Life as a service; The cloud as my PA

In my previous blog I starting comparing Zen and enterprise architecture. I will definitely continue this stream in weeks to come. However, a recent comment on twitter concerning "Integration as a Service" triggered some dormant desires on a closer integration of services, that would truly support my life as an individual. At the moment, however, we suffer from scattered devices, scattered interfaces and scattered data. Let me elaborate.

Scattered devices
A few months ago, Microsoft's Steve Balmer stated that our PC Is Just One of Three Screens. More specifically:
Now it's no longer just about the desktop but really a broader vision," Ballmer said, adding later: "Microsoft is transforming what Windows is, from a PC OS to a connected platform; an experience that spans the PC, the phone, the TV and the cloud."
This certainly is what one would expect in the age of cloud computing. As a Mac user I'll forgive him the reference to a PC rather than a Mac. However, I wonder how well Steve (Ballmer) can count. If I count the devices I'd like to see connected, it doesn't stop at three. Separate from a discussion on a sensor network, I count the following devices I use to interact with:
  1. My Macbook Air.
  2. My iMac desktop.
  3. An iPod touch (plus Nike+ sensor).
  4. A dual sim mobile phone.
  5. My home phone.
  6. Some company supplied black Visa box I need to sync my cloud agenda to the company's agenda.
  7. Apple TV.
  8. iPod music/audio-book system in my car.
  9. A Tom Tom in my car.
  10. Guest usage of someone else's Mac/PC/Kiosk/Screen/AppleTV to access my stuff in the cloud.
That's (at least!) ten, not three. As you can easily imagine it makes a lot of sense to have these devices operate like an integrated whole. However, I think integration is a too limited goal here. I think we should be more ambitious. Based on a abstract perspective I've shared earlier (ActorWeb), I would like to argue that these devices should primarily be regarded as interfaces to a personal assistant (PA) in the cloud (possibly with their own computational power to remain operating when disconnected in a swarm like style).

Is it such an extreme thing to expect to be able to plan my car journey on my AppleTV attached to the big screen in my room, while the addresses I need to visit are picket out of my agenda in the cloud, and the route is automatically available in my car's Tom Tom in the morning? Guess it is ... especially when big vendors can't count beyond three.

Scattered interfaces
What have SMS, E-Mail, Phone, Skype, Twitter, etc, in common? They are all forms of communication. Some have a "broadcast" nature (Twitter), some have a synchronous nature (Chat or Phone), some have an asynchronous nature (SMS, E-Mail, Voice Mail). But they are all forms of communication. We all experience how we have different ID's for e-mail, chat, Skype, phone numbers etc. Sometimes this makes sense as it allows us to separate between different roles and levels of anonymity, but usually the different ID's are really due to the different interfaces. I would like to argue that in the age of cloud computing this is old-world thinking. I can't wait until we indeed have true unified messaging with a single inbox and outbox under a single ID, only differentiated based on different roles (and levels of anonymity) I, as a person, like to introduce.

However, it is not just about integrated messaging. My agenda, my address book, applications I use for work, banking, et cetera, still offer scattered (and sometimes even device-type bound) interfaces. An obvious good move towards better integration of interfaces are role-based interfaces. For example, Capgemini's TechnoVision states:
Role-based user portals: they morph their content to the specific, context-dependent needs of an individual user.
Certainly a good thing, but again, I think we need to be more ambitious. I don't just need a role-based user portal. I think we need cloud-based role-specific virtual work-spaces, which we can approach using the different devices as discussed above. The cloud should offer me a personal assistant which helps me in executing my roles, while communicating to me using the different devices, making things truly role-aware and context-aware.

Scattered data
Do you do FaceBook? How about Hyves, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Trip It, Twitter, et cetera? Our address data, calendar data, profiles, employment pasts, lists of hobby's, are scattered over different services. On the one hand this constitutes a privacy challenge, but at the same time it is an absolute horror to maintain all these profiles. Based on my personal roles, I would ideally like to maintain a profile of data and classes of events I would like to share with other people. This profile can than be shared by these social websites.
Profiles for social networking websites are only an example of all the data we need to maintain on different locations. In general, I would like to maintain such data on one location and allow specific other services (e.g. a social network website, or a banking service, or a travel planning service) to access this data. At the moment I sometimes have to re-type this data (or just cut & paste if I'm lucky).

Life as a service
In the present we have to make do with scattered devices, scattered services and scattered data. Life in the digital age really requires us to find our way in a maze of services. What would be needed, I think, is:
  1. A computing environment involving a cloud computing model amidst a swarm of devices. The devices offer sensors and interfaces towards users. They should also be able to take over some basic computing when needed. E.g. when detached from "the grid".
  2. More open standards enabling basic interoperability in terms of unified messaging, unified calendar services, unified address book, et cetera.
Life as a service, which would really be supporting the way we life, still seems to be a long way to go. It certainly takes a bolder vision that a "3 screen vision". Maybe the other Steve is bold enough.


  1. You've got to ask yourself only one thing: "What would Google do?" They're certainly moving in this direction...


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