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Context is the New Black – By: Sherri Hammons

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Author: Sherri Hammons, CTO at IQ Navigator

Recently, my iPhone started popping up new information when I was getting ready to go to work.  “56 minutes to work.  Unusually heavy traffic.”  I was delighted and creeped out all at once.  How the hell did “they” know I was going to work?  And who the hell is “they”?

Of course, they know.  Apple knows where I am unless I forget my phone.  They know who I talk to, text, download and purchase from (assuming I use ApplePay).  Google?  Same.  We know this and, for the most part, we don’t care because we are getting a lot of value for the price of a little privacy.

And I want more.

I want my phone to go on silent when I walk into my boss’s office and turn back on when I leave except if the call is from my mother’s caregiver.  That takes priority over everything else.  I want my Apple watch to know I’m running or biking, since I always forget to set the activity.  I want my medical records released if I get into an accident while biking in Vermont, but only during that week.  You probably want more, too.  You want the ability to have text capabilities turned off on your teenager’s phone when she gets in the driver’s seat.  You want to know that when your flight is delayed, the meeting you had scheduled for the next morning is moved to the afternoon.

If your business isn’t thinking about context, you are late to the party.  And it doesn’t matter what business you are in.  Context is enveloping you.

Context-aware computing is defined by Wikipedia as a “general class of mobile systems that can sense their physical environment and adapt their behavior accordingly.”  This could include wearables (Fitbits, etc.), sensors (Nest, etc.), smartphones or any combination thereof that can be used to understand where you are and what you are doing.  There are also other definitions that involve providing relevant information or services to the user, where the relevancy depends on the user’s task (Dey and Abowd, 2000).

How can this affect your company?  Well, it can actually disrupt whatever industry you are in.  Below are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Transportation:  One word:  Uber.
  • Healthcare:  Call my doctor when I get sick, dial 911, ask for an ambulance, inform hospital, text my spouse.
  • Travel:  Send me notices about the weather at my destination and what to pack, plus any interesting tidbits of news about where I am going, new restaurants, anything relevant to my trip.  Contact my car service when I land.
  • Sporting Goods:  Tell me where the best fishing spots are when I park near the river and pull out my brand new fishing pole.
  • Financial:  Link to my calendar and phone so you’ll know where I am whenever I am making purchases and can verify it’s me.
  • Entertainment:  Turn on my Sonos every day when I leave because I do this every day for my dogs.  Ping me when my favorite television show has a new season and automatically set it to record or download.
  • Government:  Love that you are now texting me when there is bad weather in my area.  Now, let me respond that I am safe so you don’t spend millions of dollars looking for me during a flood.
  • Human Resources:  Use my workout logs on my phone/watch to get me a better deal on insurance.
  • Energy:  Send me the latest information, last maintenance, problems and resolutions as I walk onto the oil rig.

If you aren’t thinking about context as you develop your products and services, you may as well be standing in New York waiting endlessly for a taxi while watching everyone around you Uber to their destination.

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Sherri Hammons

About Sherri Hammons

Sherri is a technology executive with more than 18 years of experience managing technology assets, architecting technical solutions, and enabling technology and information to support, enhance and frame a broad range of corporate initiatives. She provides leadership and direction for all areas of Information Technology both nationally and internationally.