Next generation IT: understanding user context

Gartner predicts that advances in networks, mobile hardware capabilities, social computing, service-oriented architecture (SOA), and unified communication...

Gartner predicts that advances in networks, mobile hardware capabilities, social computing, service-oriented architecture (SOA), and unified communication will make it easier to build and use context-enriched services. This will present a significant business opportunity for service providers, mobile device manufacturers and suppliers of communication infrastructure.

Context-aware computing focuses on making use of information about the end-user to improve the quality of the interaction. Emerging context-enriched services will use location, presence, social attributes, and other environmental information to anticipate an end user's immediate needs, offering more-sophisticated, situation-aware and usable functions.

Why is context-aware computing worth my time?

Gartner research has shown that context-aware computing has a high correlation to business expectations and therefore is a natural place to invest time and effort as business leadership responds to turbulent economic conditions and positions the business for future growth.

Context-aware computing can help by improving business processes, reducing enterprise costs, attracting and retaining new customers, improving workforce effectiveness, creating new products and services, expanding into new markets and geographies, and expanding current customer relationships.

Many organisations are beginning to experiment with social networking, which can also provide significant context information as well as use context information to achieve better results. By 2011, organisations at the cutting edge of technology adoption will begin to integrate multiple contextual components to provide a richer user experience that enables top-line growth as well as workplace efficiencies.

How do I make a business case?

Particularly in the current economic climate, where resources are scarce and businesses are hesitant to invest in new areas, Gartner recommends focusing management on how context-rich information can improve compelling business opportunities. For example, context-aware computing might be used to help improve the quality of call centre interactions, improve marketing efforts or increase the efficiency of collaboration.

Why is it important to get started early?

The real promise of context-aware computing will be realised when context information can be federated across multiple sources and applications and when trust and privacy issues are addressed. These are not trivial challenges, and those organisations that begin to explore solutions now will be better placed to exploit the "game changing" potential as context information and context-enriched services become increasingly ubiquitous. Gartner maintains that experimentation will be critical to success.

How do I introduce context-aware computing?

The introduction of any new technology can be tricky, and Gartner recommends a five-point plan when adopting context-aware computing:

• Choose a current strategic initiative that can be improved through the use of context information.

• Don't make the application too complex or too simple. The conventional wisdom is to make the implementation as simple as possible, but this will not allow for the demonstration of full benefits.

• Weigh the costs of acquiring context information carefully.

• Be sure to address privacy concerns.

• Be sure to measure the business benefits.

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