November 10, 2000 | Economic Times

Wait for the real impact

Many people who think they’ve witnessed the full impact of the internet have merely nibbled at its power. In the second of a two-part article, Corporate Dossier examines the technologies that are shaping the internet era, traces emerging trends and analyses their commercial, corporate and social implications.

Invitation – S RAMADORAI

The emergence of the internet to its full potential will be aided by a variety of new technologies and devices. Technologies for mobile devices will gain prominence. There will be a transition from PCs to home appliances to mobile computing in various forms-PDA, digital mobile phones, intelligent transport systems and digital appliances, whether TV camera, movie, audio or next-generation gaming machines. For instance, Japan had 60 million mobile phones in 1999. This number is expected to go up to 80 million by 2003. There were 10 million mobile computing users in 1999, which is expected to go up to 53 million by 2003.

Hardware

Hardware breakthroughs will be necessary to address data storage-related issues in terms of scalability, performance and architecture; specifically broadband, smart cards, etc., so that there can be real-time collaboration between PCs, and enablement of development in speech recognition. There will be a need for high-end servers for PC centres and enhanced levels of scalability-essentially a tandem model.

In the future a hardware company’s growth may be measured in terms of the data units that its products and technologies can handle. EMC corporation, which manufactures disk drives, measures its growth by the size of data that its drives can collect from ATMs, laptops, mobile phones, information kiosks, credit card authorisation systems and web pages. Excite, for example, has collected 100 terabytes of data in 20 months. Global telecom has collected 120 terabytes of data in 3 months, and a company called Delta ventures has accumulated 80 terabytes in 12 months.

Companies in Taiwan are planning to produce higher capacity disk drives, spurring a technology transition from system-centric to PC-centric to network-centric to content-based storage. EMC is looking at making the shift from 80 billion to 80 trillion bytes of data, including speech, video and vision based systems. The server market is expected to grow from US$20 to US$35 billion, and the disk storage capacity market is likely to grow from US$44 to US$78 billion. Towards this end, about US$1.2 billion is being invested in R&D, a major portion of which will be allocated for software development.

Software

Software will be major driver of the internet, and software companies the world over must already be planning to launch products to bring about this ‘global connectivity’ that is the internet. These products would address a multitude of functionalities-simplified development of next-generation web services, rapid application development for the internet, '‘build and reach'’ of application through any channel, automatic XML integration, creation and consumption of web services, enterprise-scale interoperability management etc.

In the expected flurry of internet-based activity, the safety and security of data and transactions will emerge to be a major concern. Cyber security will therefore be a top-priority issue that software has to solve. Effective cyberlaws will also have to be enacted.

Companies will also focus on making breakthroughs in software and hardware scalability. Microsoft, for example, already has plans to release a 64-bit data centre server in 2000, followed by Embedded windows 2000, Exchange 2000, Application centre 2000, Commerce Server 2000, Business Dot Server 2000 and Post-integration Server 2000. Again, the implication of all this is digital collaboration and the ushering in of the digital lifestyle. Perhaps the best is yet to come in the form of digital set-top box telephones with screens.

In the area of training and continuing education, software will also need to orient itself to the wireless medium, besides the PC. Specifically, it will have to address speech and video-based or integrated services. Tata Consultancy Services(TCS) is working in this area with the university of California at San Diego, where work is on to make broadband a medium to reach out to customers or to provide services through this medium. Operating systems such as Unix and Linux, and software based on these could be used to provide these services.

Social implications

It will be a ‘digital way of life’ in the new world order. Videos, notes, contracts, meetings, handwriting and speech recognition will all happen in the digital medium, so that users of these technologies can access information anywhere.

Corporate missions will also undergo a metamorphosis. Microsoft’s earlier mission of a ‘PC on every desk’ has now evolved to ‘empowering people through great software anywhere on any device’ and the company has revealed plans to launch a large suite of Windows 2000 products.

In the new world, the internet will extend the onus of training and continuing education from the management to the individual employee. Organisations will only make the investments and facilitate the creation of an electronic self-help infrastructure that will accelerate learning.

The Blacksburg (the Blackbury Electronic village in Blackbury,. Virginial) community-wide network has the highest per capital internet usage in the world-83 per cent. Every classroom, every school has direct high-speed internet access. Seventy-five per cent of all local business is transacted as e-business, through the net. And courses on the net are offered by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the stat University.

At the same time, the importance and relevance of social experiences like face –to- face

Meetings across the table cannot be lost sight of. The Standard university has taken cognisance of this in its projects on distance learning.

Amidst all the internet –oriented global trends and advancements, there is also the sad strain of technology not reaching many people. If this continues, it will result in a divide between the technology haves and have-nots. For example, if the internet does not become widespread in Africa and Asia, about 64 per cent of the world’s children will become isolated. This will have social implications.

The internet irony of the day is the illusion that the internet has created in some people who think that they have witnessed the full impact of this medium after having merely nibbled at its power. Michael Dertouzas, director of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, puts it aptly:L

"Today’s internet is populated by exhibitionists and voyeurs. I’m not talking about sex. The former show off their wares for pride or profit. The latter switch their eyes and click their minds to se what’s there. Add e-mail and a pinch of e-commerce and people think "We’re there!" Not so. The number of users and services will surely grow. The big changes will be felt through technological capabilities, usage patterns and social consequences still to come.

"Qualitatively, we’re somewhere around a tenth of the web’s or internet’s full potential. We can look forward to speaking to our machines and unloading our work on them. Today, we do everything ourselves, taxing our eyes and brains. While content is always on the tip of our tongue, we ignore information work which is ten times bigger.

"What will be the social and economic impact of 50 million Indians billing their clerical services to the English-speaking world at one fourth the cost? We have hardly begun using such human collaboration over space and time even amongst the wealthy industrial world. We are entering an era where these and other capabilities become a reality as computer and communications systems become human centres serving people’s needs rather than the other way around."

The internet paradigm is therefore all about ‘global collaboration’ in terms of communication connectivity and partnerships on a scale yet unprecedented. We need to embrace this in everything we do, whether they are internal systems or our own efficiencies, knowledge-gathering, dissemination, communication with each other-and use this as a medium more than anything else.

We have to change. There is no other option.