Watching children grow up is really amazing. I’ve just come home from a short business trip and as soon as I got my hug, I got the feeling that my children had grown in the few days I was away. Watching the next generation really shows you how fast the world is changing. When I sat back later in the evening, I wondered: Are we witnessing the next generation 4.0 of the Web grow up?
How will cloud computing influence the way the Web evolves? How can we deal effectively with the massive amount of information that is created by all the networked smart devices? When will we finally be able to benefit from cloud computing (if we want to)? Well, it seems that substantial change could happen within the next 12 months. Some days ago, German high-tech organization Bitkom announced that cloud computing will be one of the biggest trends this year – actually, THE trend. Over 66 percent of German businesses see the cloud as their top priority– for the third year in a row. Once it takes off, it will transform more than just the way we work.
Sales of cloud services for private and business customers in Germany are predicted to reach 13 billion euros by 2015. That is three times current revenues! Attentive observers may already have noticed that competition within the cloud market is increasing. This yields benefits for cloud consumers, as more and more specialized providers enhance their offers.
This, however, is only one small effect of the rise of cloud computing. Like an accelerator, it will boost two other trends:
- Mobile computing. Mobile computing is Number 2 on the priorities list of 53 percent of German businesses. People just love their smartphones, tablet PCs and other devices. What’s most important though: executives in particular are starting to realize the advantages and are driving change from the top down.
- Enterprise networking – on the human scale. Internal communication within a company will rely more and more on social networking solutions. With your office in your pocket, you’ll always be connected and instantly up to date. Initially, the connection will be mainly internal, with your coworkers. However, in the long run, it will open up organizations to communicate and interact directly with their customers, partners and stakeholders.
All this leads us to the next level of connectivity – Web 4.0. Seth Godin talked about it in his blog back in 2007. Though the term still lacks a properly accepted, broader definition, we already have all the ingredients Seth associated with Web 4.0 today: ubiquity (through the cloud and mobile computing), identity (through social networks) and connection (through social media). To put it in a nutshell – Web 4.0 is about making connections between individuals, about serendipity beyond simple search engines and, last but not least, about the network of all my peers taking initiative, boosting each other. You might look at it as extending your capabilities through the cloud – much like a well-connected family helps you to be much stronger than you are alone.
To me, this describes not only the future of the Web but also the future of our culture. Behavior and attitudes follow function and technology, so to speak. In the near future, social networking and different cloud models will enable more and more people to collaborate closely on an international level. Technology already affords us this freedom today. In turn, increasing collaboration and direct contacts will change how we deal with people and how we deal with daily challenges at work. Successful support channels on Twitter and Facebook may provide a glimpse of how this interaction may look in the future.
However, it is not just about change within our work environment. Objects and people will be connected in physical as well as virtual worlds. Augmented reality already connects real life with data, generating tremendous benefit. An armada of smart devices is connected to the net and creates enormous amounts of data – from a simple photo, a foursquare check to GPS data in your car or phone. The Internet of things is starting to free us from menial tasks like tracking and documenting the flow of goods. Examples are the monitoring of food transport or the tracking of pharmaceutical goods which make sure that the consumer gets high quality products. Through the cloud all these data can be linked and generate value. Many different scenarios are imaginable and possible – like health systems that continuously monitor one’s medical condition and suggest interventions when necessary. I am sure, if you think about it, you will find dozens of similar first steps in your own environment.
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Only the miserable student does not surpass his master”. Maybe it is time to acknowledge that the next generation of technology has grown up to teach us a thing or two. For instance, a change in the way we use technology might be more important than the technology itself. From a business perspective, this raises the question of who should be driving that change. Should it be management? Or will it be a grassroots change that comes from employees? What are the obstacles to change? Is it technology or is it attitude and mindset? What’s your view on Web 4.0?