Alfresco's John Newton looks to future of information management

What will the next decade look like?

When I sat down with John Newton last week at the Alfresco Summit, I knew I was going to be talking to a man who knows the industry as well as just about anybody. We've had some great conversations in the past, but this time, Newton wanted to talk about the future, the next decade, and he wanted to speculate about how we might manage information in 2023.

Newton pointed out that if we went back a decade to 2003 and thought forward, we probably couldn't have imagined what was coming next. After all, there were no MacBooks, no iPhones or Androids or iPads. There was no Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. There was no Dropbox or Amazon Web Services. There were no app stores. There was no WordPress. There was no Ruby on Rails.

He used a BlackBerry and there was no 3G, no LTE. Nokia and BlackBerry dominated the cell phone market. The world was a very different place, yet many people thought that the world would stay pretty much that way, but it didn't. And that's the thing, Newton pointed out. Things we take for granted can disappear. Our world can grow radically different very quickly.

So Newton thought it would be a fun exercise to try and predict what could happen over the next 10 years. And he says for companies like his trying to manage information, it comes down to a simple question: "When infinite information is at your disposal, how do you find the information you are looking for?"

He said as these new services and devices have developed, they have certainly helped us in many ways. It's hard not to like open source tools like WordPress or cloud services like Dropbox, but he says they have also come at a price. We are often distracted and running from task to task.

That's why he sees a future where software is much more responsive to our needs. Perhaps it can help us focus on tasks by anticipating the types of information we need. I can't tell you how many times a day I open up a tab to do a Google search and then forget what I was going to search for because something else caught my attention. If my software could anticipate my needs in the context of my work that could reduce the distractions and the need we have today to be constantly switching tasks.

From a hardware perspective, Newton used a trader computer setup as the ideal and foresaw a future desktop with multiple views in multiple dimensions able to display lots of different information in different ways.

He sees a collaborative world where collaboration tools get ever better and you can meet in a room and share documents over a collaboration conference table and others can join in from outside on any device. (His vision actually reminds me of the Foresee Table I saw at CeBIT last year.

He sees the nature of work changing as we move Agile development and scrum methodologies to all of business, making it easier to react to a market that's changing all the time.

And as for content, documents as we know them will still exist of course. We will still have text files, spreadsheets and presentations, but he believes we will begin to build documents based on these core pieces in ways we haven't really done to this point in a big way.

He says ultimately that means software and our work has to be responsive, productive, collaborative, agile and efficient.

Who knows how close this vision will come to reality, but one thing is for sure, the world is going to change in dramatic ways over the next 10 years, just as it did the previous 10, and businesses we thought would never go away will begin to take a back seat just as BlackBerry has in this period.

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