IEEE's Rock Stars of Mobile Cloud: No Rock, But a Few Stars

I attended the IEEE’s recent Rock Stars of Mobile Cloud event in Boston. Here are few interesting observations from a very diverse set of presenters.

I spent Tuesday last week at the IEEE Rock Stars of Mobile Cloud event in Boston. The IEEE is of course best known for its soporific standards and conferences of interest to few beyond geeks and nerds. This event, however, was intentionally mainstream and designed to keep a diverse audience more than awake with a steady stream of opinion, debate, and real-world experience.

With respect to the last of these, the initial speaker, Dr. John D. Halamka, MD, CIO at Boston's world-renowned Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and a practicing emergency physician, gave an excellent talk on how mobile technologies are going to work in a large (3,000 doctors) facility today. Of particular interest was a video he showed of Google Glass (now available, by the way, to all - at least all with US$1,500) dramatically enhancing the productivity of already-overworked physicians. I was left with a question of how these users might disinfect the device, but Dr. Halamka had to depart before I could ask him. No matter, mobile IT (in this case, wearables means hands-free, obviously an essential element in medicine) and the cloud are clearly becoming vital to healthcare, where access to patient and other information on a more than timely basis can make the difference in outcomes of all forms - from patient care to the bottom line. Dr. Halamka did note that some physicians do have a problem with this kind of innovation, but also that there are 2,000 iPads, 2,000 Android devices, and 4,000 iPhones at work on his network today, along with two BlackBerrys and one Windows Phone - that last one used only for testing. No surprises in those statistics! Still, in an environment where both innovation and stability are essential, mainstream mobile devices are now the norm.

Dr. Halamka did of course touch on the issue of privacy, as such is essential in healthcare, thanks to HIPPA. He personally meets this challenge via "no local persistence" of sensitive data on any mobile device, and "total IT control". He even sees his IT department moving totally into the cloud over time with, of course, that total IT control over security. And he also sees the end of the desktop computer, with all IT client devices emphasizing mobility sooner than later. Many of us share that vision no matter what the application, and I was heartened that the era we envisioned back in the early 1980s at GRiD Systems has now truly arrived. Still, it seems like only yesterday that these events were all about that controversial new direction in IT, client/server.

Many of the other speakers also touched on the privacy issue, one that I've noted before as being critical to the future of mobility while remaining apparently insoluble. Some noted that privacy is today a matter of contract law, but perhaps not even that. The afternoon panel was criticized by some in the audience for expressing a "defeatist" attitude regarding security overall after several members suggested that breaches were in fact inevitable. And the question of who actually owns personal data was similarly left unsettled. I still contend that the politics of privacy and security is the gating issue today, and our leaders in government had better get busy - the future of everything here truly does hang in the balance.

There was also some discussion of what many are today calling the Experience Economy - one where the success of goods and services is primarily a function of customer delight. Apple is of course the benchmark here, but other suppliers are learning, and rapidly, about how to enhance if not optimize another often-insoluble, quality of experience. Still, every issue from my kickoff column (link above) this year was noted by the speakers at this event - so, while the era of mobility and the cloud is clearly here, there is still a lot of work to do.

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