Chris S. Thomas explains how close we are to connecting the last mile.

Chris S. Thomas
Intel Corporation
Chief Strategist,
Director of Strategic Initiatives
Solutions Market
Development Group

Considered one of Intel’s visionaries who charts future directions
for industry and computing, Chris S. Thomas is an active industry spokesperson
and organizer.

DTL: What are some of the most compelling mobilized architectures
coming onto the market?

Chris S. Thomas: Over the last three or four years, the majority of
the software industry has started retooling their applications to work in the
mobilized environment. Some of the exciting work right now is the opening up
of the labor force in computing. People who have not had computers before –
the delivery people, the people out on the factory floor, etc. – are all starting
to have access to inexpensive devices, whether they’re laptops, tablets, handheld
devices or phones, they are providing a whole new set of accessibility. Some
of the exciting news is that we’re changing the point of work, gradually switching
where computer applications function, as many people are working out in the
field and are not tethered to a network or a computer system. In the past our
computing environment has been focused on delivering a centralized computing
experience that you log in to. We’re now watching the reverse happen, where
the experience is actually logged in to at the server, but is delivered to the
user through intelligent documents and new types of mobile applications.

I tend to break that into two areas. The first is composite application, and
this is the new type of application that’s being developed because of the change
to XML and Web services, which allows you to assemble information from many
different data sources, either locally or in many cases at a server. These are
creating a new rapid development environment where the application developers
are building from many different feeds at the same time. The most exciting one
I’ve seen in this space is from a company called Vizible that in 90 days deployed
a homeland security master console for police, fire and ambulance systems for
the city of Anaheim, Calif.

They had 40 different data feeds coming through the system. That would have
taken multiple years to integrate in the past, but by changing the delivery
to the client, they’re actually able to create multiple consoles, a specific
console for each type of crime or fire that they’re watching.

The other specific application area that’s emerging and shows extreme promise
and cost savings is in the area of what we call active content. This is the
idea that the documents that you’re using become applications. For example,
we tested an early version where we embedded Web services and links into PDFs
so that companies could have leadgeneration forms embedded right in a PDF, and
it could be submitted back through to a server, as opposed to hosting that on
a Web environment. That’s important because the person reading that PDF may
not be online or connected while they are reading it. Moreover, the blue-collar
laborer and others are often looking at a gas meter, functioning in an environment,
filling out a report and not online the majority of the time. Today, they still
use primarily paper. By making that piece of paper electronic, we’re seeing
almost a 75 percent reduction in human error in data entry alone.

Those two changes I believe are on the cutting edge of how we’re going to work
in the future. I call them mobilized because in the composite space they’re
using an asynchronous XML message delivery vehicle, so the system may actually
be working online, but if you clip the wire or take it offline, it would continue
working. The same is true for a document. The document may actually be interactive
because you’re on the Internet, but if you’re not, it’s still there and still

DTL: How will XML and Web services change the customer experience?

CT: It’s only beginning to. The technologies of Web services and XML
are helping us to open up a new services model. To give you an idea of the types
of business extension, a good example is a company called ESRI, the industry
leader in delivering geographic survey maps and other location-based mapping
capabilities. Before they opened up their service with Web services and delivery
maps on the Internet wrapped in XML, they had one customer: the U.S. government.
Over the last couple of years, as they’ve opened up their business online through
the services, they’ve extended to hundreds of customers and literally changed
from rendering thousands of maps a day to millions of maps a day. To render
those maps required specific piece of software. To do that, you’d have to sell
hundreds of customers the application; they’d have to go install it on their
systems; etc. But with this model, their service runs via the Internet; they
deliver it with a common metadata called XML, that many different applications
are capable of interpreting. It works loosely coupled, which means it breaks
apart the way we deliver solutions and allows pieces of an equation to be delivered
and more innovation to happen downstream, as opposed to requiring each company
to own the whole end-to-end solution.

DTL: How can Fortune 500 companies take advantage of new tools like
RSS feeds and digital signatures?

CT: What we’re seeing, whether it’s with RSS feeds or XML Web service
feeds, is that the idea of push or bidirectional information has come of age.
What we’re now seeing is that networks are bigger, the pipes are bigger and
the architectures for delivering information are much more targeted; as opposed
to these bulk transmissions of everything, you can actually target with an RSS
feed a specific information flow. They become valuable because, one by one they’re
nice, but as you aggregate them, you start to be able to present information
from many sources as if it’s a single source.

Digital signatures are part of a broader picture that I started with this electronic
document discussion. We’re right on the edge of legislation and acceptance of
the fact that a digital signature is probably a better indication that it’s
me than a piece of paper that’s faxed, because I’ve got a third party guaranteeing
that I registered and put that signature and that digital image down, versus
me simply signing and sending it and having my signature be the right one. There’s
nothing especially with fax that precludes me from overlaying my wife’s signature
on something and then handing it in and faxing it and having it look legitimate.
We’re caught in the world of physical versus logical.

Most of our business systems are just starting to open up on to the fact that
the logical world may actually be as or more secure than the physical world.
The digital signatures by themselves are nice, but as we start to design business
processes where the application you’re still using is going through a channel
or network, we start to have a layered security capability. I don’t accept your
signed document unless it comes through the path from a specific provider from
a specific machine that’s registered to you through a specific carrier. Now
all of a sudden it’s like, you signed it; you’ve got a contract with this company
who has a contract with that company that says it really is.

Identity management as it is today, logging in and trying to prove it’s me,
has had a lot of trouble taking off. But as we get to digitally signing and
then delivering information through known delivery vehicles, identity starts
to look a lot more like the paper flow. You don’t have to sign in and federate
your identity. So there’s a lot of opportunity coming down the pipe in getting
rid of human touch points in the equation – places like legislation or business
policy – where we need to trust that it really is you; and we’re at the beginnings
of believing that it really is you electronically, which is almost better than
believing it really was you in some type of paper-based delivery.

DTL: What does seamless mobility mean, and how does that fit with CRM?

CT: Seamless mobility is the idea that as I travel around, I’m actually
traveling through many networks, whether it’s my home WiFi; my WWAN, transferring
data with a memory stick or, in the future, WiMAX capabilities. CRM is about
engaging customers in a way that allows them to easily get what they need from
our company. So I don’t want to design, for instance, a URL link as my CRM link
to a customer. I can use an example: I was at a retailer the other day and I
found a problem. I asked about who I could communicate with about this upstream.
I was told to go to the website. I’m not interested in going to the website
and being processed through the system, I want a specific person or specific
system that handles complaints and issues to go to. I want to start there. I
don’t want to have to travel through a filtered environment to get there.

The ability to actually accelerate customer action tailored to their needs
is a lot of what mobility’s about. If I’m targeting an issue, say a customer
complaint, I know the place that customer complaints need to go. Why can’t I
embed in my complaint or suggestion or accolade box? Today most customers actually
don’t believe that frontline support or the first-line email support is going
to be serviced, and those systems are pretty much human and manual today. If
a customer wants to buy, we’ll make it happen so we can automate the collection
of money.

But we have not automated meeting the customer care systems. We could design
a document that contains applications that let customers easily do things like
update their address info. They can fill it out offline, at their leisure, and
submit it either through email or some type of store-and-forward vehicle in
the future, or some type of SMS or instant message or peer-to-peer interface.
We don’t know what the delivery vehicles of the future are going to bring, but
many of them are emerging.

If the customer’s info is embedded in their form, they don’t have to start
from scratch. The document has the customer ID in it. They can either digitally
sign it or the company can trust that since the customer has the document, they
are who they say they are. This is similar to mailing an item. You trust that
since I’ve received that piece of paper and sent it back to you with my address
change that it’s me.

Right now by asking customers to log in and maneuver around the Web environment,
we are putting the responsibility on customers to take care of themselves. It’s
a self-service model. As a customer myself, I’m not interested in customer self-service.
I’m interested in customer service. What if I could do a master address change
document for myself and associate that with all the documents that the vendors
have sent me? Then because it’s XML and available on my machine, I just put
my address change folder there, and whenever I change addresses, it automatically
populates each of my documents, and I can send them back to each of the vendors
I care about.

That’s not that out of this world because of the nature of XML and local interface
Web services. It’s totally out of the enterprise world, because I couldn’t design
one for all of the different vendors on the network, because people wouldn’t
want their vendors known. It’s also totally out of the customer self-service
model today, because companies are still saying the customer can sign and do
what they need with us. Well, a customer doesn’t want to sign in; they want
to click yes or no and be done.

DTL: That sounds like a much better model.

CT: It’s not only a better model, it is substantially cheaper and easier
to deliver. In fact, up to 90 percent less in prototypes that we’ve done. It’s
cheaper to administer over time because you get rid of all the labor of continually
updating your Web environment. With a store-and-forward delivery vehicle that
processes documents, sending a new document through this system is pretty easy
to facilitate. It’s very much like email. I don’t change my email system because
I wrote an email to a new person or a different type of email.

DTL: Have we closed the gap on the last mile?

CT: I’m looking at a set of products and delivery vehicles that are
probably going to open that up over the next few years. The first-generation
services and products are now available for purchase from the major vendors.
The early adopters are closing the gap. They’ve had to do it on their own because
it’s not purchasable in bulk. I can’t buy it and turn it on. Although we’ve
now found the first inexpensive occasionally connected service from a company
called Form Router, and they, for a few hundred dollars, can get you started
in working in an occasionally connected forms model.

DTL: Some people believe the handset will be the Swiss army knife
of the consumer of the future. What’s your vision?

CT: I believe every device will be the Swiss army knife of the future,
handset included. What I mean by that is, for example, if you’re in the hospitality
industry, customer relation management is crucial. Today, it’s basically through
the travel agent, through the phone and a little bit through a browser. But
the reality is this: after I’ve reserved a room is when customer relation management
starts in a mobile fashion. If I’ve got a reservation and I’m a known customer,
I should send them the confirmation and I should receive messages like, here
are the available services at this hotel, would you like the massage? Would
you like to set up a golf tee time? What would you like for dinner or breakfast
and at what time?

Now, when I arrive at the hotel, and I’m already behind, I can’t get dinner
or a tee time or a massage, because they’ve shut down. If I was in an asynchronous
communication, and it worked not just through my laptop, but my PDA too, I can
confirm my choices through an instant message on my handset or my phone. I’m
not logging in to their system. It’s just like receiving an instant message,
but it just happens to be prettier, and my dinner is being prepared while I’m
getting my luggage. That’s occasionally connected, and it’s all about not the
device, but the way I work with my customer. The handset, as a telephone handset
or a PDA, is no different than the laptop or the desktop from the customer perspective.

This type of change is on its way. I know, for instance, Marriott has got a
wireless electronic check-in they’re prototyping with PDAs. I know that Starwood
has enabled instant-messaging reservations. We’re in a wonderful new innovation
world, which I believe will eventually standardize again where all properties
would be managed in a similar way because there’s a common application. The
next step in the industry is breaking apart these activities into more granular
services and making those services mobile.

The last mile is possible, but not well understood. Exciting changes are afoot,
and they are exciting for the customer. And interestingly enough, more efficient
and cost-effective and much more of an up-sell for the vendors.