Analysis: Pervasive Computing--IBM's Strategy to Extend E-business

Sam Albert

With any dynamic process, the target keeps moving and changing. Not resting on its laurels, IBM is aggressively building the enabling technologies and services to help customers extend E-business beyond the PC to the emerging class of "intelligent devices." Looking ahead to tomorrow's challenges, IBM and its competitors see new opportunities in pervasive computing.

This complex technology relies on open standards such as Java and XML as the lingua franca to create applications capable of running across the Internet on a variety of disparate platforms that might include cell phones, PDAs and even everyday appliances. While not impossible, pervasive computing requires new technology such as software that can translate Web data written for a PC into a format that can be used in other devices, and sophisticated systems and services that will help enterprises and carriers deliver and manage the billions (yes, billions!) of transactions that will be generated by a TRILLION devices.

Wouldn't it be ironic if, for example, Schwab online brokers had the ability to execute trade transactions for anyone in the world, in any country, at any time - yet was limited only to those customers with Internet-enabled PCs? That limitation may be removed very soon, as IBM is proving it can be done by partnering with Fraser Securities, SingTel Mobile and the IT division of the Singapore Stock Exchange to pilot the world's first fully automated stock trading system for mobile phones.

Some critics say this all seems right out of the "Jetsons" - having e-commerce penetrate other gadgets in our everyday life, i.e. our phones, televisions, cars and household appliances. I don't have nearly enough room in this column to address that Pandora's Box. But I do know that as technology proliferates, there will be a growing need to access e-commerce beyond the traditional PC.

Even more than just opening these many new doors, IBM is seeking to guide the customer through them seamlessly, to make these new "smart devices" work invisibly. Simply put, networked devices will be embedded with computer chips that are connected to an intelligent network that incorporates the Internet.

Here are a few glances at our rapidly approaching future, according to IBM's Pervasive Computing Division, formed just one year ago.

IBM, Nokia and The SABRE Group are developing a real-time, interactive service that allows travelers to use their cell phones to make flight changes and receive airline updates. The cell phone will alert them if a flight has been delayed or canceled and let them remotely generate a transaction that books them on another flight.

IBM is working with top auto manufacturers to create in-vehicle information solutions for drivers. Newly "networked vehicles" will have a dashboard signal that tells us we've taken a wrong turn, while a precision dashboard guide shows us how to get back on track.

An Open Service Gateway, an IBM-led initiative, is the industry's first effort to create a standard for developing new applications for the networked home that will allow people to operate appliances, fixtures, computers and energy controls through one single device.

There are more examples, but Big Blue has a strategic plan and is following it. They're partnering with device manufacturers of all kinds, selling them enabling hardware such as chips and tiny hard drives and software such as embedded speech and programming tools. And they're partnering with enterprises and carriers to build new software that will enhance the existing infrastructure to accommodate and manage new heterogeneous platforms.

Mark Bregman, general manager of IBM's Pervasive Computing division, says, "We're on the cusp of the post-PC era." Lou Gerstner, too, alluded to that new world when he addressed Wall Street earlier this year. Studies done by International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass.; IDC) support their claim. IDC forecasts that by 2002, more than 50 percent of devices connected to the Internet will not be PCs. While PCs most certainly won't be replaced, clearly opportunities lie beyond.

We're in uncharted territory, but the best and the brightest are blazing through, (including IBM competitors Microsoft, Sun and HP.) Someday soon, accessing the Internet will be as easy as touching a button, and will never be farther away then our homes, our cars, or even the pockets of our pants. One day soon you might be able to swipe the UPC barcode of your milk carton across your refrigerator, and new milk will be on its way! Frigidaire just unveiled its online refrigerator with a built-in scanner, creating a home-shopping terminal. George Jetson, leave a light on for us.

Once again IBM's vision and "out-of-the box" thinking bodes well for the future. However, the question, "If IBM and the industry build this 'field of dreams,' will they (all of us!) come?" still remains to be answered. Welcome to 2000 and beyond!

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