Thursday, January 14, 2010

WKA: Wireless Knowledge Architecture

On November 25th, 1999 I wrote an article for Sun Microsystems Sun Journal where I coined the term WKA: Wireless Knowledge Architecture.  Since it has been a decade and with so much discussion on new smart phones being introduced, I thought it would be a good time to review my 1999 article to see if anything I wrote still matters :-)

At the time I was the Chief Technologist for the Southern Area at Sun which was a $1 billion a year business for Sun covering commercial and Federal customers as well as partners.

Below is the original article as it I noticed it has somehow dropped from Sun's site.   Please keep in mind I wrote this in 1999 :-)  I was right about a lot of things but wrong about the specifics of Jini taking over :-)

November 25th, 1999 article for Sun Journal:

Many people believe that the wireless Internet market will be the next digital gold rush. According to one estimate, the wireless market will encompass 1 billion subscribers by 2003. Dataquest believes that the market for wireless-data subscribers will be $3 billion by 2003. Growth rates of 35 percent or more are projected by market survey organizations.  The third-generation (3G) wireless devices developed for this market will be more than 38 times faster than today's wireless devices.

A major aspect of the new wireless landscape will be Wireless Knowledge Architecture (WKA). WKA is defined as the people, technology and processes needed to enable, capture, and transform information into knowledge that can be managed in a 3G wireless world where roles at work and home are converging.  Until now, wireless data communications have been an expensive and slow alternative to wired.  However, wireless communications will soon emerge as both cost-effective and capable alternative to wired technologies.

A driving factor behind the 3G wireless market is the obliteration of the work/home boundary.  Tomorrow's knowledge workers will demand cutting-edge high speed wireless devices that provide complete access to all the tools and information they have in the office.  This work from anywhere at anytime atomosphere provides the opportunity to significantly enhance the employee's life by enabling more flexible work and personal scheduling.  WKA will become a significant recruiting factor.  Companies without WKA plans will find it more difficult to recruit and attract the best knowledge workers as well as remaining competitive in their industry.

WKA Technologies

Among the important technologies required to make scenarios such as the one outlined in "A 3G Wireless Device in Action" a reality will be the Java language, the Java platform, Jini, Bluetooth, Mobile IP, Shared Wireless Access Protocol, Service Location Protocols, and smart cards.

A driving force of the WKA will be the Java language and platform.  The leading consortium for the development of 3G wireless systems is the Symbian alliance, created in 1998, with members Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Psion. In March of this year, Sun and Symbian announced a plan to put Sun's Java technology as part of Symbian's standard EPOC platform solution for future smart phones and communicators.  "With the number of mobile phone subscribers forecast to reach one sixth of the world's population in the year 2005, the potential impact of the Sun and Symbian alliance on the wireless market is enormous," said Scott McNealy, Sun's CEO. "The Wireless Information Device is likely to be one of the most influential networked devices to drive customers into the Post-PC era, providing a vast new market for wireless networked services and applications."

A crucial technology for ubiquitous spontaneous 3G PDAs will be Sun's Jini.  In the previous edition of Sun Journal, Bill Joy said that "in the Jini world, the important concepts are objects, mobility of code and spontaneous connections between things." This ability to spontaneously make connections, communicate and move objects between devices that have never "met" whether in a hotel room, in your suppliers conference room or at the park, will represent a radical a shift in how we live and work.  Joy often talks about the change from task-oriented computing to activity-oriented computing.  Activity-oriented computing is a key aspect in WKA. In a task-oriented world, you must initiate your activity. An example of this is printing a document or saving a file.  You initiate this action, then it happens. In a activity-oriented world, the devices spontaneously communicate and take action that is correct in the context of time, location, devices available and importance of the action to extract knowledge from the information available without a human initiating the action. As time progresses, we will continue to rely less on our own memory and more on the memory of the wireless network for personal and business needs.

Equally important to the growth of wireless devices is the continuing growth of the Internet and the number of application services available.  The technology exists for corporations to provide access to their most important systems through Web technology. The marriage of these new wireless devices and the Internet will make any time, anywhere knowledge flow a reality. Application Service Providers (ASP's) will find huge markets for this new generation of wireless devices.

Knowledge workers will be demanding complete autonomy, because the technology will exist to allow it.  Today users consciously need to remember where the current state (most up to date copy of their data) of their mobile devices is in relationship to a docked system, whether it is their home desktop or office servers. This is a source of confusion for many employees. State will becoming floating, and the need to manually sync will go away. With technologies such as Jini, state will live on the network and move to the wireless device the knowledge worker happens to be is using at the time. 

WKA Security Issues

Technology and security will present management challenges.  Determining what level of privacy that is needed will continue to be a taxing issue.  From a security standpoint there will always be difficult balance between providing your employees with all the tools and data they will want in a wireless world and protecting the corporate knowledge treasure chest.  Corporate users are more aware then ever that security must be designed into the business policies and processes as well as into the design of systems and networks. What boundaries there may have been between businesses are dissolving as teams link up and share information electronically. The corporate network is no longer defined by the physical boundaries of specific locations as it is stretched to embrace mobile users and telecommuters across the world.  Businesses created as virtual corporations use partners and contractors who are not employees but who need to share much of the same information as regular employees. Further, businesses use public communications networks shared by thousands, including their competitors. All these situations present security issues.  Balancing the three major aims of security--confidentiality, integrity, and availability--means that security is no longer a single product. Security has become a process to be managed alongside other high-value corporate processes.

WKA and Knowledge Management

Rob Wells, a director at Knowledge Management Solutions International, defines KM as creating an environment in which the flow of information and knowledge interacts efficiently to enhance the growth of corporate competence, revenue, or R&D. The clear challenge with WKA will be the number of and type of wireless devices and the software tools necessary to enable, capture, manage and protect a corporation's knowledge.

As companies bring more information into forms that can be handled electronically, keeping it all meaningfully organized becomes more challenging, and more necessary. Initially WKA will be a driving force in publishing information in critical areas of Knowledge Management (KM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Customer Relationship Planning (CRM).  Up to this point, KM has been tied to the idea of creating Web-based systems, which created a proliferation of Web servers in companies as individuals and small teams seized this new means of publishing information. The result in some corporations has been chaos.  Information is easily available through Internet/intranet, but it is difficult to find, organize, assimilate. WKA involves understanding where information lives, who uses it, why and when it is used.  Today ERP ties together the back office functions of finance, human resources, manufacturing, and supply systems to create a coherent real-time view of the business. The increased number of 3G wireless devices communicating with ERP systems will raise the importance of the servers running ERP applications.

CRM systems combine detailed customer information, channels of contact, and processes that provide a coherent view of customers.  Customers interact with a business through a variety of contacts: personal, telephone, letter, e-mail, and fax. CRM integrates front office functions supporting customer service, marketing, sales, and technical support. CRM enables a complete view of a customer and the customer's dealings with the business. CRM follows the ERP wave of corporate systems.  WKA represents another step toward the goal of enabling users to quickly and easily obtain answers to questions that help them solve business problems. This is also a step forward for managers who want to profile organizational knowledge and leverage corporate memory.  Knowledge workers are seeking full access to their information and tools from anywhere.

The challenge with KM is and will be metrics.
The first set of metrics is the meta information such as how, where, and when wireless devices are used. To a lesser extent, what information is used and why can be quantified. This information can then be used to create better modes of communication among employees as well as to seek out and make improvements to processes. Keeping groups working efficiently drives new systems such as those underpinning the WKA.  Two major design areas exist within the WKA. The first, the systems architecture, covers technical aspects of the systems, while the second, the "people" architecture," covers the organization, its culture, and practices.

Systems Architecture Issues

Application servers must be designed for RAS (Reliability Availability and Serviceability) and scalability of solutions.  Tightly and loosely coupled clustering will be needed to provide true application datatone.  System predictability will need to come from policy based quality of service dynamic resource allocation monitoring.  It will be necessary to consolidate then duplicate systems and applications to streamline and provide the necessary service levels for WKA.   This demand for always available application services is why more corporations are looking at out sourcing and why ISP's understand why they must quickly become ASP's as well.

In reality, many process requirements are either not determined or poorly understood. Systems supporting the WKA provide information on demand from a merge of structured and unstructured data. The underlying issues will be what data is needed, how should it be presented, and where and how are structured and unstructured information merged? This merge could be made at several different levels within an organization.

People Architecture Issues

Two of the most important issues for success of any project are management buy-in and culture. Without management buy-in and a receptive employee culture, WKA will not succeed. Employees must be convinced that the capture of information is not used as an employee measurement tool but rather as an efficiency tool. Surveys must be done on a regular basis with timely summaries to all with dated action item lists. In other words, employees must know that their suggestions will be taken seriously.


The ability to work effectively anywhere at any time will determine quality of life for tomorrow's knowledge workers as well as providing companies a new architecture to improve their competitive advantage. The companies that provide the most current wireless tools and environment will be able to attract and keep the best knowledge workers. The new world of 3G wireless devices will create unheard of productivity improvements both at work and at home but at the same time will produce a greater management and security challenges as companies try to capture and use corporate knowledge. Now is the time to start planning for your WKA.

**************1999 AUTHOR BIO*********************************************

Dave Edstrom has been with Sun since early 1987 and in the computer industry since 1978.  He is a six time Sunrise winner, recipient of the 1996 SE Creativity Award and has been involved with Sun's future products since prior to the release of the 4/260.  He has degrees in Data Processing and Business Administration.  He lives in Ashburn, VA with his wife Julie and his three sons John, Michael and Timothy.


I would like to especially thank Brian Carney for his wisdom and invaluable assistance with this article.  I would also like to thank Rob Wells, Director from Knowledge Management Solutions International, for his many suggestions and guidance with this article.  Rob is an internationally recognized world class expertise in the area of Knowledge Management.  For more information on the various topics referenced in this article, the following urls will provide appropriate entry points.

Harvard Computing Group Knowledge Management Magazine
(Knowledge Management Magazine is an excellent source for KM issues.) Knowledge Management Solutions
Rob Wells, Director

The author would appreciate any comments you have on this topic and can be reached at:

A 3G Wireless Device in Action

You arrive at the airport with your new 3G personal digital assistant (PDA), which incorporates the multiple devices business people used to carry with them, such as cellular phone, limited function PDA, and notebook computer. The 3G PDA makes a wireless spontaneous connection to the airport schedules and directory services. It beeps; you respond, "Hal, talk to me." The 3G-PDA then relays the message "It is 12:25, your flight 962 to Dulles is on time and at gate 78, boarding is in 1 hour and 5 minutes, the flight is 60% booked at this point, the Red Carpet club is located on the main level near gate 72, the movie today is "Toy Story II," there is a Barnes and Noble bookstore located near gate 86, a deli is located on the ground level, weather in Ashburn is 78 degrees and fair skies, your son's baseball game is scheduled for 6:15 at Crittenden." Obviously you could have found all this out by looking at monitors, asking for directions, calling home, looking at the weather page on USA Today--but you didn't. It took 12 seconds for Hal to give you contextually appropriate, timely information that made profile-based decisions and then provided you with the information that you needed at the time. 

The Five Rs of Knowledge Management

As the number of wireless devices increase, it is important for businesses to clean up the information knowledge workers will be demanding. The Harvard Computing Group has written an excellent white paper, "Knowledge Management--Return on Investment," that posits the Five Rs of Knowledge Management.

1.    Recycle--use the same content in many places.
2.    Republish--publish the same content in many forms.
3.    Reduce--create a single source for content.
4.    Remove--utilize a streamlined process for content management.
5.    Relevance--apply standards for content quality and usefulness.

WKA Design Rules

1.    Downtime is not an option.  Use an ASP if your company can not design or support a zero down time solution.  Think clustering.
2.    Use the Java language for everything. In her book customer.COM, Patricia Seybold states that the Java language is the most important language you should be developing in.
3.    Design for "stateless" technology. The days of manually syncing devices is rapidly coming to an end.
4.    Design highly focused customized real-time portals available anywhere on any device at any time.
5.    Capture the meta information of wireless transactions.  Seek out or write software that will provide the infrastructure to capture this information.
6.    Expect most devices to be wireless in 2 to 3 years.   Expect the concept of an office to become obsolete.
7.    Design for simplicity. Wireless devices should use technologies such as Jini and Bluetooth that allow for spontaneous wireless device discovery and communication.
8.    Expect data to be in structure and unstructured formats.  WKA clients will want access to systems and applications that are currently not easily accessible today.
9.    Expect in the next three years to see the demand for multi-level security operating systems to increase dramatically.   The high demand will be triggered by the balance between knowledge flow and security that can only be addressed by compartmentalized virtual private networks. 
10.) Design knowledge management and security into business strategies and application services.