VMware interview: If virtualisation continues, what will the future look like?

VMware interview: If virtualisation continues, what will the future look like?

Arriving out of breath and sweating from the Spanish humidity, having run to get to our interview at VMworld Barcelona on time, Richard Bennett starts as he means to go on: expressively.

The Head of Advisory Services EMEA at virtualisation company VMware has plenty to say. It helps that we're discussing one of his favourite subjects, the effects of technology on society. The Yorkshireman's face lights up when I say that I'm not so interested in the present but the future. I then ask a single question and spend the rest of our allotted time frantically typing.

That question is: “Assuming virtualisation continues to underpin the technology that affects our lives, how do you think that will transform society over, say, a 10-year period?”

What follows here is, as succinctly as possible, his response. For clarity I've rearranged and paraphrased in places. Any errors are therefore mine rather than Bennett’s.


One of the big things we've seen in the past six to 12 months in EMEA is that what we initially class as revolutionary quickly becomes mundane, sometimes within minutes. I had a discussion with German smart car manufacturers recently, who are trying to reach Level 5 autonomy [fully self-driving]. My first experience of sitting in a fully-autonomous self-driving car went something like this:

  • Fear (Where's the driver?!)
  • Curiosity (How exactly does this work, technically speaking?)
  • Mundane (I'm bored now. Can't this thing go any faster?)


‘Sci-fi technology’ is rendered instantly mundane

From scary to mundane in just minutes! That's something we see across the technology spectrum. VMware is now working with customers to understand what 'mundane' really means to them.

For example, we've worked with Deutsche Bahn [German railway organisation] to help them deal with delays. In particular they wanted to give their customers a better experience during train breakdowns or other problems. The big move was from having customer service reps sitting in booths with fixed screens to having them walking around the platforms with their own devices. We equipped them with secure tablets with up-to-the-minute information.


Customer service is the lynchpin of the latest technology

This became known as the "digital suit of armour" because it helped protect staff from customer abuse. Previously, when there were delays customers would get stressed and angry, especially if they didn't have information. Now any delays are reported through the VMware system to the tablets, with estimates of the length of delay and so on. That predictability factor makes for a better customer experience.

So instead of being shouted at, staff can give customers the information they need. Staff happiness levels have gone from very low to high. But now this is mundane too. The staff quickly adapted to the new technology and now they see this as the norm.

This is really about customer experience rather than technology. That's where we're seeing the biggest changes and the biggest opportunities for change. Consider healthcare, which is a major sector for technological improvement. We're really only at about 20% of what's possible with healthcare. Currently we look at "time to treat" and "time to live" as key metrics for digital healthcare. A relatively new idea is the Patient as a Service concept, where everything that happens is focused around the patient, making the patient the end point. That's intuitively logical but it hasn't been practical until now.


Patient as a Service is a new approach to healthcare

We started doing this with health organisations in the Nordic countries, making the patient the centre of the digital experience. This means moving patient records around digitally and securely. With a near-field badge, the patients' records can follow them around the hospital. No need to pass files or paperwork back and forth between consultants. When the patient moves from the ward to the operating theatre, their records are already there for the surgeon to access.

Looking further ahead we could consider things such as holographics, or trains of automated lorries. But what's important is the perspective. Every one of the technology challenges we're facing comes back to the human being. Where do humans fit in and how do they benefit?


Technological smarts can be thwarted by humans

Sometimes humans can be a liability. For example, consider a Level 3 autonomous vehicle. That's one that can drive itself but must have a human operator standing by to take control in an emergency. Now if that human operator is sitting reading a magazine in the front seat, that's going to make me nervous. How fast can he react and take control? In some ways I'd feel more comfortable without him being there.

Ford has said they plan to have Level 4 autonomous vehicles by 2021. For that to happen we need smart infrastructure and smart roads. But ideally we'd want to skip that level entirely, instead reinventing cities and the way infrastructure works. To do that we must move the computing power to the edge, to IoT devices, using the cloud and virtualisation.

We can do that, we have the low-power-consumption devices already available. VMware recently worked with Sky, looking to improve customer retention. Looking at the technology from a user experience viewpoint we could make improvements by enhancing the service environment. We digitally connected the Sky service vans and gave everyone ruggedised devices with access to all the consultative tech information they might need. So most repairs can now be carried out on the spot. This all reduces the window of repair and helps keep customers happy.


Scaling and federation could be key to future success

Scaling is a big part of the future, as is federation, meaning disparate systems collaborating. With scaling and virtualisation we can quickly respond to changes in demand. For example, SNCF [French railway organisation] sells 43 tickets every second. Imagine a major terrorist attack in Paris: that number could rise to 4,300. Dynamic scaling is vital in such situations, part of how we modernise infrastructure to underpin the business. Federation means drawing information from a wide range of sources, especially social media, to help make decisions or inform customers. Hyper-connected and IoT computing systems could help solve all sorts of challenges, from DNA analysis to cancer treatments.

All of this comes back to the customer, to business requirements. That's the focus, not the IT itself. It has to be that way around, otherwise people won't adopt it. We're hearing from CIOs that there's an issue with change fatigue. Think how many times you get new or updated apps on your phone, how frequently new versions of software are released. We have so many opportunities now to enhance and improve the customer experience, but they have to be driven by the needs of the business and the customers, not just by the technology.


We've run out of time. I thank Bennett and get up to leave while he prepares for his next interview, full of boundless enthusiasm for future technology and blue-sky ideas that will soon become mundane.


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Alex Cruickshank

Alex Cruickshank has been writing about technology and business since 1994. He has lived in various far-flung places around the world and is now based in Berlin.  

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