IT is creeping up on humans, getting inexorably closer with every passing year. The process started off slowly in the 1940s, with just one or two large experimental computers – such as Colossus – in a single country. Then, a few years later, there was a computer in the city where you live, like LEO, the first business computer that ran the J Lyons empire.
By the 1960s, mainframes were in your business, then your office and, 20 years later, sitting on your desk. By the 1990s, the advent of notebooks put IT in your briefcase. In the past five years, smartphones have put it in your pocket, and now, wearable devices are putting it next to your skin.
So can IT get closer? Yes. It will go right inside you, according to Joseph Reger, EMEIA CTO at Fujitsu.
An academic by trade, with a PhD from the University of Cologne in Germany, Reger has worked in the fields of theoretical physics and computer sciences at institutions in Europe and the US. He spent three years as a visiting scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, engaged in the interdisciplinary research of complex systems.
He joined Fujitsu in 1998 as head of technology marketing, having previously been executive consultant and chief IT architect at IBM.
Reger is the closest thing Fujitsu has to a crystal ball. He is responsible for predicting and making sense of IT market trends that will benefit the supplier’s customers most, and for implementing them in its strategy.
So how, exactly, will IT get under your skin? “It already is partially there,” says Reger. “There are intelligent capsules you can swallow and they can do detection work and monitoring inside your body, and release medication at the right time and in the right amount, so IT is definitely going inside the body.
“We will have, very soon, by the end of the decade, brain implants and things like that. The current discussion about Google Glass – this is a bridge technology. Obviously the information needs to be wired directly into the brain, which will happen. It is going to go deep.”
IT for all mankind
For now the stuff of science fiction, brain implants of the type Reger forecasts are the very definition of Fujitsu’s strategy around human-centric innovation, which was the key theme of Fujitsu Forum 2014, held as usual in Munich.
The concept of human-centric innovation sounds like so much marketing nonsense. But at its centre are tangible and wide-ranging benefits for global society, says Reger.
“The gist of the human-centric intelligent society describes essentially all our inspirations and directions,” says Reger. “It is about automation, back-end efficiency, the infrastructure of mankind. It’s what IT can do to make itself more efficient.
“The human end is the front-end and describes how we deal with the devices and the people and the usage of the infrastructure.”
Fujitsu wants to enable people to contribute to the success of their business or society, and wants IT to be helpful to people and to make their lives more convenient and more enjoyable.
“The infrastructure piece, the information piece, the big data piece, I would say all these are similar to other companies like Fujitsu,” says Reger. “The differentiator is the final piece.”
You will not, he says, find an explicit statement of intent to use IT for the benefit of the people anywhere else in the industry, a claim Reger sees as a manifestation of a distinctly Japanese style of thinking in the company and the pressing need “to do it right and do it effectively”.
The responsible human-centric enterprise
So how would human-centric IT work in the enterprise, and how can it be translated into terms that buyers will find attractive?
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Here, says Reger, Fujitsu sees a bifurcation in how IT is now procured. “There are standard commodity products and services that don’t enjoy much attention – their acquisition is automated, there is e-bidding and things like that,” he says.
“There isn’t much you can do in that respect with human-centric innovation, because this is cost-driven.
“The CIO and the CDO are having deeper conversations about digital transformation and progressing from here to what the business will look like in five years, and there human-centric innovation does have a role – because the human-centric business must be a responsible business.”
Responsibility, says Reger, will increasingly become part of an enterprise’s value chain and this, he argues, is not something a spreadsheet can show as a number, or that can be procured automatically.
Managing vast amounts of data invariably throws up questions over responsible and ethical handling of said data and indeed, ethics will be deeply engrained in the world of human-centric IT.
In practical terms, Reger says he spends a lot of time thinking about how personal data can be used responsibly to make the world a better place.
“Big data – which is a misnomer, it should properly be called very many small items of data – is posing new possibilities, some of them opportunities, some threats, and we will have to deal with that," he says.
"There is an ethical aspect; the management of trust and identity are going to be key issues in the future, but I believe the first step will have to be society discussing and reaching a consensus on what is okay and what is not okay, and what we consider as permissible and desirable, and what we would not like to have.”
What I am against is an arbitrary decision from some carriers to decide what they support
Open networks key to human-centric world
If it is to be of any benefit at all, human-centric IT requires, as a base layer, a fast and functioning network open to all, says Reger.
This does not mean, however, that he completely supports advocates of net neutrality. While the promise of human-centric relies on openness, Reger believes it would be impractical to give all network traffic the same priority.
“What I am against is an arbitrary decision from some carriers to decide what they support – structure is okay, arbitrary decision-making is not – so we will need to talk about how we structure the internet in the future," he says.
“I would like to see pre-agreed principles, allocated bandwidth for services society deems important to have a higher service level or quality of service, and the rest can be down to the free market, where anything goes. If there are premium value-add services on the internet that you need to pay for, that’s okay because the entire infrastructure of mankind works like that.”
This can only be accomplished with private backing, however, says Reger. To truly deliver human-centric IT, the future network will be so huge and so multi-dimensional that state money will only be able to provide the most basic of services, if that.
The boost that networks need, he argues, will come when more attractive business cases for investment in the network are established.
Whether or not human-centric IT is merely a marketing buzzword is certainly up for debate. But as the impact of IT on our working and personal lives becomes wider and deeper, the challenge for both CIOs and suppliers alike will be to incorporate the ideals of transparency and ethical responsibility into the core of how our industry presents itself to the user.