The Age of Context in the Enterprise


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ageofcontext_thumb-150x150Six years ago Robert Scoble and Shel Israel published Naked Conversations, a book that defined the business use of social media. Last month, Scoble and Israel released a new book, The Age of Context, which promises to define the conversation about the most important trends in our digital lives.

The book, based on over 300 interviews conducted over eighteen months, is an engaging journey through the five “converging forces that promise to change virtually every aspect of our lives”: Social media, mobile, data, sensors, and location-based technology. These five forces are now converging into one great superforce, one whose impact will be far greater than the sum of its parts. It will usher in a new age, the Age of Context.

Context, say Scoble and Israel, is about how we relate to everything around us. In the age of context, our relationships with our devices will become far more personal and they will accurately predict what we will want to do next. Google Glass is the flagship for contextual wearables, devices that will know when we are walking, skydiving, running, skiing, surfing, sleeping or watching TV. They will give us data and alerts in the context of what we are doing. They will understand our words and gestures, as well as our little taps and blinks. Similarly, sensors and software will understand the context of our activities and respond to our wishes, even before we articulate them.

That may well be our exciting–and sometimes bewildering–future. Scoble and Israel focus on consumers but what role will enterprises play in this future? What does context mean in the context of the enterprise? Obviously, enterprises are going to be influenced and shaped by these forces, and they will have to respond to new consumer expectations and new concerns about privacy. There could be, however, another dimension to the Age of Context as it manifests itself in enterprise setting, namely data management and analysis.

Similar to how the devices Scoble and Israel describe understand the context in which they operate, so enterprises should have a deep understanding of the context of the data they own, access, and share. Today, enterprises are just beginning to get their hands around all the data assets they use in the course of their on-going operations. Their IT staffs are striving to improve their knowledge of who has access to what data, where the data resides, who should and shouldn’t have access to any given piece of data, how frequently the data is used, should it be deleted or archived, what compliance and regulatory rules apply to the data, who legally owns the data and how well it is protected.

Developing this contextual understanding of the data is crucial at a time when the amount of data created

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by an average enterprise doubles each year. Moreover, today’s digital enterprises constantly exchange data with their suppliers, partners, and customers, and increasingly access data that is in the public domain. The questions related to the context in which the data is created, moved, and shared are growing in complexity and so is the need for IT systems that understand the what, why, and where of enterprise data and can anticipate and respond in real-time to new requirements and risks.