Daily Archives: September 2, 2008

Cross-Blog Challenge: The “Seven Grand Challenges” for Supply Management

Back in the spring, ComputerWeekly.com, ran an article on the Seven Grand Challenges for IT over the next 25 years, as reported by Gartner. They were:

  • Elimination of the Manual Recharge
    With the increasing ubiquity of portable battery-powered devices, the development of batteries that can be charged remotely or devices powered by a remote source
  • Parallel Programming
    Allow multiple, slower speed processors to perform tasks in parallel
  • Non-tactile, Natural Computing Interface
    Remove the need for the mouse, keyboard, etc. and give us the Star Trek computer, or at least the virtual 3-d display being proposed in movies like Paycheck
  • Automated Speech Translation
    To allow communication with computers in any language, as well as communication between any two people speaking any two languages with the aid of the machine
  • Persistent and Reliable Long Term Storage
    Given a recent estimate (by Dr. Francine Berman) of 161 exabytes (1018) of digital data generated in 2006, the need for storage is increasing exponentially.
  • Increase Programmer Productivity 100-fold
    The removal of uncertainty in meeting future software demands will rest in increasing the productivity of the programmer.
  • Identify the Financial Consequences of IT investing
    Conveying the business value of IT in readily understood terms.

As a technologist by training, I found these very interesting for a number of reasons.

First of all, these challenges are not mutually independent. Increasing programmer productivity will require the creation of better programming environments that will not only allow programmers to code better and faster, but to also take advantage of parallel programming. We already have 8-core machines available for home and small-business use (by way of the Mac Pro, for example), but today’s implementation of today’s parallel programming techniques (achieved primarily through multi-threading) are challenging even for expert programmers. In addition, a natural computing interface will need to involve speech, and we don’t even have speech recognition software that is acceptable out of the box – it still has to be trained for each specific user, who has to actually train herself to talk consistently, to achieve useful accuracy – and it’s generally incapable of differentiating between when speech is part of a sentence or a verbal command – and the utterance of “Do Not Delete. Document is … “, for example, during transcription could delete the entire document!

Secondly, without the wide-spread introduction of entirely new types of technologies, or the re-introduction of old technologies thought destined for the trash bin, they may not be obtainable. For example, how are you going to eliminate the manual recharge? We can’t send traditional AC or DC current through the air – the best we can generally do is radio waves and light rays. Light rays are blocked by opaque objects, leaving radio waves – the low-energy, long wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. Now, since these waves are a form of energy, it is possible to continuously receive these waves and “harvest” the energy by directing it at a rechargeable power source, like PowerCast is doing, but the vast majority of today’s devices require a lot more power than you’re going to get from conventional radio waves – so we’re going to need to create devices that require significantly less power or that are capable of capturing the energy we generate. This technology has existed for quite some time in the form of balance wheel escapements used in self-winding watches that power themselves from the movement of the wearer. In the near term, the solution will probably come in the form of miniaturization and power-reduction and the combination of multiple power harvesting technologies.

Thirdly, they recognize that the greatest challenge will likely always be conveying the value of new technology, and, more importantly, of funneling dollars into R&D to allow for the development of the new technologies that will be required to allow the value, and role, of IT to continue to increase.

Fourthly, they got me thinking about what the grand challenges are for supply and spend management. I have my ideas, and will share them in a future post, but first I want to propose this as the foundation of the next Sourcing Innovation cross-blog series, that will run September 15 (2008) through September 26 (2008), and challenge every blogger and guest-blogger in the space to come up with his or her own seven grand challenges for Supply & Spend Management.

As with previous cross-blog series, I will maintain a complete listing and cross-blog linking of contributions and publish guest posts from those guest-bloggers who wish to post on SI. I’ll also kick-off the series with my own list on September 15. While you’re waiting, you might want to go back and check out some of the previous cross-blog series which included: