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Making a case for context

When I first heard a reference to social networking for the enterprise six or so years ago, my natural skepticism perked right up. What enterprise would really need super-personalized, collaborative services? That’s the stuff for teenagers with too much time on their hands. And, I argued to myself, the current technology was more than adequate. Sure, refinements could be made, but the most important issue facing the enterprise was preserving the “knowledge” of older employees—the baby boomers—as they start leaving the work force. Well, I said “older” when I really meant more mature, more sophisticated workers. Social networking was nice, but more appropriate for the younger, consumer-focused demographic.

The blessing (and the curse) of my skepticism works both ways, fortunately. So, I very quickly became skeptical of my skepticism. The tools of the younger, consumer-focused user were not toys at all; they were part of the natural evolution of technology. Significantly, they have become commonplace for the new generation of workers that will be replacing us all. (For the record, I was born in 1950, so, I am, indeed, a member of the baby boom generation—but not yet ready to leave the work force.)

Ovum calls this younger group the iGeneration, and they will have a profound impact on enterprise IT buying and selling habits, according to Ovum’s Mary Turner. She points out that this group’s expectations in the workplace have been forged from their experiences outside it.

Younger workers require a high level of search, e-discovery, content management and personalization. We, um, older workers, are getting on the bandwagon, too, because it gives us greater flexibility. It’s the same with mobility. Turner’s iGeneration workers will further require access to—and delivery of—more information from simpler, integrated devices, even in this era of heightened compliance and security. Plus, Turner suggests, the so-called early adopters and innovators of enterprise computing are developing in a world where instant information is, essentially, part of their DNA both inside and outside the workplace.

The iGeneration has a wide open playing field, as IDC reveals in a just-released study (sponsored by EMC) titled The Expanding Digital Universe: A Forecast of Worldwide Information Growth Through 2010. We have all seen figures on the staggering amount of data “out there,” but this study is especially compelling because it contains fresh information gathered by a trusted source. It also, for the first time, quantifies the data generated by digital photos, e-mails, digital music, mobile phones, etc.

In 2006, 161 exabytes of data—that’s 161,000,000,000 gigabytes—were generated, IDC reports. In four years, that figure will leap to 988 exabytes. Just imagine the implications of managing, in every sense of the word, all that “stuff,” all that content. Sure, a percentage of that data will have no real value to anyone. But without context none of it will. And the iGeneration, or whatever you want to dub it, is primed to bring value and context to enterprise content in new ways. This reformed skeptic is eager to watch it unfold. 

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