Friday 22 May 2009

Commodity storage

When I was a teen, having one kilobyte of storage in a personal computer was normal! And that same machine lost everything in its now tiny memory when the power was removed, unless you connected an audio cassette recorder and saved the contents on to a magnetic audio tape cassette, (for younger readers, this was one of the pre-cursors to CDs and music downloads!). Now my laptop computer has 320Gb hard disk and 4 Mb RAM, and we take this for granted. That excludes the cache memory the processor chip has on-board or the video RAM included. Optical storage has been through a similar trend ... first the CD, then the DVD and more recently Blu-Ray disks. Scientists are now experimenting with holographic disk technology amongst others. The BBC reported recently on techniques that swell data capacities to 300 times the current DVD standard.

This all points to the fact that storage is no longer a limiting factor in most applications. Storage is becoming a commodity item. In some applications it will be more cost-effective to store huge amounts of data on media and send the media than to send the data over communications links, where immediacy is not so important. Some people are already in the habit of wearing or otherwise carrying a memory stick containing all of their important and needed data with them. The amount of storage in personal devices is ever increasing. Eventually such devices will offer whole-life recording. Storage will play a key part in this as will technologies that enable content to be searched and tagged automatically. I often wish I didn't forget things; in the future I may not be able to!

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Future customer service

It is more than likely that when you last called an organisation for customer service, you were disappointed by the experience. In the UK, this is more than often the case. There are good examples of customer service, but in far too many cases, the emphasis on cost-reduction, centralised command and control structures, inappropriate implementations of technology such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and low skilled workers in call centres, means that the customer is left with a bad experience.

New technology can be employed in many ways to provide excellent customer service. Automation and self-service is appropriate for some quick and simple enquiries. However when someone calls with more complex enquiries, technology should ideally get them connected to the most appropriate person who can help within the organisation. It should not be assumed that the most appropriate person will be part of a call centre resource either. Intelligent routing of calls can enable direct connection to any part of the organisation.

Since automation and self-service will deal with routine and simple transactions, the people recruited to provide service in future need to be better educated, and higher skilled than is typical at present. This adds to cost in one way; however this is offset by savings in fewer repeat calls, fewer dropped and abandoned calls, and higher customer satisfaction.

Other technologies such as speech recognition and synthesis can offer some more natural bit automated service. Online communities and forums can also provide alternatives to some traditional call centre operations. Indeed the newer generations will require that organisations utilise many new channels to provide them with service.

The ultimate vision ought to be that organisations provide simple products and services that just work and hence the call centre is less used in the first place. However it is important that where they are required in future, technology is used to improve the experience rather than detract from it.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

The future of warfare

It's nice to hope that new technologies will be used for good positive and desirable aims and that wars, famines and other undesirable situations won't occur ... but of course the real world is somewhat different. Future significant wars will as likely be about resources such as water rather than oil and take place as much online as in a traditional theatre. The development of cyber-warfare is rather exemplified by a recent article by BBC News about the US DoD's preparation.

Most people's view of and worry about internet crime is something to do with attempts to attack personal privacy through online purchasing or banking and spoof emails attempting to phish information in order to exploit ID theft. But the bigger criminal threats online are the organised mafia crime gangs who use the as a weapon to extaught money and threaten to bring down websites and systems that large organisations and national security depend on. The use of networks of hundreds of thousands of auto (ro)bots which can be remote controlled in a non-centralised fashion to execute such attacks means that the security authorities are constantly busy in combating these threats.

Some physical robotic technology is already employed in the middle-east conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but more of this will be obvious in future. Robots will be sent into battle to take strategic targets without endangering humans, especially if mass destruction weapons are used. Networks of robots will form armies that fight the physical battles while computers fight other computers in cyber warfare. Let's hope the goodies win!