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The Index of Convergence - Chris Yapp

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By guest blogger, Chris Yapp I wanted to share this post with you. Chris is a leading industry figure and a close colleague. We’d be fascinated to hear your views on Chris’s idea of an Index of Convergence. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did when I read it. Index of Convergence – Chris Yapp Thirty years ago this month I took delivery of a Decwriter II and an acoustic coupler. It could deliver 110 baud and on a good day 300. I sent my first email! We often talk about the exponential change and the rapid innovations in IT. Certainly I’ve seen over my career moves from hundreds and thousands to Mega, Giga and Terra on the one hand and down to the nano on the other. Yet last week, I was talking to a client who was still struggling to make a business case to upgrade from office 97 meet financial hurdles. If we really were making exponential change surely this wouldn’t be so hard? This June will be the 60th anniversary of Baby in Manchester an important milestone in the history of computing. These big anniversaries have made me reflection the real speed of change. I moved to the computer industry in 1980 because of a growing fascination with networks and databases. On my first trip to Japan, to NEC I became aware of Koji Kobayashi’s vision as outlined in his book “Computers and Communications”. As far as I can see he was working on the notion back in the early 60s. The formal C&C strategy of NEC was announced in 1977. What he envisaged was a world where a person in Japan a person in America and a person in Russia each had a device or devices that would enable them to speak in their native tongue and for the system to translate for the receiver. Extend this to any document such as a word processing document and you have an information infrastructure that we could describe as fully converged. How close are we to that now and how fast are we progressing? Let me describe the goal as a score of 100 on an index. 100 would be a globally available infrastructure that would facilitate human communications in any language and allow for the storage, retrieval of all media. Now go back and score year by year. What do you find? Actually progress looks pretty slow and sporadic and different in different areas, so natural language, AI and other factors have not achieved the leaps we thought we might make in the early 80s. The picture I have is rapid progress in the raw technologies but at the “system level” much more of a slow evolution. Sometimes a failure to look at the history can create unnecessary hype. Take for instance “Social Networking”. When did that start? As far as I can tell, “The Well” back in 1985 can lay claim to be the first viable online community. What I observe from my personal scoring is that we get early innovations that are fitful and slow to take off and then explode. If we look only at the growth phase we see rapid change but don’t appreciate the gestation period. So as Computers reach their 60th birthday, I’d like to propose an update of Kobayashi’s vision, an index of convergence. At the top level, I think it would be good to debate what we think we are trying to accomplish as an industry. Can we agree on what a score of 100 would mean? At a second level, I think that we can create a set of second level indices. One would be for the technical infrastructure, a globally available, fully interoperable infrastructure of networked technologies, a Global Grid. Along side this we could have an index to represent the “infostructure”, the software and services needed to store, retrieve and translate media and languages. A further index would represent the social infrastructure. These would include the devices that enable people to access the infrastructure and infostructure. It would enable them to be secure, manage and protect their identity, and to be personalisable to overcome language and disability barriers. My initial thinking is that we would need to go down to a third level index to be able to surface the richness needed to make this really powerful. What I am proposing is that each year 1,000 influential individuals around the world could each give their scores for today and maybe 5 years hence and the collective wisdom would be published via the web. Different camps may well emerge who have different views on where we actually are and are heading. That in itself would be interesting. Each year, the goal itself could be challenged. Each year, the level 2 and level 3 indices could be challenged so that new technologies that come from left field could be incorporated. My hope is that this could become a global open innovation model for the era of convergence. For the investor, a set of measures which show where the action is could help. For the contrarian investor it would expose the crowd mentality. For the young turks, when they see the great and the good forecasting little progress in one area, it provides an opportunity to innovate and break the consensus. At a global level, the index could be regionalised. Scores for Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia could show deployment levels and fit to local needs. Above all, we can harness the technologies in which we work to orchestrate a global community of IT professionals to debate and deliver on the purposes to which the next 60 years of developments could be harnessed. Anyway, it may be 60 in June, but there’s plenty of life left in IT. It would be nice to live long enough to see the Centenary and see that vision of Kobayashi delivered on. Fingers crossed. It’s been a long time coming.

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