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Back to the (digital) future

May 21, 2012 by Dave Kearns

My colleague Martin Kuppinger recently published “Intention and Attention – how Life Management Platforms can improve Marketing”, which discussed the role of Life Management Platforms (see Advisory Note: Life Management Platforms: Control and Privacy for Personal Data) within the “Intention Economy” (the subject of Doc Searls new book). In chatting with Martin about this we also brought up our other colleague, Craig Burton’s ideas on the Open API Economy.

This all reminded me of a presentation I’d done back in the fall of 2000 for a barnstorming tour on behalf of Business Layers, the original eProvisioning vendors. My theme was the future of Directory Services, and included a “Twilight Zone” look at the possibilities. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was, essentially, describing a Life Management Platform. Unfortunately, I didn’t foresee smartphones or tablets nor did I realize that my future would depend on an Open API Economy.

Here’s how that presentation went. Interspersed (In square [ ] brackets) are some 2012 thoughts on this 2000 vision.

Imagine, if you will...

It's 7 a.m. on Monday morning, and you awake to a loudly ringing alarm (or music, or a voice telling you it's time to get up). Wandering into the kitchen, you pour a cup of coffee (it's set to brew so that it's just ready as you walk in) and head over to the computer [The alarm is on your mobile device, of course].

You enter your password [how last century! Your proximity token or a face-scan from the built-in camera wakes up your tablet], watch as you're connected to "the network" in a few seconds [now, of course, the “network” is always on], then start scanning the newspaper which is delivered on screen. Since it's Monday, the first thing you want to see are the previous day's National Football League scores - so the sports section is presented first. As you cycle through the pages on screen, the sections are presented in the order that is the way you've indicated earlier that you prefer to view them [more likely, the app has learned your preferences and reflects them – with a constantly changing and updating presentation].

Now click the shower icon and head into the bathroom. You can simply climb into the shower because you know the water temperature is set to the exact temperature you prefer (rather cooler than your spouse's preference).

You might want to check your calendar for the day before getting dressed. (You do dress differently for meetings than for pulling cable, don't you?) [This was intended for IT managers]

With the temperature outside running around 18 degrees (the display is right there on your monitor) [i.e., tablet], you press a few buttons [swipe an app] to start your car and warm it up. Once the heater is working, an alarm sounds to tell you the car is ready.

After getting into your toasty warm car, you log in to the dashboard terminal [plug in your smartphone] and answer "yes" when it asks if you'll be going directly to work. (It knows that's where you normally go at this time on Monday).

You're then greeted with an alert pointing out that due to a 12-car pileup, the freeway is closed. Fortunately, the terminal [smartphone app] can also pull up an alternate route that-although a bit longer-will get you to the office at a reasonable time. Once you accept this, an e-mail [or a text message, maybe a tweet] is automatically sent to everyone you had scheduled an 8:00 a.m. meeting with, telling them it's postponed until 9:30 a.m. (The scheduling application determined that this was the next available time for everyone involved.)

When you get to the meeting, you log in to the computer in the meeting room [call up an app on your table] and (in a few seconds) your presentation is being shown on the large flat-screen monitor mounted on the wall. Your prerecorded comments are playing through the speaker system, and are synchronized perfectly with the slide show. When other people at the meeting ask questions at the end of the presentation, you quickly supply answers based on the supporting documentation available to you on the computer [tablet, augmented with searching, “Googling” or “Binging”].

Later in the day, you're reminded (by that same scheduler) that you should send your mother a birthday present. You're presented (on screen) a catalog of stores whose products your mother likes. You pick a store, then decide that a sweater would be nice. You're presented with a list (and pictures) of sweaters that are a blend of silk and cashmere in various shades of blue (your mother's preferences). Picking one, you type in instructions for the sale: bill to your Visa card, ship to your mother, enclose a card saying "Happy Birthday." No need to enter the details, they're already on file. [We’ll just slide by the privacy implications here, and assume both you and your mom have successfully “locked down” your personal data]

You finally finish the proposal you've been working on for two weeks and forward it to your boss for approval (using an "urgent" message, of course!). Twenty minutes later, you get the approval you need (digitally signed by your boss) and publish the proposal, which is quickly replicated to all of the necessary servers on your global network. Interested managers are immediately notified that it's available for them to read.

Oops! There's another flashing alert on your screen and an alarm is ringing! There's a problem with a server in the Chicago office. It has shut down! Fortunately, the other servers in its cluster take over the user load, but you need to have someone look at it right away.

Searching the directory for hardware technicians in Chicago who are working this afternoon, you see one name pop up. You click on the telephone number and hear your phone start dialing. Uh-oh. The technician is away from his desk, but his local telephony server reroutes the call to his beeper, putting in your phone number. In a few minutes, he calls back to inform you that the problem has already been fixed, since the network management application also notified him (as the technician on duty) when the hardware trouble began [little change there].

It's almost time to go home, but first you need to pick up some things at the grocery store. Click a few buttons on your computer [swipe the grocery app on your smartphone] to order milk, orange juice, bananas, shampoo, and laundry detergent. Once again, no need to enter any additional information - your brand and size preferences are already known. Indicate on the order that you'll pick them up in 20 minutes, and you're ready to leave the office.

You drive to the pickup window at the grocery store and log in to the terminal. In seconds, your order is delivered to you.

Arriving home, you find that the lights are on and the television is showing your favorite program [the DVR is ready to play your favorite program]. There's a small icon blinking on the TV screen indicating that there's an urgent message for you. When you log in to the computer again [the “urgent message” comes directly to your smartphone, no need for blinking lights or logging in], you find there's e-mail from your brother-in-law. Your sister had the baby (a girl!) who looks big and beautiful (she's got red hair!) as you can tell from the enclosed picture. Better send some flowers!

It doesn’t seem quite so futuristic anymore, does it? In fact, it’s all entirely possible today, at least the technology is. What’s needed, of course, is the right platform, a Life Management Platform, which works on all of your devices – smartphones, tablets, terminals, laptops, PCs, as well as on your car, TV, refrigerator, shower, etc. And, of course, the right apps. It also needs open, publicly available APIs, so that the apps and services, platforms and devices can talk to each other.

KuppingerCole believes that Life Management Platforms and an Open API Economy are desirable things to have, but also that this is the direction we’re headed. Good times await. Perhaps, in another twelve years, I’ll review this scenario again to see how well we’ve done delivering on the promise.

For anyone interested in what we thought back then, you can download the presentation as a PowerPoint deck or as a PDF file. In light of Google’s recent privacy and identity issues, there’s an intriguing quote from Eric Schmidt (then CEO at Novell) part way through.

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Dave Kearns
Senior Analyst
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