Gartner EA: Context Delivery Architecture

Presenter: William Clark

I’m looking forward to this talk, as it’s a new area for me. I don’t remember who told me this, but the key to getting something out of a conference is go to sessions where you have the opportunity to learn something, and you’re interested in the subject. That’s why I’m avoiding sessions on establishing enterprise technology architects. I’ve been doing that for the past 5 years, so the chances are far less that I’m going to learn something new than in a session like this one, where it’s an emerging space and I know it’s something that is going to be more and more important in my work in the next few years. The only downside is I’m now on my fourth day in Orlando which is starting to surpass my tolerance limit for sitting and listening to presentations.

He’s started out by showing that the thing missing from the digital experience today is “me.” By me, he implies the context of why we’re doing the things that we’re doing, such as “where am I,” “what have I done,” “who are you talking to,” etc. He points out the importance of user experience in the success and failures of projects, especially now in the mobile space.

Some challenges he calls out with incorporating context into our systems:

  • Blending of personal contexts and business contexts. For example, just think of how your personal calendar(s) may overlap with your business calendar.
  • Managing Technical Contexts: What device are you using, what network are you connecting from, etc. and what are the associated technical capabilities available at that point?
  • Context timing: The context is always in a state of flux. Do I try to predict near-term changes to the context, do I try to capture the current context, or do I leverage the near-past context (or even longer) in what is shown?

It’s always a sign of a good presentation when they anticipate questions an audience might ask. I was just about to write down a question asking him if he thinks that a marketplace for context delivery will show up, and he started talking about exactly that. This is a really interesting space, because there’s historical context that can be captured and saved, and there’s an expense associated with that, so it makes sense that the information broker market that currently selling marketing lists, etc. will expand to become on-demand context providers with B2B style integrations.

All in all, I see this space with parallels to the early days of business intelligence. The early adopters are out there, trying to figure out what the most valuable areas of “context” are. Unlike BI, there are so many technology changes going on that are introducing new paradigms, like location aware context with cellphones, there’s even more uncertainty. I asked a question wondering how long it will be before some “safe” areas have been established for companies to begin leveraging this, but his answer was that there are many dimensions contributing to that tipping point, so it’s very hard to make any predictions.

This was a good presentation. I think he gave a good sampling of the different data points that go into context, some of the challenges associated with it, and the technical dynamics driving it. It’s safe to say that we’re not at the point where we should be recommending significant investments in this, but we are at the point where we should be doing some early research to determine where we can leverage context in our solutions and subsequently make sound investment decisions.

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