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i-Technology Viewpoint: Thinking Outside the VC Box

This is the Age of the "Momentary Enterprise," of Taking Advantage of an Opportunity that May Only Exist for Months

Groupware is currently being replaced by a groupware-like application with far more functionality - such as VOware. Virtual office software was born as a result of our increasing work mobility and an increasing need for groups to work on projects jointly while spanning locations. Customers and suppliers outside the company can also be included.

Groove, recently acquired by Microsoft, is an example of virtual office software that combines the attributes of a shared file server, an instant messaging function, and project management tools (e.g., calendar and others). It can be deployed in minutes by users of the application themselves and does not require an investment in additional hardware.

VOware also adds a new level of "awareness" to communication. A bit like IM on steroids, VOware includes the concept of a "workspace" (i.e., a project) with group members, digital assets such as files, and tools such as whiteboard sharing and calendars and so forth. However, it is the combination of these elements that allows for a much deeper insight into what your fellow peers are doing without actually being in their presence. In fact, you can be more aware of what they are doing at any given time than you could if you were all working in the same office complex.

Another more advanced and still-emerging form of groupware is the Rich Internet Application (RIA). Some of the key critical components of RIA are:

  • Rich Web Experience. Features such as the ability to "drag-and-drop" that we take for granted when using normal workstation applications are notably missing from the current Web-based versions of groupware ones. These features are added back in.
  • Live Data. In order to be used pervasively, business application endpoints need to have "screens" and panels that show live data (live inventory, collaboration messages, etc.). In the existing world of Internet/HTML applications, such views are typically impossible. The goal of RIAs is to make live data screens possible.
  • Zero-Install Clients. Users are relieved of the need to install applications and application upgrades on their computing devices. This need becomes more acute as the number of endpoint devices soars.
There are a few companies today such as NexaWeb that offer RIA development environments for businesses to build rich, pervasive Internet applications.

Video Cameras and Webcams
The popularity of consumer digital cameras has driven down the price of their main components and the quality up. The key component of a digital camera of any type is the CCD element (the chip that actually "sees" a scene and turns it into a digital blip). The price of this component has dropped so low that high-resolution color video-capture devices can be built in to nearly anything. In parallel, wireless networking stormed through the computer industry over the same time period and resides naturally with video cameras. It is now trivial to litter an environment with video-capture devices because the costs and wiring complexity have been nearly eliminated.

These devices can be used to create virtual office environments as well as a new source of data for real-time business optimizations, including the observance of shoppers' buying habits, the tracking and inspecting products, and controlling automated manufacturing processes. Advances in image-processing algorithms now enable computing networks to actually understand scenes.

The Matrix Worker
We are all subject-matter experts in a particular area. Skills databases now exist that allow established companies to run even more successfully with far fewer full-time employees by matching the people skills readily available in the marketplace to specific project requirements. The amount of detail put into these databases is stunning. In the engineering world, for example, every skill and realm of knowledge that an engineer develops while working on a project is summarized within the database. It could be a new computer language such as C#, or mastery of a new Java library, or a new computer platform, or even the use of some end-user application such as an accounting package. These databases are a low-cost, high-value source of human capital, available now to the momentary enterprise. Often these people prefer to work as independent consultants rather than full-time employees. Technology and connectivity have truly allowed a great many of us to work anywhere and everywhere, and at any time. As more and more people allow their skills to be better published and exploited, a new form of professional - the "matrix worker" - will emerge.

VCs Need Not Apply
The ingredients for another wave of new companies are all around us - pervasively all around us. They include new wireless extensions of the wired network and the further exportation of technologies such as XML. All you have to do as an entrepreneur is glue them together to create new types of information that fill an identifiable need. In fact, new-company generation may be so easy to do that VCs may not be required. These new opportunities come about mostly from converging wireless with the Web and letting the imagination run free.

More Stories By John Webster

John Webster is senior analyst and founder of Data Mobility Group. He is the author of numerous articles and white papers on a wide range of topics, including data convergence, storage networking devices and management, and storage services and outsourcing. He is also the coauthor of a book entitled Inescapable Data - Harnessing the Power of Convergence, published in April 2005 by IBM Press.

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