What are the three main trends that will be driving business applications over the next three to five years?
If you look three to five years out, the underlying technology trends that will continue to drive innovation are:
1. The rise of intelligent sensor networks.
2. The rise of scaleable intelligence techniques -- all the techniques that can analyse the data that is coming from all the sensors and could lead to useful business insight.
3. The rise of technology that enables you to be and act "there" from a distance and cope with lots of information, and it will be driven by pixels. We're going to have very inexpensive pixels everywhere -- we see it in cell phones.
Those are technologies that enable us to sense -- intelligent sensor networks; to think -- technologies that enable our systems to think, which is scaleable intelligence; and technologies that enable us to act on all this intelligence.
What are the business applications of these trends?
Our vision of the business implications of these trends is what we call Reality Online -- a connection between the physical world and the world that is reflected in our systems, so now technology will enable us to connect to physical realities and see them in real time, and for them to be reflected in our systems in real time so we can act on them in real time. I think Reality Online is going to revolutionise relationships between customers and enterprises.
How will Reality Online do that?
Let's take an example of shopping for groceries. Supermarkets already collect a lot of information about their customers, using loyalty cards and checkout information, but they don't do much with that information today. And the customers don't get much benefit from this information.
Although some supermarkets are already experimenting with smart shopping carts, they don't do much with them except to show customers some advertising and, in some stores, customers can use those carts as self-checkouts. A smart shopping cart is a cart with a little screen attached to it and with a wireless connection so with that cart, the supermarkets can actually communicate with a customer in real time.
Accenture built a prototype that creates a model of a particular customer, Mrs. Jones, so we can create an exact model of Mrs. Jones with her exact shopping habits -- what did Mrs. Jones buy, when did she buy it?
We can use this model to predict exactly what Mrs. Jones is likely to need, or want, in Aisle 3 of the supermarket on Tuesday afternoon. So with the smart cart, we can actually say something intelligent to Mrs. Jones, like reminding her about what she would buy in her normal buying cycle in a particular location of the supermarket, because shoppers typically forget to buy between 10 and 12 percent of what they should be buying.
And that's real money to the bottom line of a supermarket, and that's convenience for Mrs. Jones. This is what we call experiential technologies, or experience technologies -- technologies that enable us to act right there where Mrs. Jones needs that action, right there in Aisle 3.
Can you take that idea a little further?
If we take this a little bit further into the future, we can imagine that a lot of clothing that we buy is going to have RFID tags. You can zap these tags out of existence at the checkout counter, but if you keep them activated, then you can access some interesting services through what we call an Online Wardrobe, which uses sensors, tagging and tracking technologies.
With the Online Wardrobe, consumers can selectively reveal the contents of their wardrobe to their favourite merchants. In return, they receive personalised offerings and timely reminders about products of interest. And since the wardrobe is in the consumers' homes, businesses can more easily deliver products and services to where their customers live, rather than having to lure them to their stores or Web sites to make a sale.
Say, for example, you buy a jacket and you take it home, and your closet reads the tag and knows you bought a new jacket, and it can suggest what goes with it that you could purchase from an online store. The Online Wardrobe brings services to the point of need -- you can buy clothing through a connected closet.
How will camera phones enhance the relationship between businesses and customers?
Today, people use phones to tell something to businesses, but with the proliferation of camera phones, people want to show something to businesses. Say I see a chair I like. I can take a photo of it and send it to a furniture store and ask if they have a chair like that.
Technically, people can take snapshots today, and they can e-mail snapshots today, but if customers want to do this, businesses have to create media-enabled call centres with the technology to handle that kind of incoming media in a scaleable fashion. This will take some time -- remember, it took many, many years to move from simple telephone service to call centres. I think it will move much faster than that, but I think it will take some time because it requires a change in the way businesses think about their customers.