Board of the Future Provides Insight Into Tomorrow’s Work Force

REDMOND, Wash., July 6, 2004 — A group of 15 university students from around the world convened in Redmond, Wash., recently to form the inaugural Microsoft®
Office Information Worker Board of the Future, an advisory panel the company formed to help determine how to better serve tomorrow’s work force.

During a week of workshops, brainstorming sessions and presentations, the students offered insight into the technologies and issues important to them. The Microsoft Information Worker Business Group created the board to help ensure its future products and services meet the workplace needs of the so-called Internet Generation, or NetGen, the largest and most tech-savvy generation ever.

“Technology isn’t the only thing in the workplace that evolves. So do the needs and expectations of workers, as each new generation enters the work force,” said Peter Rinearson, corporate vice president of the Information Worker Business Group at Microsoft. “The direct, open feedback of these students is exactly what every global company like Microsoft needs to ensure it keeps up with the evolving needs of today’s customers — and tomorrow’s.”

Board members applauded the direction in which Microsoft is taking its next generation of software. In a 60-minute formal presentation to senior members of Microsoft’s Information Worker Business, the board members recommended that Microsoft extend some of the concepts they saw in a tour of the Microsoft Center for Information Work and in demonstrations from Microsoft Research to evolve Clippy, the onscreen assistant in Microsoft Office, into what they called a Creative Artificial Responsive Lifeform, or CARL.

The students described CARL as an omnipresent software aide that would take the complexity out of technology, automatically looking up and providing information and resources and synchronizing all of a person’s devices. They contrasted CARL with Clippy, suggesting extensions to the onscreen assistant that would make assistance more fluid and intuitive. A metaphor for how the board members would like to interact with technology, CARL was not an actual suggestion for implementation; rather, it is a design concept that could drive interface design choices and underlying technology investments. Software designed around concepts such as CARL could respond to voice commands, manage replication of content across devices and learn to understand a user’s preferences, over time adapting to his or her work methods and information needs.

The board members told Microsoft executives that they want technology to provide them the mobility and flexibility to work anywhere and on any device. They also suggested that Microsoft help increase software education and resources in developing nations. To these ends, the students said the company’s next generation of software should do or offer the following:

  • Allow information workers to work as easily outside a traditional office as inside one, and ensure that information is available no matter what device is being used or where the information worker is located. “NetGeners” in developed countries are so comfortable and familiar with mobile and other information technologies that they prefer all information to be totally available on the go, board members said.

  • Provide customized user interfaces and programs that cater to cultures where information technology isn’t yet embraced. The board suggested developing an African Tablet PC operating system with onscreen icons and other features appropriate to the culture and needs of people in underdeveloped parts of Africa. Similar design principles could be applied to software for other regions where the adoption of modern technology is hindered by cultural barriers and poverty.

The students asked Microsoft to work with them in developing a technological and entrepreneurial training program aimed at developing information worker skills in developing economies. The project would build on Microsoft’s current efforts and eventually extend them globally. The ultimate goal would be to explore methods that help developing economies create businesses to take advantage of continuing innovations in information work technology and practices.

The board members suggested that the program initially be located in South Africa, because of its political willingness to tackle these significant social and economic issues. They also said the program could be adapted for other countries, including Brazil, India, China and Russia. The students plan to develop a formal proposal for Microsoft Information Worker Business Group executives, who have committed to reviewing it and providing feedback.

“We can’t sit by and watch a chasm develop between those who can afford information technology and those who can’t,” said board member Anesu Mhlanga, an international trade and intellectual property law student from South Africa. “Give us the tools and resources to reach more people now, and we’ll create more information workers for the future.”

Now and Into the Future

The board spent most of the week on the Microsoft campus, discussing technology trends, touring Microsoft facilities and meeting with Microsoft product designers and researchers. To provide the students with additional perspective, Microsoft had them spend two days considering broad scenarios for the future beyond technology and took them to Samantha Smith Elementary School in nearby Sammamish, Wash., where third-graders shared their own views of the office of the future.

Microsoft executives plan to gather feedback from the board members and will determine next steps for the board in the coming months.

Recruiting the Board Members, a nonprofit organization that works with university students around the world, helped recruit and select the students. Selected from 135 applicants from 21 countries, the board members bring with them a broad variety of worldviews and interests. Fifteen students make up the board:

  • Gabriela (Gaby) Alejandra Alvarez , 19, Argentina. Studies and interests include political science. Active in El Arranque, an education, recreation and social work group.

  • Koray Asan , 21, Turkey. Studies and interests include industrial engineering and management. Summer internship with Pfizer Turkey, MAN Truck and Bus Co. and New Holland Agricultural Machinery.

  • Maulik Baxi , 22, India. Final year of medical school, cardiac surgery; amateur medical writer and editor.

  • Ainsley Gilkes , 22, Australia. Studies and interests include international communication and international relations. Director of Enterprise Network for Young Australians (ENYA).

  • Yukiko Imanaka , 20, Japan. Studies and interests include development information and journalism. Executive committee member for the Japan-U.S. and Japan-India student conferences.

  • James Kay , 23, United States. Studies and interests include English and political science. Owner and operator of Nameless Street, a music booking agency.

  • Tina (Ting-Hui) Lee , 22, Canada. Studies and interests include English cultural studies and history. Speaks six languages.

  • Anesu Mhlanga , 21, South Africa. Bachelor of laws (LLB) student who plans to seek a master’s degree in intellectual property and international trade law. Researcher for her university’s Law, Race and Gender Research Unit specializing in HIV/AIDS issues.

  • Simon Moss , 21, Australia. Third-year international studies and psychology student; studying impact of technology on individuals, communities and institutions.

  • Peter Njeru , 21, Kenya. Third-year architecture student. Organized international conference for Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

  • Camilla Noble-Warren , 22, United Kingdom. Studies and interests include international relations and development; participated in The Hague International Model United Nations (THIMUN) Youth Assembly and the Carnegie Young People Initiative.

  • Daniele Rosa , 23, Italy. Studies and interests include international and economic studies. National coordinator for PeaceWaves ONLUS, which promotes peace, human rights and active citizenship through art and sports.

  • yvind Kildal Stangnes , 24, Norway. Second-year business marketing student. Freelance graphic designer; executive committee member of Ambition youth entrepreneurial group; works with British telecom startup.

  • Steven Sutton , 21, New Zealand. Fourth-year history and law student; active in student organizations and leadership groups; serves as administrative vice president of his university’s 20,000-member student association.

  • Ziga Vavpotic , 19, Slovenia. Studies and interests include law and international relations; involved in youth issues in Slovenia and building international relationships.

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