Top 3 in Technology

The Consumer Electronics Show is the annual gadget-fest held in Las Vegas and it is taking place right now. I thought it apt to share what I believe to be the 3 key technology trends of the year. Admittedly, I could elaborate on each of these for a blog post of their own, and some may well evolve into something different, but my top 3 are the technology-related trends I believe will end up impacting our day to day lives, regardless of our industry:

1. MOBILE will be far bigger than we think.  Mobile internet devices (especially smartphones) outsell all computing devices and certainly PCs, and mobility will continue to change the dynamic of how we operate. By being better connected, it means we don’t have to be in one place, and this will influence remote working, a different type of communication and the restructuring of the traiditional office setup.

2.  This leads nicely to NFC, or NEAR-FIELD COMMUNICATION.  NFC is a short-range wireless technology that makes use of interacting electromagnetic radio fields instead of the typical direct radio transmissions used by technologies such as Bluetooth. It is meant for applications where a physical touch, or close to it, is required. NFC is planned for use in mobile phones for, among other things, payment, in conjunction with an electronic wallet. Mobile payments will cause a rethink of cash, travel and shopping. For those of us in the UK, think of an Oyster card embedded within your phone.

3. The CROWD. Sites such as Airbnb and CouchSurfing are leading the way in peer-to-peer networks, and as Rachel Botsman said in my favourite book of last year “What’s Mine is YOurs“, creative companies are using technology to redefine ownership. Why buy when we can rent, borrow and share amongst our community. Experience is far more important than ownership; for example, we don’t necessarily want to collect DVDs, we just want the experience of watching the movie, and usually, just the once. Cars is another area that will be seriously affected, with companies such as Whipcar and Zipcar helping reduce car ownership around the world. Technology is facilitating this change.

They are my top three, and no doubt many other trends will spin-off from these. Keep an eye out for news from CES and articles in all the newspapers and websites, all the main gadgets and trends will be featured there.

Youngsters helping the elderly get online

Back from a short visit to the US, where once again I learned and picked up some cool new things. This one is all about people driving technology.

Read an inspiring article about Steve Jobs, who has left his day-to-day role at Apple. He embodies everything that Apple has created. I particularly liked the quote, “Apple has beautiful artifacts, but what Jobs has been building is a company whose legacy is ideas.”

Another such inspiration is London-born Sean Maloney, who was one of the leaders at Intel and recently suffered a stroke that deprived him of his ability to walk and talk. He has made a great recovery and is now the chairman at Intel China. Success, companies and technologies are always about great people.

A project that impressed me recently was Adopt a Care Home, an initiative that encourages young people from schools and colleges to help the elderly get online. The saddest part of this was that residents of a care home would go downstairs in the morning to collect their post and there wasn’t any. They were used to mail as a form of communciation. This project seeks to do something about that. One great example of its success is Enid Adamson, 87, who hadn’t seen her daughter, who lives in New Zealand, for 2 years. It was terrible that she feared she may never see her again. With the assistance of this project, they now talk once a week on a large screen using Skype, a webcam and clip-on microphone.

Great story. People driving technology to make this a better place.

A Wii in the classroom

Now some may interpret the headline as nerves getting the better of a kid on his first day at school! But this is something entirely different.

The Financial Times was recently quoted as saying more than 86m units of the Wii have been shipped, so why aren’t we using these consoles in the classroom? The president of Nintendo is keen for the new Wii U “to fundamentally change the structure of entertainment.” Pictured to the right, the Wii U controller has a touchscreen as well as the traditional controls which can create different interactions between players. Its ability to help retain focus is another interesting point.

Because kids are seen to have a multitude of applications on the go at once – Messenger, music/radio, Facebook, school homework and more – we think they can’t focus. Nonsense I say. These kids have a laser focus, just not with the boring stuff their schools feed them. I think the time has come to fully integrate these consoles into the learning process and just watch the results. The University of Wolverhampton in the Midlands of the UK has been doing this for a couple of years with tremendous outcomes of inclusion and benefits to all parties.

Which brings me on to another timely area of debate, and that is graduation time. With so many students happy and hopeful their studies are over and looking forward to the wide world of work, have we prepared them well? Students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills and then cast out into a different world requiring a totally different skill set, left alone of course to work this out for themselves! Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and purse their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live it, but as we know, very few people at graduate age can take an inward journey and instead need to encounter the experience to truly define the path they ultimately take – and these days, it isn’t just one path, but a series of very different walkways and careers on the way to wisdom.

Did I really plan a career in the IT arena with a ‘major’ in certification – no chance. Do I love the experience today, no question. Some call it the cart before the horse.

Everyone should be a part of IT

Carlota Perez, leading economist at Cambridge University and an expert in global techno-economic paradigm shifts, explains that every 70 years, a disruptive technology emerges that alters the foundations of the economy. The 5 ages of transformation to date include the industrial revolution; the age of steam and railways; the age of steel, electricity and heavy engineering; the age of oil, cars and mass production; and the age of information and telecommunications.

It interests me to see the technology changing so much and so fast. Will technology ever reach a settling point or just continue to evolve ad infinitum; it cannot be too long before it becomes a utility much like electricity and gas, and I can see just one global and seamless wireless network where every device we purchase is connected.

Technology has been a catalyst for taking away precious time – by being better connected we are working longer hours. On the train to London this week I counted as many people on their smart devices as those reading or sleeping and you can just see the frustration as we travelled through a tunnel and they lost connectivity! I look forward to when my fridge has sensors and RFID chips embedded in its doors that recognise when I am out of bread and milk and can order it on my behalf, when my camera (or phone) automatically uploads my photos to my piece of the Cloud immediately as I am taking them and my casserole tells me which ingredients go next into the pan – all so I can get back some of the previous time that technology has taken away in the first place!

So where has the week raced away to exactly? It included a long trip to South Africa for the CompTIA member conference in Johannesburg, a great networking and education event for the leading IT vendors and training companies, and then swiftly back again to host meetings with some of our largest partnerships in Europe: Zenos, the UK’s leading IT apprenticeship provider, the Oxford and Cambridge examinations board (OCR) and Intel. Intel are diversifying into some cool new areas, look forward to seeing more of that. Is there a connection between the people I met this week, regardless of location and business focus – there clearly is. Each party is looking for ways to improve the skills of their staff, customers and partners to differentiate them in the workplace. Technology appears to be accelerating change, and yet we don’t have the skills we need to even keep pace with the demands. There is a common recognition that unless we have the skilled people in place to manage and develop this technology, and to put it to effective use, we may not get the best out of it from all quarters, and quite possibly never get the time back that so many people crave.

The two fellows in this picture were idling away in the sunshine at the Lion & Rhino Park in Johannesburg earlier this week – not a care in the world as we drove past. I wonder if they heard about Steve Jobs’ announcement of the iCloud! 

Keeping IT cool

Gadgets are the new cool – everyone wants the latest mobile phone, iPad 2, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy and a myriad of others. In fact, at the recent CRN PartnerConnect conference at the Ricoh Arena, where we talked about cloud business opportunities and mobility, our CEO Todd Thibodeaux brought all of these devices with him in his hand luggage and showed them to the audience, which generated a combination of laughter and interest. Todd also talked about making IT cool ( and I would like to pick up on this.

When I present to audiences about some of the trends in technology, eyebrows are always raised when I ask about engaging our young employees and utilizing social media for business. Why? The younger generation are digital natives and they live and breath the technology that so fascinates my generation. For them, it is their oxygen, a gateway to the outside world. They also understand how it works, how it connects, and how to maximize it, so why do we push back and in some cases not allow social media sites in the office during work time. My view is that we should encourage its use, and also invite the younger generation to tell us how we can build sites to target the new generation on the platforms they are so comfortable with. That is how we can tie “cool” and “IT” together, and create a new harmony in the workplace. More importantly, by doing this we make our companies a more exciting place to work and we will attract the new generation to want to work for us. Today they have a choice, and those with the skills and talent will decide whether they want to add us to their CV. They are vitally important to our success, regardless of how cool we think our company is – we must engage them on their terms, because they are both our workforce and our customer of tomorrow.

Above was the view at the Ricoh Arena from my room when I drew the curtains in the morning. What a great idea to combine corporate hospitality suites with hotel bedrooms to maximize use of the space. Another cool.

Phones & Automobiles

The iPhone is not just leading the way in design, but could well revolutionise shopping. Using near-field communication (NFC – short-range wireless between a chip and reader) the device could easily act as a payment system, allowing you to swipe your phone to pay bills or groceries (this happens in Japan today) or work in combination with an app to use it as the key to your car. Thanks to my friend Ian Green from Liverpool Community College, the Sunday Times and to Simon’s blog for the pieces of information that now form a mini-story (beyond just this post) – technology and collaboration at its  best.

The Intelligence of Things

The annual gadget extravaganza is under way in Las Vegas and thousands are there to digest the announcements. I read, and like, the term “intelligence of things” from the event, and manufacturers are upgrading their products with technologies such as GPS, internet and bluetooth to inject connectivity and new life into them.  “Everything connected” appears to be the trend and connectivity will spread beyond computer-related devices to everyday products such as meat thermometers and toasters. Hardware will be worthless without the app.

Going Social

I have no idea how tomorrow’s devices will shape up, but I do know they are taking over the world and most of us will be online for longer. There are 1.8 billion internet users (half of them from just 5 countries), Tencent in China is the largest social network with 637m users, the ramp-up time for new products in this space is setting new records (28 days to sell the first million iPads), Oprah has 4.5m Twitter followers, commerce and shopping is now on your handheld device, and Steve Jobs (genius) remains king of the jungle! Are you a part of the Facebook/Apps/Google revolution – is your company and product fast/easy/fun – if not, you are standing still, and may well get left behind.

Email and the family fabric

I am sitting in my office at home beavering away, and my wife is downstairs emailing me. Is the art of conversation disappearing? Dining room furniture sales are on the decline and technology has been blamed from some quarters, because we no longer eat together as families – everyone hunched over their laptops or mobile devices. Still, I can’t live without it, and I was amazed to see the first ever Apple fetch £130,000 at auction. I do love everything about Apple, plus bedtime reading has for now been replaced by good progess on Angry Birds!

King of the Techno-Jungle

I read that Tarzan is being relaunched as an eco-warrior and his companion Jane will be on Facebook and possess an iPod and mobile.  Has the world gone completely mad? Are you trying to destroy the abiding memories of my youth? There is only one Tarzan and his name is Johnny Weissmuller. Who will Tarzan talk to in the jungle by mobile phone? Some things are best left as they are.