>Seeing things Differently with Augmented Reality

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One of the most exciting emerging technologies out there is Augmented Reality (AR). While the term has been around since approximately 1990, the technology is only really beginning to take off now for consumer uses.

In augmented reality, you layer computer-generated information over real world physical environment. This computer generated imagery is seen through special eye wear such as contacts, glasses, monocles, or perhaps even projected as a 3-D image display in front off you.

With the overlay of computer information, important context can be added to everyday content that you are sensing. This takes place when names and other information are layered over people, places, and things to give them meaning and greater value to us.

Augmented reality is really a form of mashups, where information is combined (i.e. content aggregration) from multiple sources to create a higher order of information with enhanced end-user value.

In AR, multiple layers of information can be available and users can switch between them easily at the press of a button, swipe of a screen, or even a verbal command.

Fast Company, November 2009, provides some modern day examples of how this AR technology is being used:

Yelp’s iPhone App—“Let’s viewers point there phone down a street and get Yelp star ratings for merchants.”

Trulia for Android—“The real-estate search site user Layar’s Reality Browser to overlay listings on top of a Google phone’s camera view. Scan a neighborhood’s available properties and even connect to realtors.”

TAT’s Augmented ID— “Point your Android phone at a long-lost acquaintance for his Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube activity.”

Michael Zollner, an AR researcher, puts it this way: “We have a vast amount of data on the Web, but today we see it on a flat screen. It’s only a small step to see all of it superimposed on our lives.”

Maarteen Lens-FitzGerald, a cofounder of Layar, said: “As the technology improves, AR apps will be able to recognize faces and physical objects [i.e. facial and object recognition] and render detailed 3-D animation sequences.”

According to Fast Company, it will be like having “Terminator eyes,” that see everything, but with all the information about it in real time running over or alongside the image.

AR has been in use for fighter pilots and museum exhibits and trade shows for a number of years, but with the explosive growth of the data available on the Internet, mobile communication devices, and wireless technology, we now have a much greater capability to superimpose data on everything, everywhere.

The need to “get online” and “look things up” will soon be supplanted by the real time linkage of information and imagery. We will soon be walking around in a combined real and virtual reality, rather than coming home from the real world and sitting down at a computer to enter a virtual world. The demarcation will disappear to a great extent.

Augmented reality will bring us to a new level of efficiency and effectiveness in using information to act faster, smarter, and more decisively in all our daily activities personally and professionally and in matters of commerce and war.

With AR, we will never see things the same way again!

>Are We Getting Any Closer To Unified Messaging

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The Holy Grail in communications has always been the drive to unify our messaging (data, voice, video) into a single device.

To this day, we continue to see vendors developing consumer products that combine as many of these functions as will possibly fit on a device.

For example, with the traditional copy machine, we have migrated to “all in one” devices that have copy, fax, scan, and print features. At the same time, cell phones have morphed into Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), and have brought together traditional voice telephony with email, chat, web access, GPS, photos, videos, and an almost endless array of applets.  Similarly, computers are converging communications functions for email, voice over IP, photos, videos, social networking, and much more. While televisions are merging in features for web access, movies on demand, and so forth. 

Convergence is the name of the game–the consumer wants more functionality, more communications capability, more raw computing power, in single, smaller, and sleeker devices.

Ultimately, the vision for mobile communications was first epitomized by the Star Trek’s Communicator with universal language translation and later by the communications badge that with one tap put you in touch with Scotty who could beam you up to the Enterprise in a flash.

So with all the convergence in our communications gear, are we getting any closer to bona fide unified messaging systems?

I don’t know about you, but rather than less communications devices, it seems like I have more and more to fiddle and diddle with. At least two cell phones that balance on opposite sides of my belt (one is my personal phone and the other my work device) and I still have regular landlines at both home and work. Then there is my work computer and my home computer and remote access devices like air cards, tokens, and so forth. Of course, I have Skype, numerous email accounts, FaceBook, Twitter, Blogs, digital cameras, and various printing/copy/faxing/scanning devices to choose from. With various devices in just about every nook and cranny of my work and personal space, I’d say that my ability to community is certainly extensive, but unified, simple, user-centric—I don’t think so!

Government Computer News, 4 May 2009, reports: “Like the paperless office, unified messaging—storing and accessing various types of communications, from e-mail to voice mails, faxes and videos, in a single place—has been something of a chimera.”

With unified messaging, like the Holy Grail, it seems like the more we chase it, the more elusive it becomes.

Why?

Perhaps, we have a little bit of Moore’s Law running up against Murphy’s Law here. While the capability for us to do more computationally and functionally with ever smaller devices become greater and greater, the possibility of getting it all to work “right” becomes a greater and greater challenge. Maybe there are limits to how many functions a person can easily understand, access and conveniently control from a single device.

Think for a second about the infamous universal TV remote that has become the scorn of late night comedy. How many people get frustrated with these devices—all the buttons, functions, alt-functions, and so on that no reasonable person seems to care to learn. Or think about the 2 inch think operating instruction booklet that comes with the DVD player or other electronic devices that people are scared to even break the binding on. Then there are the PDA’s with touch screen keypads that you see people fat-fingering and getting the words all wrong. The list goes on and on.

Obviously, this is not user-centric architecture and it doesn’t work, period.

The consumer product company that gets “it”—that can design communications devices for the end-user that are functional and powerful with lots of capability and as close to unified as possible, but at the same time simple, compact, convenient, and easy to use (i.e. intuitive) will crack this unified messaging nut.

We cannot sacrifice ease of use for convergence!

Apple and RIM, in my experience, have probably come closest to this than any other consumer electronic companies, but even here it is a magnificent work-in-progress unfolding before our eyes.

I, for one, can’t wait for the Star Trek communications badge to become commercially available at the local Apple store. 

>Intel is King of Change and Enterprise Architecture

>Intel is one of the most amazing companies. They are the world’s largest semiconductor company, and the inventor of the popular x86 microprocessor series found in most PCs. Intel has around $40 billion in annual revenue, and ranked 62 in the Fortune 500 last year.

The Wall Street Journal 27-28 September 2008 has an interview with CEO of Intel, Paul Ostellini, that offers some useful lessons for enterprise architects:

  • Plan for change—“A CEO’s main job, because you have access to all of the information, is to see the need to change before anyone else does.” It’s great when the CEO has access to the information for seeing ahead and around the curves, but many do not. Information is critical and leaders need plenty of it to keep from steering the enterprise off a cliff. An important role of enterprise architects is provide business and technical information to the CEO and other executives to give them clear vision to the changes needed to grow and safeguard the business. (Perhaps better information would have prevented or reduced the damage to so many companies in dot-com bubble a few years ago and the financial crisis afflicting Wall Street today!)
  • Question repeatedly—a prior CEO of Intel, Andrew Grove, taught him “Ask why, and ask it again five more times, until all of the artifice is stripped away and you end up with the intellectually honest answer.” It easy to accept things on face value or to make snap judgments, but to really understand an issue, you need to get below the surface, and the way you do this is to question and dig deeper. I think this is critical for enterprise architects who are evaluating business and technology and providing recommendations to the business that can potentially make or break change efficacy. Architects should not just capture information to plunk into the architecture repository, but should question what they are seeing and hearing about the business, validate it, categorize it, and analyze it, to add value to it before serving that information up to decision makers.
  • Measure Performance—“we systematically measured the performance of every part of the company to determine what was world class and what wasn’t. Then as analytically as possible, –we made the cuts…and saved $3 billion in overall spending.” Measuring performance is the only way to effectively manage performance. If decisions are to be anything more than gut and intuition, they need to be based on quantifiable measures and not just subjective management whim. Enterprise architects need to be proponents for enterprise-wide performance measurement. And not just at the top level either. Performance measures need to be implemented throughout the enterprise (vertically and horizontally) and dashboard views need to be provided to executives to make the measures visible and actionable.
  • Communicate, communicate—“I made it my job to communicate, communicate, communicate the positive message. I did open forums, I did Webcasts, I told the employees to send me questions via email and I’d answer them…you have to convince them through reasoning and logic, the accuracy of your claims.” Good communication is one of those areas that are often overlooked and underappreciated. Leadership often just assumes that people will follow because they are “the leaders”. NOPE! People are not sheep. They will not follow just because. People are intelligent and want to be respected and explained to why….communication early and often is the key. The approach to architecture that I espouse, User-centric EA, focuses on the users and effectively communicating with them—each the way they need to absorb the information and at the level that is actionable to them. Making architecture information easy to understand and readily available is essential to help make it valuable and actionable to the users. User-centric EA uses principles of communication and design to do this.

Intel, in its 40 year history, has repeatedly planned for change, measured it, and managed it successfully. Intel’s CEO, Gordon Moore, is the epitome of driving change. Moore, the founder of Moore’s Law, captured the exponential change/improvement in silicon chip performance—identifying that the number of transistors packed on silicon chip would double every two years. Intel’s subsequent obsession with Moore’s Law has kept them as the dominant player in computer processors and may lead them to dominance in cell phones and other mobile devices as well.

>Texting Gone Wild and Enterprise Architecture

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Information availability and communication mobility is all the craze. We are connected everywhere we go. We have our phones, PDAs, and laptops as part of our everyday gear. We wouldn’t leave the house without one or more of them or a converged device like the iPhone or Sidekick. And people are walking and driving around yapping on the phone or typing out text messages. Evan at work, people are answering the phone and texting in the stall. What is it about being connected with these devices that we literally can’t let go?

The Wall Street Journal, 25 July 2008, reports that “Emailing on the Go Sends Some Users Into Harm’s Way.”

These multi-taskers “ram into walls and doorways or fall down stairs. Out on the streets, they bump into lampposts, parker cars, garbage cans, and other stationary objects.”

Are people getting hurt?

You bet. James Adams of Northwestern Memorial Hospital is Chairman of Emergency Medicine, and he states “he has treated patients involved in texting incidents nearly every day this summer.”

Things have gotten so out of control that one London company began “outfitting lampposts with padded bumpers in the in the East End to cut down on injuries to errant texters.”

The stories go on and on about texters who bump into brides at wedding, fall off of curb and into construction barricades, walk into two-by-fours toted by construction workers, knock into bikers, and fall down staircases.

As a student of organizational behavior and an enterprise architect, I ask myself what is going on that people feel such a compelling need to be in touch literally every second. Are people craving intimacy? Are they insecure? Do they get a high by connecting with others and just can’t stop? Is this good thing for society and our organizations?

Certainly, the ability to communicate anytime, anywhere is a good thing. It makes us more capable. It can make us more productive (if we don’t end up killing ourselves in stupid accidents doing it irresponsibly). But like all good things, we need to learn to control our appetite for them. It’s the difference between eating thoughtfully or eating thoughtless, like glutton. Or between taking medicine when needed to treat a legitimate medical condition or just using recklessly like an addict.

Part of good enterprise architecture is building balance into the organization. Architects introduce new technologies to enable performance, but should also help develop policies and ensure training for responsible usage.

It’s terrific to bring new capabilities to the organization and society, but our role as architects does not end there. The human capital perspective of the enterprise architecture comes into play and demands that we go beyond the pure business requirements and technology solutions, and explore the impact of the technology on the people who will use. The human capital perspective of the architecture provides a lens through which we can manage the integration of people and technology.

I’d believe that we should educate people to use technology more responsibly, rather than outfit every lamppost and tree with bumper pads!