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Gartner sees 'context-based computing' on the horizon

Label refers to use of customer info from social nets, GPS and other wireless services

By , Network World
October 21, 2010 01:41 PM ET

Network World - ORLANDO -- Being a CIO -- or working for one -- no longer means just keeping a data center and network running. Now the CIO and the IT division must become "entrepreneurial" to drum up new customers for the business and learn how to deploy cutting-edge technologies such as "context-based computing" -- or risk becoming irrelevant.

That was the message from a chorus of analysts at Gartner's 20th ITxpo Symposium in Orlando this week, where thousands of CIOs and senior-level IT professionals heard that they must think more like sales and marketing people to find new customers by using the tricks of their IT trade. That would not only mean the IT division supporting the usual e-commerce efforts on the Web, but stretching further to grasp and deploy "context-based computing" to mine sources of information, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, plus GPS data and wireless mobile devices, to get new customers by pinpointing their identities in both the virtual and physical worlds.

Limitations of software-as-a-service highlighted at Gartner ITxpo

In Gartner's view, context-based computing goes beyond the business intelligence applications that IT supports today but will likely need to make use of them to process data culled from social networking and mobile-device use. According to Gartner, this is where the future is headed, and ignoring it while the competition plows into it could mean becoming an IT dinosaur.

Context-based computing is "going to change the IT industry and change the financial model," predicted Peter Sondergaard, Gartner vice president of research, adding there's going to be a sense of "discontinuity" because of it.

In addition, Gartner is encouraging "moving IT functions to the cloud," said Gartner vice president Nick Jones. That might mean a diminished IT department, and in Gartner's view, the new mission of IT should not be simply optimizing computer and network efficiency.

So what is this all about?

In a session entitled "Context-aware Computing Scenario: What CIOs need to Know," Gartner analyst William Clark sought to explain the process of combining various sources of information, such as GPS data, satellite maps and information that can be gleaned from mobile-device use, Facebook, Google and telecom providers to build a very targeted picture of the user.

"Wireless carriers and financial-services vendors already possess the essential information elements," he said, noting context-based computing exists in some forms today, such as with the anti-fraud monitoring methods the credit-card industry uses to detect suspect card use.

Vendors such as IBM, Digby, Netbiscuits and Opentext are showing how to blend personal information with customer-related information to create a picture of the individual. He acknowledged that it will "give you a Big Brother moment or two."

Patterns related to individuals can be compiled using "context-aware applications using ensemble programming techniques," Clark said. Context-aware ads and displays will become commonplace as "hyperpersonalization" takes off in earnest in the next few years, he said, predicting there will be an overall net economic impact globally in excess of $140 billion by 2015.

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