Tuesday, January 25, 2011

OS/2 Reborn: The Future of Business in the Cloud

Jay McBain, Senior Vice President, Autotask Corporation

First off, to those of you born after 1980, I apologize for the cryptic reference in the title – here is a primer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Os/2

For the rest of us, a question:

“Beyond the hype and near-religious arguments, what was the one key differentiating feature that OS/2 had that Windows 3.1 did not have back in the day”?

Answer: Multi-threading (as opposed to multi-tasking)

The future of business and communication is rapidly changing with the explosion of devices that are ubiquitously connected within a vast cloud ecosystem. One way to study it is through the lens of a near-infinite number of “threads”.

Looking back is a useful tool in allowing us to visualize the future. From rudimentary language to pictograms, Gutenberg’s printing press, controlled waves and then electronic signals, communication has evolved from one to one, one to many and finally one to potentially all. With some social media vehicles being recorded (for all of eternity) in places like the US Library of Congress, the ability for communication to succeed (from successful transmission to receipt) may span seconds right up to centuries.

Ok, enough preamble. How does this affect business?

Business today works in a series of communication tasks. Better known as meetings, projects, voicemails, to-dos, emails, etc., we are conditioned to move through an increasing number of tasks in a standard work-day. As corporations started to right-size in the 1980’s and 90’s, the remaining employees were required to wear several hats and divide their day into what seemed like an endless amount of additional tasks. Those that could not “multi-task” effectively were outsiders in this environment and their productivity actually declined – as did their job prospects.

What we are witnessing today is the number of tasks are again rising – this time exponentially. The difference is that the tasks look more like micro-tasks – or “threads”. You could argue that social media has kicked off this phase, with 140 character tweets, text messages as well as a plethora of social status updates.

The wiring of a multi-tasker is subtly different than that of a multi-threader. We marvel at children today who can be doing homework while playing a video game, texting their friends, checking Facebook, listening to an iPod, chewing gum and curling their hair. We may think it is inefficient, and they are not producing results, but consider:

- Do you need to have status meetings with your colleagues when you are in constant threaded communication?
- The rigid milestones and dependencies in a project Gantt chart soften when communication is no longer a scarcity
- The inefficiency of formal written letters was replaced by email, which is now being replaced (rightly or wrongly) by poorly spelled and grammatically questionable threaded communication.

I know my current workday now involves a mix of business and personal, through about a dozen different threaded communication vehicles. It is very difficult to mix the threaded and tasked world as they are somewhat incompatible. For example, you go heads down on a task such as a 2 hour meeting, effectively disconnecting you from threads during that time. It is sometimes difficult to re-enter the conversation as you find yourself catching up.

How does this look 5 years from now?

First of all, email will be a relic. Not completely dead, but one of about 100 ways to communicate. Receiving an email will be the equivalent of getting a formal letter in the mail today.

I believe the next technology billionaire will be the person who figures out a simple cloud based hub of all communication.

Here are the attributes:

- End point agnostic. Communication will not be limited to the device you are using. We will each own dozens of connected devices optimized by where you are – in your office, car, bed, boat, or mountain bike, it doesn’t matter.
- Communication customized for your environment. Your devices will have motion detectors, GPS, and cameras to detect how best to deliver content to you. No more texting behind the wheel or dropping your expensive smart phone over the side of the boat.
- The permutations and combinations of how communication is transmitted and received will reach almost infinite levels. For example, a Facebook chat converts to audio and is played through your car radio as that is the best way to manage threads while driving. Your voice response then gets automatically converted to text and shows up back in the Facebook chat window. Neither party is the wiser.
- Finally, a form of “personal controls” will rise in importance. No longer will you have “friends”, but an expertly segmented group of people having specific tiered access to you. Sure, your parents may get 24/7, your friends perhaps till 2AM on a weekend, but colleagues may get cut off at 5pm, depending on your work-life balance.

This communication hub will manage the entire multitude of sources (likely old school sources such as letter mail and faxes as well) and combine that with location aware technology and effective controls to produce the soundtrack of threads in your business and personal life.

Much like OS/2 when it was developed in the 1980’s, your brain works in threads as well. Some autonomic, some not. Managing the next generation of worker in this threaded world is already challenging for many managers – and it will get significantly more challenging as devices, connectivity options and cloud applications continue to multiply.

Not sure I have the answers...but I will forecast that OS/2 will not make a comeback (contrary to the many vocal groups worldwide who are pushing for its code to go open source), as well as forecast that adapting to this new threaded world will take more than 140 characters of education and training!