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5/14/2007
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Inventing the Future of Business Technology

Accenture Labs' test building in Silicon Valley falls somewhere between seeing the future and inventing it, researchers suggest.

A lab project that may make it to market sooner is the Technology Investment Radar, which might be described as a news analysis engine grafted to Google Trends. Its purpose is to tell Accenture clients when to invest in a given technology. This turns out to be a non-trivial issue since investing too soon or too late can doom a given technology initiative to failure.

The Technology Investment Radar counts mentions of certain technologies (i.e.: WiMAX) in news articles and in online documents like job postings to determine where that technology is in terms of market acceptance and adoption. It attempts to determine whether a given technology is Pre, Potential, Emerging, Growing, Mature, or Dying.

While assessments of this sort can be done deliberately or intuitively, Accenture's research aims to systematize the process. As this sort of data mining technology becomes more common, Kass foresees companies becoming more cautious about what they post online. He reasons that information that might innocuous in isolation, like a job posting, might be valuable business intelligence to a competitor when aggregated in an automated system.

Systems like Business Event Advisor and the Technology Investment Radar that attempt to automate the collection of business intelligence may have a hidden cost, however. They may encourage the creation and publication of business misinformation, just as keyword searching and search indexing gave rise to spam blogs.

"There will be gaming," said Hughes, "but there will also be some truth in it."

Accenture Labs is also working on other projects such as the Virtual Corridor and Teledining. The Virtual Corridor is a twist on video conferencing. It's simply a corridor with an always-on video connection. Because of its location and the fact that the system uses an always-on video connection, it encourages impromptu collaboration rather than periodic scheduled meetings.

Accenture researchers passing through the Virtual Corridor are apt to encounter their Chicago colleagues and socialize. Initially, it wasn't that way however. It used to be the researchers in Chicago avoided the cameras in their lab because they could not see around the corner in the Palo Alto corridor, making them uncertain about who might be listening to their conversations. With the addition of new cameras and video screens to provide a sense of peripheral vision, the Virtual Corridor became more psychologically inviting and now the system gets frequent use.

Teledining, as its name suggests, envisions a way to dine with distant friends and family. By using a flat screen monitor situated next to participants' dining tables and video cameras, the system can create a sense of togetherness when physical presence isn't possible.

"We're trying to recreate digitally the richness of the physical world," said Hughes, who foresees the technology being used to enhance the ability of the elderly and dispersed families to socialize.

Hughes views the system as a way to reverse the separation that advances in transportation technology made possible during the 20th century. Instead of pushing us apart, technology "now can bring us together," he said.

Just try not to damage the screen when your distant date asks you to pass the salt.

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