Personal data agents could be part of the next wave of IT consumerization that will challenge IT managers, said Intel chief evangelist, Steve Brown. At a Dell/Intel breakfast in Sydney, he also described a more flexible workplace of the future with more remote working, shared office spaces and electronic co-workers.
Google Now and Apple’s Siri are primitive examples of intelligent agents “that are designed to understand you as an individual” by consuming and interpreting the “all the data you are generating,” Brown said. Applications could include scheduling, travel planning, wellness, shopping and finance, he said.
“Once people get them and they love them and they trust them, they’re going to want to bring these into the corporate environment,” Brown said. “They’re going to want a calendaring agent that spans their work life and their home life. They’re going to want a finance agent that understands their personal finances but also helps them write their expense reports in the office.”
IT managers will have to deal with this new challenge even more quickly than they had to respond to the challenge of bring your own device (BYOD) in the last few years, Brown predicted.
Smartphones are the “most obvious” home for the data agents because it’s the “most personal place right now,” said Brown. However, he said to expect the agents to additionally be accessible through PCs and inside cars, he said.
“Long term, I think you’ll see these services become part of your life and reach you through whatever interface you happen to be facing at the time.”
Brown noted there could be privacy challenges with a service that works by collecting and storing massive amounts of data about users.
“As a human being, you’re now generating vast amounts of data, whether you know about it or not,” he said. “Your phone is full of sensors,” and as devices get more sophisticated, “they’ll be listening to you [and] they’ll have cameras.”
“When I think about these devices tracking me, that’s sort of freakish,” he said. “I want to know that that data is going to be safe, private and that I am in control of that.”
However, Brown believes that consumers will happily hand over data about themselves if they get a useful service in return, he said. He compared it to giving Amazon data about purchases so it can make better recommendations of what to buy in the future.
Today, a user is treated “as a harvestable crop rather than having the data personalised and used on your behalf,” said Intel technology strategist, Tim Hansen. He predicted a shift in which users will take greater control of their data.
“Instead of having a lot of silos where people are stealing that data from you … what would happen is you would provide a conduit to a personal data locker, where that information would be of higher value, of higher accuracy,” Hansen said. Users could then “broker” their personal information for the services they want, he said.
A more flexible workplace
“The office environment in the future 15 years from now will feel as different from today as maybe today feels from the 1800s,” Brown said. “It’s going to feel uncomfortable for some of us, but that’s what progress is about.”
Brown and Hansen predicted a more fluid workplace, in which workers can work wherever they want, companies share office space and hire staff on demand, and there is greater reliance on “electronic teammates.”
“The pace of change will be different by industry, by country, by culture and I’ll think you’ll see more progressive companies that are more hungry for talent force themselves to go more quickly,” Brown said. “But it is going to happen—it’s inevitable.” Workers increasingly seek more flexibility to work on their own terms, Brown said. They include older people who decide to retire later but don’t want full-time office jobs, as well as millennials who join the workforce with an expectation that they can work whenever and wherever they want, he said.
Ingrained culture remains a barrier to companies allowing remote working, said Brown. “People still like to see their workers in the office,” he said. “I think it is something that will naturally change over time, but it’s not going to change rapidly.”
“Office as a service” may be an answer for companies who want to do more remote working without completely giving up face time, Brown said. Multiple companies could share one office space, reserving the space only for the times they need to meet, he said.
“Permanent space just doesn’t make sense any more,” he said. An early stage of the trend is hot desking, in which employees share desks in the office, Brown said. Companies may ultimately take a blended approach in which they keep one physical space for their headquarters but use temporary offices for extended staff, he said.
Also, Brown predicted more “dynamic teams” in which companies temporarily employ “guns for hire,” bringing in specific skills for specific jobs. This may mean fewer full-time jobs and more part-time jobs to handle the same amount of work, he said.
The Intel evangelist also expects to see more reliance on computers that can take over some of the more mundane aspects of a person’s job.
“The questions that we have to ask ourselves here are what are the tasks that are uniquely human ... and what are that tasks that are perhaps better done by a knowledge system?”
Computers are unlikely to take over completely, said Brown. “I don’t think we’re all at risk of being replaced by robots any time soon.”
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