How will digital transformation disrupt the way we do business?
Liam Quinn grew up on the west coast of Ireland and was drawn to a career in IT by his curiosity about how things worked.
Taking apart and reassembling his uncle’s radio transmitters, Quinn soon discovered putting together the same components could only take him so far in his quest to improve the way the radio operated. He now believes the key to any improvement is the evolution of technology on all levels, in all disciplines, coupled with that innate curiosity. Today, in his role as Dell’s Chief Technology Officer, Quinn is responsible for looking after the management, security and integration of ever more intelligent personal computer devices. With digital transformation occurring across a range of industries, to many adopters the emergence of ‘intelligent things’ may seem like bolting on a new service to an existing enterprise solution. However, Quinn feels the opportunities arising from IoT offer a whole new way of thinking about business.
Dell has been in business for over 30 years and during that time the world has gone from huge computing machines like the VAX 11/780, which had large fans and a bulky power supply, to an iPhone you can hold in your hand with a quad-core processor offering greater power than a computer the size of a small shed. “In the next ten to 20 years that quad core processor will get even smaller,” notes Quinn, who sees technology accelerating to become more integrated, smarter and cheaper. “In the late 1980s the VAX cost $1mn,” recalls Quinn. “But today the quad-core processor in your iPhone maybe costs less than $60. In 10 years’ time will it be $6? That trend will continue and we will see a lot more capability in things that are non-IT. This is where IoT can bring the internet to the physical world. Right now, you’re sat at a dumb table and chair but in the future, they will be smart. The building will know people are sitting here at this end of the hallway, therefore it will be intelligent enough to know it needs to put more power where the people are, versus an empty conference room next door, so power consumption can be directed where it’s needed.”
The problem of the digital skills gap in digital transformation
IoT is driving the evolution of physical objects into the internet world through the application of sensors and devices. The cars of tomorrow will be even smarter than those today which already have dozens of smart microprocessors. Quinn explains all intelligent things can be connected, allowing blocks of data to be moved from the physical domain into an IT-based system. He maintains the challenge comes with managing, securing and accounting for these devices while integrating them into an existing IT world we have become comfortable with over the past 30 years.
“The lane just got wider so it’s very exciting,” muses Quinn. “Imagine being able to ingest nanotechnology particles to monitor existing conditions and record your vital signs from the inside… This could then be connected with your doctor who can say, maybe you don’t need that coffee or extra glass of wine because I’m noticing things in your liver… You could have personalised medicine for your body’s composition and needs. That’s the connected world we’re moving to, one of vertical segments applying technology for the good of human beings from machines that can participate positively and make a huge difference to the lives of those living with diabetes, cancer, alzheimers or dementia.”
Dell ships tens of millions of devices annually, both on the client side and enterprise side while retaining a strong focus on machine learning and analytics. “Wouldn’t it be great if those machines, platforms, notebooks, and workstations became more intelligent?” asks Quinn. “What if they could say, ‘hey, I’m not feeling so good’ to let you know they need a hard drive replacement? This could give a predictive, and preventative, heads up to the IT team or owner of the system. We’re also working on the adaption of devices to the applications that you run on them: Dell Precision Optimiser has the ability to allow a connected device to adjust its hardware and software capabilities to run a new application. The machines we’re developing now will have that ability to adjust dynamically, optimising your experience. We see this transitioning into an intelligent world for devices and integration of the physical world to the IT world to aid security, management and productivity.”
So, which area of development is Quinn most excited about and where does he feel intelligent things can make a huge impact? Quinn cites the rapid development of augmented reality (AR) in vertical segments like manufacturing and subsequent maintenance requirements as approaches converge. “In the future you’ll bring your car to the garage for inspection and the mechanic will use AR glasses to look at the diagnostics of the car to provide invasive knowledge and an intuitive view of what’s happening inside the vehicle. Once the technician fixes that, you can drive their capability from a remote location with the expert on the other side of the world available to talk them through which tools to use. This is all connected so now you have this cognitive capability of AR working with the now intelligent, enabled car, with maintenance updates delivered to a database. Nursing, diagnostics… there are so many potential applications here.”
Quinn believes Dell is in prime position to deliver this future for intelligent things via the eight strands of Dell Technologies: Dell, Dell EMC, VMware, RSA, Pivotal Software, SecureWorks, Virtustream and Boomi Inc. “You can’t just go in to a customer a multinational like an oil company, bank or smart buildings construction firm and say ‘hey, I’ve got some sensors, I’m in the IoT business!’ That’s only one element: at Dell, we can say that we not only have the gateways but the connectivity and networking aligned to the cloud with storage, data centres and market ready services. It’s great to be on this team right now given what we can deliver to customers based on their different needs.”