will allow for new modes of commerce. Wireless devices will not only enable the kinds of transactions we make today from the phone or desktop, but they will also provide for social and economic interactions that we cannot imagine.
We will receive information that will make us smart and save us time?without our having to ask. It might be flight and gate information as we enter the airport or it might be relevant breaking news as we enter an important meeting.
At the enterprise level, IT will continue its push from the back office to the cold face of the market. Technology will no longer just count widgets, it will play an integral role in every product or service offered by the enterprise. And IT will no longer be responsible for merely paying the employees; it will become their central artery of vital information.
For CIOs, all these changes mean that you cannot afford to await the design of new products and services or the groundswell absorption of tools for enabling employees. Instead, you and the enterprise are best served if you lead the hunt. In truth, you have little choice. You will have to free up sufficient mind-share to fight for the future as well as the present. You will need to play an active leadership role in formulating change or face the likelihood of being left behind.
It will be up to you to become familiar with the technologies that exist today and those that appear on the horizon. As the CIO, you will need to take your seat at the executive table when it comes to discussions regarding the ramifications of these new technologies.
After all, who else in the company can the CEO expect to be fully cognizant of the new technologies and the opportunities they present?
Glover Ferguson is chief scientist at management and technology consultancy Accenture.