The Internet of Things
IBM views the Internet as the foundational infrastructure for a smarter planet. Dr. Mohan noted that today some 7 billion components are hooked together on the Internet; by 2015 that number will grow to 16 billion, and in 2020 it will increase to 50 billion. The enabling technologies will include things like Bluetooth for connecting people with systems, as well as advances in machine-to-machine communications in which systems or sensors talk to each other and provide analytics. Instant access to information will be important for a number of vertical domains such as water management, power grids, food safety, healthcare, and transportation.
Weighing Cloud Benefits and Challenges
With its cost benefits and elasticity, cloud computing is the next big thing. However, it comes with some major pain points around security and disaster recovery. Dr. Mohan advised IT professionals to read the fine print of any cloud provider’s service-level agreement (SLA)—particularly those with applications where response time is important. “You don’t want someone to poison the water or food supply,” he stated.
Dr. Mohan also observed that while the cloud enables enterprises to benefit from lower cloud-based CPU costs, applications managing very high volumes of data or analytics may find that the transmission cost becomes a dominant factor. In these situations, it can be more cost effective to bring the application closer to the system doing the processing.
The need to act on big data, both structured and unstructured, will drive the demand for petascale analytics. Already Airtel India has call records online in the petabyte range—or 1,000 terabytes. In the old days, Dr. Mohan stated, an enterprise might produce reports over night in a batch process. Today, the need to manage security threats and natural disasters requires analysis in 30 minutes or less.
Complexity is also driving large-scale analytics, Dr. Mohan noted. For instance, exploration is already a data and analytics business as companies seek to minimize their risk and costs. When drilling for resources, it can cost $300 million for the discovery process, $150 million for appraising the site, and $400 million for production. Dr. Mohan recommended that analytics and modeling, as well as the various implications for different domains, are hot topics for students seeking a thesis for their post-graduate degrees. He added that IBM has started a new business area to focus on analytics.
Socially Synergistic Enterprise Systems
Socially synergistic enterprise systems are about the business of monitoring customer sentiment through a combination of analytics, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter messages, and other social media outlets. They provide a way to understand brand value, change behavior, and optimize teams. For example, Airtel is conducting analysis that allows it to determine that a customer is valuable, not because that individual makes several calls, but because so many other people call that person—indicating a broad sphere of influence on other phone users.
Dr. Mohan stated that such techniques are being employed by for-profit and non-profit enterprises, alike. He also noted that combining people and analytics to discover revenue growth, relationships, etc. represents an opportunity for a post-graduate thesis of scope.
At the frontier of IT is a new class of learning systems, Dr. Mohan said. These systems learn from what is happening around a user to seamlessly enhance cognition. Similar to when databases represented a shift from information to knowledge, these new systems represent a transformation from programming to learning and intelligence. Learning systems are exemplified by Watson, the IBM computer that recently won on the “Jeopardy!” game show. Researchers also are looking at how systems can interact naturally and accommodate people with disabilities.
To learn more about the 2011 IBM Global Technology Outlook, view Dr. Mohan’s complete keynote here.