Software can be roughly divided into two camps: the kind that the average person uses for photo-sharing and e-mailing, and the kind that provides an information infrastructure for businesses.
While business software largely remains behind-the-scenes, it is crucial to making sure that packages get delivered, stores are stocked, and money is transferred securely. Increasingly, businesses must manage “information overload”–something that the average person experiences through copious e-mails and instant messages–to make quick, effective decisions.
Technology Review interviewed Kristof Kloeckner, the vice president of strategy and technology for IBM’s software group, to find out how software can be used to help people and businesses cope with the increasing amount of information, and how software will evolve as that information grows more complex.
TR: From your standpoint, what are some important trends that will drive software development in the future?
Kristof Kloeckner: One trend is growing complexity. You have an abundance of e-mails, instant messages, and calendar events. There’s lots of information that you need to winnow down to what’s important for you. This has direct relevance for consumers when you look at information management. How do you actually find information that is relevant for you and put it in context? The simple example is where someone magically finds information and mashes it up with Google maps, but there are complex challenges around that. Can you trust this information? Is it correct? Who supplied it?
TR: How is this complexity being tackled?
KK: At IBM, we call it “Information on Demand.” It’s a combination of software that analyzes data, detects patterns, and allows patterns to be visualized, basically showing you the information in the data in a way that you can see the important trends and the important results. Visualization is extremely important because somehow you have to transform numbers into something that’s comprehensible. It’s really the volume of data and the need for speed that is driving this technology and adoption. What this boils down to is, we really want to help you use the information that’s hidden in your data. You want to free it up, and you want to do it on a timescale that’s relevant for your business.
TR: IBM works with organizations such as banks and retailers to develop software that can help them manage the masses of data that they collect. How does this relate to the average person?
KK: It relates to the average consumer in an indirect way because it enables enterprises to react more quickly to consumer demands. One example I find very fascinating involves a mid-sized clothing retailer in Germany–a global company I’ve worked with for the past two years. What they’ve built themselves is an integrated supply chain that can get really early indications of consumer trends. The company claims that it can do real-time trend analysis, data analysis on what customers are shopping for. This gives them up-to-the-minute insight into buying trends. For instance, the company claims that it can discover people’s color preferences for clothes earlier than it could by just looking at data from a few specific stores. Consumers’ buying behaviors over all the stores are tracked in real time, and the data is analyzed to predict future trends. In essence, the store can deliver what you want before you know you want it.