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HP’s New Mechanisms and Design Lab is helping organizations get smarter about how they operate


Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist




Bernardo-Discover-Barcelona.jpg“As we move deeper into the era of Big Data and cloud computing, opportunities for growth and innovation are opening up in surprising areas,” suggests HP Senior Fellow Bernardo Huberman.


Uncovering and then addressing some of the most promising of these opportunities is the focus of a new research group that Huberman is leading within HP Labs. The Palo Alto-based Mechanisms and Design Lab is using a multi-disciplinary approach to the creation of new services, information extraction, manipulation, and display with the aim of developing novel technologies, solutions, and even business models that promise both to make enterprises work smarter and help them develop new areas of profitability.


One major research focus for the lab is knowledge discovery, a field where new approaches to data mining offer large organizations the chance to more efficiently use the vast amounts of information that they gather and hold.


“Millions of people are now sharing, discussing, reviewing, and otherwise communicating information about themselves and their surroundings,” Huberman notes. “Embedded in that mass of information are patterns and trends of great interest to anyone who cares about – or wants to influence – what’s engaging our collective attention.”


To discern those patterns across the huge volumes of social, physical, and enterprise data being produced every day, Mechanisms and Design lab researchers are developing new predictive technologies that deploy novel algorithms for extraction, modeling, summarization, prediction, and visualization across massive data sets. Early lab work in this area has, for example, successfully predicted opening US weekend movie box office returns by intelligently analyzing millions of opinions expressed about upcoming movies over social media.


New markets inside old enterprises


A second strand of research aims to develop new economic models for enterprise services. Many internal business processes employed by even the most forward-thinking enterprises today are surprisingly old-fashioned, notes Huberman.


“These services are remarkably inferior compared with what’s available to consumers via their smartphones,” he observes. “On our phones we can find out the weather right now, anywhere in the world. We can get the news from anywhere, or see what cars are available to hire or houses to rent. In nearly all companies, though, if you want to know something as basic as your current revenue figures in a specific geographic region, you have to contact someone and they’ll most likely say they’ll get back to you in a day or so. We just don’t have the enterprise systems to instantly give us the information we need at the time we need it.”

One promising way to tackle this, Huberman believes, is to create new internal markets within the enterprise. Employees, after all, often trade favors, influence, and information to get things done within a company. “We’re interested in developing internal currencies and trading markets for those kinds of non-cash items that would allow organizations to share information – and thus operate – much more efficiently,” he explains.


Furthermore, Huberman suggests, such an approach could do more than speed the flow of relevant information within companies – it might also point to new models for successfully selling products and services to customers.


Deeply-embedded user design


A final strand of Mechanisms and Design Lab research explores how enterprise functions might be enhanced through intelligent and elegant design. By rooting the visual display of information in solutions that consider end user needs throughout the entire process of collecting, filtering, and interpreting data, lab researchers are developing new enterprise solutions that improve information flow within large organizations, allow for workflows to be reconfigured for greater efficiency, and offer new approaches to interoperability, such as enabling ad hoc content sharing through any kind of mobile device.


“Many of the approaches that we are taking in these three areas of research were all but impossible until recently,” notes lab director Huberman. “But we now have the infrastructure and the processing capabilities to get these kinds of technologies, models, and services working in a very seamless fashion.”


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the possibilities inherent in innovating around knowledge discovery and the economics of information are starting to attract wider attention. Several institutions are beginning to talk about creating new models for pricing enterprise services, for example.


But Huberman believes that his multi-disciplinary, highly experienced team can remain ahead of the game. And as they explore non-traditional approaches to the extraction, display and selling of information, they’re also offering HP a path to new markets, he suggests.


“As technology itself becomes more and more commoditized, developing new mechanisms and business models is actually proving to be a powerful way to differentiate ourselves as a technology company,” Huberman argues. “So one way to look at our work is that it’s about offering HP new avenues via which it can innovate and succeed.”


Learn more about the research underway at the Mechanisms and Design Lab with Bernardo Huberman:



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About the Author



Bernardo Huberman's reference to a "micro-economy" within the enterprise with regard to the competition for scarce worker attention and its technological facilitation becomes all the more relevant when we consider that the process in which said workers are increasingly involved is the generation of intangible assets for the "macro-economy".

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