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IT ponders voice recognition, immersive computing for work

IT admins are looking to future eye and voice recognition for more user input and interaction, but immersive computing is still in its early stages.

IT admins will need to consider how technology such as voice recognition and the emergence of the immersive computing workspace will impact how workers conduct business in the future.

Advancements in chip, hardware, software and services will allow workers to interact with their devices and colleagues in different ways.

Voice recognition represents the low-hanging fruit. Many workers are familiar with Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Google Now voice assistants on their smartphones, as well as third-party speech recognition applications such as Dragon Naturally Speaking.

There are many technologies people can talk to such as mobile devices or cars with intelligent back ends, said Mike Drips, a solutions architect with WiPro Technologies Inc. in Houston.

Technologies that sense eye, hand or body gestures to control input or simulate dynamic perspective and an immersive experience have some potential but are further out.

"We are not gesture-oriented as far as communications go," Drips said. "Voice is already inherent."

Immersive workspaces make a difference

Next year, enterprises will see some early movement toward providing a more immersive computing experience to simulate an advanced collaborative team approach to projects.

"This thought of immersive experiences isn't new, but the industry's ability to deliver on it is improving," said Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, based in Austin, Texas.

Products such as HP Inc.'s Sprout Windows PC, which incorporates a projector and touchpad mat, and Intel Corp.'s Real Sense 3-D camera both deliver technology in new ways for workers to build creative applications.

High resolution, large displays also offer better compression to send data over a network to create a more collaborative environment, said Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst for TECHnalysis Research LLC, based in Foster City, Calif.

Other technology such as large displays ranging anywhere from 60 to 80 inches will impact enterprises as they convert conference rooms into meeting places where workers can collaborate on documents and projects across multiple screens.

"The concept of super high resolution, super large displays and faster, better compression for sending data over a network all helps people create an environment that is more interesting and collaborative," O'Donnell said.

The quality in a video conference is often so bad, it's distracting, he said.

"If you offer an impressive [touch display like Microsoft's Perceptive Pixels] and put that together [with video] it's an interesting opportunity," O'Donnell said. "We will see it in 2015 as a way to evolve the meeting. Workers can interact in a much more lifelike way." 

With immersive computing comes an immense price tag

But IT administrators said immersive computing experiences are further away than one might expect because of the high cost for systems that combine video conferencing and collaboration, dubbed as infopresence. Systems geared toward enterprises, such as those made by Oblong Industries Inc. of Los Angeles, can run well over $100,000 with a fully outfitted room running upward of $150,000.

Oblong offers a product dubbed Mezzanine that allows multiple users on the same network to share content and applications simultaneously. It includes a tracking system, Mezzanine appliance, telepresence codec which supports a video conferencing camera, a camera for capturing content from a whiteboard, three connected screens for the front of the room where users can display content and manipulate it from live video feeds, and three side screens for displaying content. 

"There is the wow factor of having lots of screens and a multisurface capability of dragging [content from] one display to another display," said David Kung, vice president of business development at Oblong. "It's the evolution of the command line to a graphical user interface [GUI] to multiscreen [displays]. The GUI liberated you from the confines of data and now you can [see] it across multiple screens."

A spatial wand enables workers on-site to manipulate content across multiple screens ranging from large wall displays down to small iOS and Android tablets. Remote employees can use touch or existing input methods to collaborate in real time on the content.

Businesses must decide whether this technology is worth the investment.

"How are you going to make a leap in creativity where that technology gives you a payback?" Drips said.

IT also will need to think about how to accommodate the needs for more bandwidth, storage and multiple devices in the environment.

"IT leaders are suddenly into a new space because you are starting to see the suggestions of strategies of BYOD or a more flexible work environment," Kung said. "They are getting involved with space planning. It's not just about being reactive to customer needs [but rather] being more proactive."

For some enterprises, it depends upon how they intend to apply the technology. Companies such as CBRE/New England, a real estate investment firm in Boston, deployed Oblong's Mezzanine platform a year ago, providing clients and office workers a more dynamic way to present and collaborate on work.

"Everyone is used to swipe and touch," said Taidgh McClory , senior vice president and partner of strategic planning and brokerage operations for CBRE/New England. "Mezzanine enables workers to click and peel back the layers of the onion and see the content … and customize it in a way in which one doesn't have to be a whiz to do that."

Secure the data

As 2015 approaches, other technologies such as biometrics for authentication and a "no password system" will come to the fore as well.

"This doesn't mean that passwords go away, it just means that authentication is about to get a lot simpler," Moorhead said.

Companies such as Intel are investing in biometric and location awareness methodologies while Synaptics Inc. is incorporating fingerprint recognition directly into a notebook PC's touchpad for secure login and access to the device, websites and apps, he said.

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What emerging technologies do you think will make an impact in 2015?
- Containers (LXD, Docker, Rocket) and the surrounding ecosystems
- Data Center level "OS" managing resources for webscale applications (Mesosphere, Kubernetes)
- SaaS-based IT Ops tools (DataDog, Evident, PagerDuty, Boundry, etc.)
- Phone-based payment systems
As one who has worked with accessibility for the past few years, this is a welcome consideration, but it's also a lot more challenging than people think. Voice recognition software has a long learning curve, and the dream of going from voice to finished product has a *long* way to go. I do have to say that I like the idea of fingerprint recognition becoming more prevalent, as I was working on this twelve years ago, so seeing it finally make mainstream headway is very cool :).