Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Future of Technology

Kate CarruthersKate Carruthers talked on "Future Technology" at the Australian Computer Society Canberra Branch last night. She is repeating the talk in Hobart tonight, and around Australian in the coming weeks. Kate explained she was discussing trends, not making predictions. Even so she gave some very clear views as to where she sees the future of ICT and how this will challenge ICT professionals and organisations.

The first part of the talk was taken up with a discussion of social networking and its impact on organisations. Kate made the point that younger staff will see tools such as Facebook as a normal part of everyday and will not understand if these are banned from the workplace. Organisations need to put in place procedures which allow for their personal use without adversely impacting the workplace. Organisations also need to work these tools into their operations, making use of them for business.

As Kate explained at the beginning, in retrospect technological trends seem obvious and inevitable. Even so I thought the description of social networking to be obvious and was disappointed that Kate did not go on to detail how organisations should deal with them. I kept thinking "Will this scale to be usable by the average office worker? Can it be made secure in the corporate environment?". However, this may turn out to be as significant as the ACS meetings I attended about 15 years ago where we were introduced to the wonders of the Internet and the web.

Along with other ACS members I helped bring the Internet and the web to the Australian Government.One job was writing the Defence Department's guidelines on the use of the Internet in the workplace and later the guidelines for the web. These were not abstract tasks as shortly after drafting the guidelines, I had a call from the military police saying that solders had been caught with Internet pornography and what should they do?

The smartphone is also something Kate sees as being big in the future, pointing out the average phone has more processing power than desktop computers of a few years ago. Unfortunately as with social networking, she did not go on to say what this would do to organisations.

RFID tags and cloud computing also got a mention. At this point the audience was probably suffering technology overload and perhaps some of this material could be dropped from future talks.

Improvements I would suggest for later talks are:
  1. Address the organisation: Canberra is a government town and like many in the audience I was wondering how what was being presented applied to large traditional government organisations. The same question would arise with large companies.
  2. Use Local Examples: Kate gave some examples of organisations using these new technologies, but the examples were US based. At question time I asked about Australian examples and Kate gave several which could be usefully incorporated in the presentation.
  3. Use the technology: While Kate was talking about highly interactive technologies, she was using a very static non-interactive PowerPoint style presentation to do it. I suggest some demonstrations would help get the dynamic nature of these technologies across the the audience.

    Recently I attended a training course by Mark Drechsler of Netspot, who are supporting the new ANU Learning Management System. He was teaching us to use Moodle and as this is a web based tool he was not surprisingly had a web page open on a big screen for most of the course. What I found surprising was that photos of people kept popping up in the bottom corner of the screen, with short text messages. After a time I worked out these must be Mark's work colleagues, arriving at work, posting general queries to each other and leaving.

    It was a little distracting to have these people popping up every few minutes and I was getting a little annoyed. At this point Mark explained these were his colleagues and typed a query one of the students had asked into the system and got an answer from one of his colleagues. At this point I realised that these people were mostly in Netspot's headquarters in Adelaide and others around the world. This was the equivalent of staff popping their head into the training course to introduce themselves. These were people we would be working with at ANU to implement the new system, so it was useful to get to know who we would be working with, even if we never see them in person or talk to them face-to-face.

    Kate could similarly demonstrate the use pf some of the technologies, to show that these are not just abstract concepts to be discussed, but real and practical tools for the workplace.
Social networking in the workplace is a topic the ACS is indirectly dealing with via its Computer Professional Education Program. The students use online tools for their courses which are similar to social networking. The primary method of learning is by the students interacitng online, discussing, adding information to forums; the tutors are there to help the students learn how to work this way, not to teach them. A byproduct of this procvess is that these students will be well equipped to use these techniques in their workplace. One of the interesting tools the ACS is using is the open source e-portfolio software "Mahara", from New Zealand, which interfaces to Moodle.

ps: Senator Lundy is talking about how she uses a smart phone to help run the Australian Government, in Canberra on Thursday.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Hi Tom,

You've made me aware of a couple of things in this post, both I'd like to thank you for.

Firstly, that my mind filters out the Pronto team members popping in and out, and I hadn't even considered that they might be distracting (but its obvious now that you mention it!).

Secondly, that I could consciously use these interruptions to introduce the NetSpot team to clients when I run these sessions. Or I could just switch it off :)

Thanks again,

Mark.