Imagine a world where sensitive or critical proprietary information could be automatically wiped from devices if they were in the wrong geographical location; where you could communicate with your computer using only eye movement, leaving your hands free for other tasks; and where web links containing critical information would be opened only in a safe browser. You need not imagine any longer. All of this is possible today, thanks to contextual IT.
Before I dive into the detail, it is important that I first set the scene. It was over 20 years ago when Bill Gates shared his now famous ‘Content Is King’ essay with the world. For two decades his words have rung true, as he accurately predicted the impact online content would have in building the World Wide Web and the gold rush of opportunities it would later provide to businesses. Since then though, the world has changed and software-driven mobile technologies have redefined the way we interact with the world, the way we receive relevant information, the way we communicate with loved ones, and the way we work.
In our new, mobile-centric world context is now more important than content, and it is what is needed in order to create a highly personalised experience, where the most useful information is given to us based on where we are and what we need at that exact moment in time. Global analyst firm Forrester Research describes the contextual user experience as: “a tailored, adaptive and sometimes predictive customer experience that combines and extend existing segmentation and personalisation techniques with in-the-moment details.”
The business benefit
From a business perspective, contextual IT offers near endless opportunities. At its core is all about increasing productivity by giving end users the experience that they deserve and by using context and intelligent IT to understand exactly what they need at that moment in time, all of which is possible in today’s software-driven world. For an end user for example, it means that an intuitive experience can be provided, with a host of advanced features like mail, calendar and contacts, all inside of one app. A context-aware smartphone may know that it is currently located in a meeting room, and that its user has just sat down to present. The phone may then decide to reject any unimportant calls, leaving a reminder for the user to call back afterwards. A contextually aware smartphone might also know that it should not download sensitive attachments over 3G/4G because it is in a data roaming spot, and that it should instead wait until it is connected to a corporate Wi-Fi where those documents can be properly secured, while also preventing a large data bill being run up.
It’s not only end users who have a lot to gain from contextual IT. Critically it also provides IT admin with a much greater ability to configure and manage all devices and security policies at a granular level, after all, identity and contextual IT is driven by business mobility. Whether it involves accessing e-mails, joining conference lines or streaming content online – each application is tied to a specific identity, perhaps an IP address, work profile or social media account. This all means that if a device belonging to your department makes a transaction, perhaps at 3am to an ATM endpoint in Moscow, contextual IT can help to indicate the validity of this payment. Alternatively, if a device in your department is downloading company sensitive data and is located in an area that it should not be, identity, activity and time as part of contextual awareness can all help to make a judgement call on the legitimacy of the activity.
This all helps to explain why contextual IT is redefining a number of business sectors today. Take the retail industry for example, which now has the ability to capture contextual data about a consumer's purchase history, interests, time and location. This all means that more personalised relationships can be created, with content being optimised according to the time it is received. In store-shoppers for example could experience an enriched experience, being guided through a store using an interactive floor map and a clever form of gamification (just imagine the opportunities available if retailers can turn Pokemon Go players into shoppers for example). Contextual awareness would allow for at-home online shoppers to receive an altogether different experience, perhaps receiving a deal on a product range that he/she has previously expressed an interest in. For retailers it is all about connecting with shoppers in a more meaningful way.
“It is truly the moment of mobile … Over 50 per cent of our queries come from mobile phones” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO in his opening keynote at this year’s annual developer conference. Just to put this figure into perspective, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches a day - or 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.
The very fact that half of those are now being made on a mobile device emphasises the importance of why context has never been more important than it is today. Each and every one of us lives in a software-driven world where our devices are learning from our behaviours, absorbing information about our whereabouts and predicting what we need before we even think we need it. This is an exciting world, one filled with huge opportunities for those who are willing to embrace it.
Ian Evans, EMEA Vice President for End User Computing, VMware
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