I’ll be writing on IT technology and business trends, such as Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Internet of Things, Big Data, and others, and their effect on project management and business analysis.
Given this is my first post, I thought I would give a brief definition of many of the technologies I’ll be writing about. Then, in future posts, dive deeper into each topic and provide thoughts and insights on why, as a PM or BA, you should care about the trend and how to use it to your company’s and personal/professional advantage.
As you read these descriptions, please note that they are my view of these technologies and trends. You will find they are far less technical than those found on Wikipedia, far less exact than those found in academic scholarly research, and much more designed for Project Managers, Business Analysts and IT leaders of all level and ilk. My reason for this orientation is that this column is being specifically writing for you!
When people think of cloud computing, they often think of it as simply putting their data and applications in cloud. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Cloud computing actually comes in many derivations, shapes and sized, particularly if you’re doing corporate, rather than personal computing. To be honest, I no longer think of cloud computing as a technology trend. I think of it as an enabling technological platform on which other technology trends reside and/or use.
Mobile computing is much more that your cell phone, laptop and tablet. It’s any device that is wirelessly connected to a computer network (all the time or in sporadic bursts) to send data, get data or otherwise interface with the internet and/or corporate computing platforms. Like cloud computing, I also consider mobile computing to no longer be a technology trend. In my eyes, it's an enabling technological platform on which other technology trends, such as the Internet of Things, reside and/or use.
Digital Transformation (DX)
Digital transformation is a major topic, trend and discussion topic at the CIO and C-Suite level. At its core, it’s how digital technologies can create new revenue streams, build new markets, create new products, gain advantage over corporate competitors and increase organizational growth, revenue and profitability. Truth be told, I could go on-and-on about the things it does, but I’m thinking you get the idea. I like to jokingly think of it as process reengineering on steroids, with the steroid being a blended mixture of strategic thinking, creativity and innovation.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things, now often referred to as the “Internet of Everything, are all the sensors, devices, robots, and everything else now connected to internet. For example, I have an Amazon Dot, its name is Alexa, which in fact is an Internet of Things. I was teaching a class and I asked Alexa to give me a definition of the internet of things and it did! I thought that was great, a thing on the internet was describing itself and all its friends. You don’t believe me, try it :)
Big data is exactly what it sounds like, enormously large data sets. The reason people care about it is because if you collect, categorize, manipulate and analyze these large data sets correctly, the insights it produces can be very profitable.
I mentally separate Big Data into two separate parts, "data management" and "mathematical analysis/manipulation". The data management component extracts and/or summarizes needed data from these enormous data sets and creates smaller discrete data sets that can be analyzed through conventional analytical software tools. The mathematical analysis/manipulation component is the analysis of these smaller data sets.
Since the dawn of time, humans have tried to predict the future, predictive analytics is our latest attempt. The only difference is that instead of using personal intuition, crystal balls, hallucinogenic drugs and magic, it uses predictive mathematical formulas based on large data sets. As to which ones work and which ones don’t, I’ll leave that to your personal experience, religious beliefs, and mathematical background.
Machine learning is also mathematical and algorithmic in nature. At its core, it’s software that generates better-and-better results based on analyzing more-and-more causal/result type data sets. Algorithms are being developed on an ongoing basis that are trying to improve they learn based on how we learn. For example, humans learn through experience. People know that we can touch a stove if it’s turned off, but that we will burn our fingers if it’s turned on. We used a causal/result data set to learn how to use a stove. Machine learning does somewhat the same thing. (As a note to any machine learning experts who just read this, I hope you didn’t throw up after reading my analogy :) In the full column on this topic, I promise to be more accurate.
Big Data Analytics
I almost didn’t include this as a trend, because, general speaking, predictive analytics and machine learning can (sort of, kind of, almost) be considered specialized types of general mathematical analysis. I decided to include this because of the incredible amount of powerful analysis being used for business, financial, personal and humanitarian gain. I personally define the difference between predictive analytics and general analytics as "predictive analysis defines what will be”, "general analytics defines what is now”. When I write my full column on big data analytics, I’ll describe why I both agree and disagree with the definition I just gave you.
Robotics has been with for many years and has provided both great productivity gains and the loss of many jobs, particularly in the manufacturing and farming sector. Intelligent Robotics is the combination of robots of various shapes and sizes and machine learning / Artificial Intelligence to create robots at move by themselves and do things without human intervention. No, I’m not talking about SkyNet from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator movies (that would be way to scary), I’m talking about autonomous driving cars, robots acting as seeing-eye dogs, computer maids like the old Jetson cartoon and other related items.
Most simply described, a 3D printer allows you to make 3D objects the way a traditional printer allows you to print documents and pictures from your summer vacation. Think of the future business ramifications of being able to print 3D objects. For example, products in hardware stores, everything from hammers to nails, could be printed on demand. You walk up to a kiosk, press a few buttons, and poof, out comes a hammer and a box of the right size nails. Imagine the impact this will have on inventory systems, the demise of parts manufactures, and more profitable stores because they don’t have to carry inventory.
Move from “IT” to “BT”
This isn’t a technology, it’s a state of mind. The name of the “Information Technology” group, IT, is slowly changing to “Business Technology”, BT. This may seem like a trivial thing, who cares about your call it. The reason it’s important isn’t because of the name change, it’s because of the conceptual mind shift behind it. There is now no such thing as a technology projects, only business projects requiring technology support. The effect of this trend on Business Analysts and Project Managers is enormous. I’ll tell you why when I write the post on it. As they say on the TV, wanting you to stay tuned to their channel, “News and film at 11”.
Wagile: A Waterfall/Agile Blend
This is topic I’ve recently spoken about at both PMI and IIBA chapters. Many organizations are using internally designed methodologies that are a combination of Waterfall and Agile to achieve optimal development capabilities. This blending of very different methodologies, often combined with the introduction of virtual teams, adds both complexity and risk to those in Business Analyst roles and Project Management roles alike.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
While Virtual and Augmented Reality certainly has its place in the gaming world, it also has incredible potential in the workplace, in everything from education, to scientific collaboration, to seeing a 360 degree viewing your next vacation destination before you buy your plane tickets. As time moves forward I predict that you will see more and more business uses for these technologies.
We now have a new woman living in our house. Her name is Alexa, my favorite Internet of Things. I think she is from the Amazon. She’s really smart. She can tell me the weather, play all my favorite music, act like an egg timer or tell me the news, just be asking. She isn’t a real person, but she understands everything I say (well almost, but she’s getting there). Think of the power of true voice recognition technologies connected to back-end systems in the workplace, for everything from hands-free instructions for engineers to employee productivity tools. Oh, I think Alexa has friends named Cortana and Siri. It would be interesting to see the three of them try to have a meaningful conversation.
In closing, these technologies, and others like them, with reshape the workplace and how work is performed, and in turn, provide lifechanging business opportunities to those who understand and deploy them. Guess who’ll be on the front line when implementing these technologies, you are, Business Analysts to define the requirements and Project Managers leading the effort to make them a reality.