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Offices in 2020: What will they be like?
Tim Finnegan, TotalCare IT Solutions

By Tim Finnegan
TotalCare Program Director, Alphanumeric Systems
Tim Finnegan, TotalCare Program Director, Alphanumeric Systems
Guest Columnist Special Feature:

Technology is constantly evolving and changing. Only 15 years ago, voicemail was still being introduced to mainstream corporate America, e-mail was used as a communication mechanism only within companies and attending a meeting in another city meant actually traveling there.

Look how far we’ve come. Don’t expect these advancements to slow down any time soon. Technology will be smarter, more efficient and more helpful in the years ahead. Here is a sneak peek at what a high-tech American office will be like less than only 15 years from now:

Self-Healing Machines
Companies will move from a reactive “sense and respond” approach to managing IT to a proactive “cause and effect” positioning. This change will be fueled by the increased use of predictive technologies, such as remote monitoring, a technology in which TotalCare is leading the way. Our flagship technology is proactive remote monitoring, meaning we are able to monitor the health of company desktops and network from a remote location, detect issues before they arise and stop them before they wreak havoc on your business.

However, in 15 years this technology will evolve so that machines (such data storage devices) are able to self-diagnose and make necessary adjustments automatically. Thus, infrastructures that are “self-healing” will run more quickly than those that rely heavily on human intervention. Consequently, fewer systems will break or slow down.
Moreover, next-generation infrastructures will have the ability to learn as they go. This will help ensure their optimal performance, and the enterprise's agility, over time. This is good news for businesses that want to maximize their systems, users, time capital and budgets. 1

Interactive Office Spaces
By the year 2020, offices are expected to be embedded with sensors that monitor and maintain a stable environment—including temperature, humidity and lighting — and correspond with users' needs.

Revolutionary office-furniture maker Steelcase – who is leading the evolution of office environment through concepts like ergonomics and environmental design - is already developing desk chairs that will sense when you're stressed and, maybe even tell the boss to lessen your workload. Think that’s impressive? How about PCs that can help you place a particular name when you’ve forgotten it. 2

Today we are used to meeting or working in coffee shops and restaurants with Wi-Fi access, but in the year 2020 we will have much more than a wireless connection at area shops. Steelcase imagines that cafés of the future will have tables with built-in computer displays.

As Generation Y (people born between 1981 and 1999) enters the workforce, we can expect that their sense of unity and collaboration will affect much more than their work ethic, but furthermore the design of actual office buildings. Many companies will begin enlarging and redesigning common areas in their office buildings so they are more “spacious and homey,” according to a recent article in BusinessWeek. The article suggests that these redesigns will “help cut weeks from some group project schedules by making work more pleasant.” 3

Steelcase is also researching lights that change hue or feature a stripe or color depending upon whether you are in or out – so your co-workers can see from a distance instead of calling your extension or walking over to your office. 4

Improved, Smarter Search Engines
We already rely on search engines to find information but it is a safe bet that in the future search engines will be the method by which we not only gain knowledge, but "organize" knowledge. A recent CIO blog says that when we choose to browse, “we will do so by heuristically developed, organized views of indexed information as opposed to items filed or tagged by topic. People will even be able to look for information through voice commands via appropriate devices. For example, if you are in your car, you would say ‘Google: weather in Raleigh’. We will no longer see static documents turning up in searches, but interactive and dynamically updated documents.” 5

360-Degree Videoconferencing
Microsoft is already working on a technology that allows cameras to project a 360-degree view of everyone at the table for employees who join a meeting remotely. The program will also include a screen at the bottom of the display, where it shows the face of the person speaking, thus reducing “misunderstandings that are common to phone conferencing, where it sometimes isn't clear who's speaking or whether the person is serious or joking”. 6

Rosie Jetson in the Office
Don’t worry. We don’t mean that our invaluable personal assistants will be replaced by robots, but many of the duties that your assistant performs now will be taken over by intelligent, lightning-fast software.

A more advanced version of the videoconferencing software we just mentioned would have sensors that detect when you’ve been swinging around in your chair during a conference call and assume that you’ve been distracted during the meeting. It would then give you a typed summary of the most important points the callers discussed during that time.

The same folks known for inventing laser printing and the Ethernet Palo Alto Research Center, are working on what they call “summarizing programs”, which would help, for example, an office worker who's asked to develop a presentation on a 400-page report overnight. The program can sum up the main points and present them in grammatically correct sentences -- and in just a few pages.

Now if only the software were able to make coffee runs, too….

Seamless Data Access and Messaging
Before you know it, you will replace your multiple devices like your personal computer, phone, fax, scanner, electronic organizer or camera — into a single convenient device. Through this one device, you will be able to participate in videoconferences, check e–mail, return calls, upload and download documents, email reports, collaborate on projects, conduct research, schedule virtual meetings, scan documents and images and send or receive text, audio and video messages. What’s more our voice, voicemail, email, SMS (also known as text messages), IM, alerts and automated response will be integrated into the same device.

Better yet, the tools will provide access to corporate headquarters, an instant office center, the Internet, colleagues' computers, the user's own home desktop or a library database. Microsoft is already working on software that enables emails and voicemails to be routed to wherever you are. So, when you put your cell phone on your desk at work, special chips in it will route cell calls to your office number.

Improved ID Methods
Large technology companies like Microsoft are developing new technologies to eliminate office annoyances, such as having to remember dozens of passwords. Microsoft has developed a technology called "Click It", where instead of having to enter a complicated password, you would log onto your computer by using the mouse to click on 10 places within a picture. For example, you would click on specific points of a picture of your son playing soccer. Research shows that pictures are easier to remember than numbers, and since each picture contains millions of pixels, picture passwords can be highly secure.

Steelcase also predicts that employees will wear name badges with embedded RFID (radio-frequency identification) that allows scanners to read the tag and permit access. Scanners near your work station would also read the tag and alert your computer, which would then boot up and open to the page you last looked at the night before.

You might not be surprised to learn that much of the futuristic research is being done by innovators right here in the Triangle. The University of Chapel Hill is working on what they call the “Office of the Future”, in which computer screens are 4,000 pixels wide and wrap around the room. Check it out here: http://www.cs.unc.edu/Research/stc/

Of course, we will see many of these technologies introduced before the year 2020 but unfortunately it may not be practical or affordable for most small and medium sized businesses for a while … besides the fact that our current hardware, office furniture and other devices have a multi-year life spans and replacement of these items will be gradual.

1.CIO, “Microsoft And The Future Of IT: Three CIOs Weigh In”, July 2006, By Ben Worthen
2.OfficeTeam®, “Office of the Future: 2020”, 2006
3.BusinessWeek, “Sneak Peeks at Tomorrow's Office”, April 2004, By Olga Kharif ibid
4.CIO, “Microsoft And The Future Of IT: Three CIOs Weigh In”, July 2006, By Ben Worthen
5.BusinessWeek, “Sneak Peeks at Tomorrow's Office”, April 2004, By Olga Kharif
6.BusinessWeek, “Sneak Peeks at Tomorrow's Office”, April 2004, By Olga Kharif
7.OfficeTeam®, “Office of the Future: 2020”, 2006
8.BusinessWeek, “Sneak Peeks at Tomorrow's Office”, April 2004, By Olga Kharif
9.BusinessWeek, “Sneak Peeks at Tomorrow's Office”, April 2004, By Olga Kharif

>> Visit the totalcareitsolutions.com website for Step 2:
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About our Expert:
Tim Finnegan is the Program Director for TotalCare IT Solutions at Alphanumeric Systems (www.alphanumeric.com), a Raleigh-based technology solutions provider. He is is responsible for the company’s TotalCare line of Managed Services- a comprehensive suite of proactive monitoring and support services designed to meet the needs of small and medium businesses. His 17-year career in the technology arena spans from the late ‘80s days of centralized computing to current leading-edge technologies such as behavioral modeling, autonomic computing, and identity management. Find out about more at http://www.totalcareitsolutions.com . For more background information and past articles for CarolinaNewswire.com, check out Tim's Archives as well as all our other guest expert columns

CarolinaNewswire.com provides the thoughts and analysis of this columnist as a free benefit to our readers but without any representations or warranties as to the accuracy or efficacy of such thoughts or analysis. The opionions, analysis, and thoughts expressed here are those of the author only and should not be deemed as medical, legal, financial, tax or other advice from this publication. Readers with such questions should consult a professional.