Ike Nassi is something of a renaissance man in IT, having held senior technical positions at SAP, Cisco, Apple, DEC and several other companies. He's now the senior vice-president for research at SAP Labs US. Nassi founded Firetide and co-founded Encore Computer, and he helped start the Computer History Museum in California.
He has held positions at Stanford University, MIT, Boston University and the University of California, Berkeley. Nassi played key roles in the design of the Ada programming language and the Mach operating system. He recently told IDG's GARY ANTHES what's driving change in the software world.
What major IT changes are ahead?
Ike Nassi (IN): The integration of the real world and the IT world is going to happen, and it's going to accelerate. It's going to be driven by the increase in RFID in sensor networks and the rise of embedded microprocessors. We are doing things here that couldn't have been done three to five years ago. For example, we are working to outfit fire trucks with a variety of wireless communications gear so we can track them back to SAP's back-end systems. One thing the fire department was interested in, for example, was to understanding why a fire truck would take what appeared to be a non-optimal route to a fire.
What's another example of this kind of pervasive wireless network?
IN: The car has a tremendous number of microprocessors but has been slow to adopt networking. We are exploring back-end Web services [for] network-enabled cars. For example, my car told me I needed an oil change. But in the mail, I got a notice saying my car needed a software change. If the whole thing were network-enabled, I could have gotten an email saying, "Your car needs to be serviced. Make an appointment by clicking here, and when you come in, we'll upgrade the software in your car."
What's an example of a future corporate application of RFID and wireless networks?
IN: We are also looking at RFID-enabled assembly lines. One issue is that the back-end inventory management system is often not as consistent with the actual inventory on the assembly line or the parts depot. By tracking parts usage on the assembly line, you potentially have fewer line shutdowns and more-accurate forecasting and usage information. Also, if there are component product recalls, you have highly accurate information about where the faulty products were used.
What advice would you offer IT managers in light of this merging of the physical and digital worlds?
IN: One thing they should do is adopt existing standards as quickly as possible, like Open Service Gateway Initiative. Adopting a service-oriented architecture could be a huge win for the following reason: If they already have some sort of RFID application or sensor network application, they probably have a large amount of data already in their back-end systems. Replicating this information would raise [costs] and result in lowered accuracy. In one example application we did, we were able to combine existing repository information about properties of chemicals contained in drums to determine whether proximity of different drums of chemicals represented a hazard. In this way, we effectively made the drums intelligent. To do something like this in a non-integrated fashion would be potentially inaccurate and more expensive.