E-Medicine

Newsweek writes about the growing use of electronic medical records in the US:

In July, the government launched a bold plan to get doctors and patients wired over the next 10 years. To encourage participation, officials are looking for ways to reduce costs and ensure software compatibility nationwide. The goal: a vast electronic network, where records can be securely viewed by any doctor or ER you visit. There’s more at stake than convenience. Electronic medical records could save $140 billion annually and slash medical errors, which contribute to tens of thousands of deaths a year. “It’s the right thing to do, it’s the right time,” says Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. “We have to transform the practice of medicine.”

Paperless medicine means you’ll be able to go from your GP to your cardiologistor to a new doc-tor in another statewithout having to cart around old records. Your physician, privy to your complete history, will no longer need to rely on you for medical details; you may just walk away with a more accurate diagnosis. Computers will send reminders about vaccines or alerts about dangerous drug interactions. Electronic prescriptions will reduce errors caused by bad handwriting. And for non-urgent matters, you and your doctor will be able to communicate through a secure messaging system, saving time and a lot of frustration.

As affordable computing solutions become available, India too needs to consider the use of EMRs. One benefit would be that the meta-data aggregated can go a long way in helping take pro-active action.

Broadband in South Korea

The McKinsey Quarterly writes:

From 1998 to 2003, the number of broadband subscribers in South Korea rose from zero to more than 11 million. Bolstered by an eager and technology-savvy market, a highly urbanized and dense population, and extensive government support, broadband services reached 72 percent of all households in 2003a level of penetration three times higher than the United States can boast and more than six times what many European countries have achieved.

South Korea’s broadband providers are now developing growth strategies along two fronts:

Improved access. The top three companies are working to bring faster broadband to subscribers, but these improvements have thus far had little effect on revenues. Most efforts have focused on the next generation of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology: Very High Bit Rate DSL (VDSL). Although these lines carry information about 60 percent faster than Asymmetric DSL (ADSL) networks do, price cutting by KT has brought subscription fees for VDSL into line with those for ADSL.

Value-added services. Some new options could deliver bigger revenue streams from a broader set of users. Hanaro and Thrunet are offering voice communications over the Internet as an alternative to fixed-line telephones, for example, but availability is limited and each company’s debt level means that neither has the marketing power to promote the service. (KT, with hefty fixed-line voice revenue, has little incentive to pursue Internet voice services.) Other access-based services offered by broadband operators include parental controls and remote maintenance and diagnostics for home computers. South Korea’s broadband providers have also led the way in offering improved content, such as online educational programs, games, and video on demand. But the skills required to develop and deliver profitable content are quite different from those needed to wire a nation and run a network. Our analysis suggests that content-based services are struggling because providers can’t segment customers, identify profit pools for various content offerings, or generate substantial advertising revenues.

MS Office and Productivity

The New York Times writes about Microsoft’s focus on making MS-Office the central plank in an effort to raise people’s productivity and increase its revenues:

“Office defines business productivity,” Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman, told financial analysts in July. He added that “the productivity area is probably the most important franchise that we have.”

With that focus, Microsoft is now pursuing a strategy to transform Office from a bundle of programs on personal computers into a family of software that can put Microsoft’s technology deeper into the operations of corporate data centers.

The information worker business at Microsoft, which is nearly all from Office, had revenues of $10.8 billion in the year ended in June, and operating profit of more than $7.15 billion. As a stand-alone business, Office – which on average sells for about $275 – would be slightly larger than the second-largest software company, Oracle, and far more profitable.

Traditional Office programs helped enhance productivity by allowing workers to easily create and modify digital documents. The aim of the new initiative is to increase the productivity with new tools for collaboration, communications, planning and document handling.

New programs – like SharePoint, LiveMeeting, OneNote and InfoPath – have been introduced in the last year or so as part of the “Office system,” a term Microsoft adopted last fall to replace “Office suite.”

The new design makes programs like Word, Excel and Outlook e-mail part of collaborative work spaces. In theory, a worker working in Word could tap into all the corporate information on a customer or project.

“Making collaboration faster, easier and more efficient will be the next revolution in worker productivity, and we want to be in the forefront,” said Peter Rinearson, vice president for new business development in Microsoft’s information worker group. “The goal is to make Office a tool that steadily delivers productivity improvements. It becomes a competitive advantage for the companies that use it well. If you don’t have it, you can’t keep up.”

Increasing information worker productivity is the next Holy Grail of desktop computing in the developed markets where everyone already has one or more computers. I think this is still an open area – Microsoft does start with a significant advantage, but it is by now means a winner.

This is also an area ripe for disruptive innovations . These will start with groups and go bottom-up. This is where social software and meta-mail comes in.

PCtvt

The New York Times has a story about CMU’s Raj Reddy and his efforts to take “technology to the masses” via a $250 wireless computer:

[Mr. Reddy] says his device can find a market in developing countries, particularly those with large populations of people who cannot read, because it can be controlled by a simple TV remote control and can function as a television, telephone and videophone.

Because his low-cost computer doubles as a TV and a DVD player, Mr. Reddy believes that he will be able to use it as a vehicle to take computing and communications to populations that until now have been excluded from the digital world.

What separates Mr. Reddy’s approach from other efforts is his belief that even the world’s poorest communities can become a profitable market for computers.

“I kept asking myself, ‘what would the device have to do for someone on the other side of the digital divide to be desirable?’ ” Mr. Reddy said. The answer, he decided, was a simple device that would offer entertainment, making it something that even the world’s poorest citizens might be willing to pay a sizable share – perhaps more than 5 percent – of their annual income to own.

“Entertainment is the killer app, and that will smuggle something that is a lot more sophisticated into the home,” said Tom Kalil, special assistant to the chancellor for science and technology at Berkeley.

With a small team of students and faculty here at Carnegie Mellon University’s West Coast campus, Mr. Reddy has built a simple control screen that allows the PCtvt to be used for audio and video conferencing, electronic mail and viewing local newspapers on the Web through a TV remote control. The designers have intentionally limited the computer’s functions because they are struggling to simplify what the users see and experience.

Details are available at the PCtvt website.

I think the idea is right, but the execution is flawed. For one, the price point needs to be $100 or so for the computer. I also feel a full-size keyboard is necessary. Rather than focusing on the absolute bottom of the pyramid, the initial focus needs to be people in the middle of the pyramid.

I have written often about the challenges regarding taking computing to the next markets and users – my latest Tech Talk series in fact addresses many of the issues.

Mobile Gaming

WSJ writes about the growing VC interest in mobile gaming companies:

the mobile-game investments show a renewed willingness by venture financiers to back companies that aren’t built on a unique technology but rather are trying to grab a share of a fast-growing market. A similar approach spun out of control in the late 1990s, when the breakneck growth in Internet usage drove venture firms to invest in many new Internet businesses. Some like eBay and Amazon succeeded, but many were ill-conceived and failed.

This time venture capitalists are betting that the spread of powerful cellphones and advanced wireless services will drive demand for games like baseball, poker, bowling and solitaire that can be downloaded over a cellular network and played on a mobile phone.

The market was pioneered in Europe and Japan and reached the U.S. two years ago with the advent of more-advanced cellular phones and wireless carriers eager to find new revenue sources.

The drive to be big could have a huge payoff. John Fisher, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, figures there are about 500 million cellular subscribers in the world with game-capable phones.

If a game maker can get 1% of that market — five million subscribers — and charge subscribers $3 to $4 a month for one game, that’s equal to annual revenue of between $180 million and $240 million. (Wireless carriers get a cut of the fees.)

Mr. Fisher estimates that a mobile-game maker’s market value could be three or four times annual revenue, so for a company with $240 million in revenue, its value could approach $1 billion. “In many ways I view this as the next wave of the rollout of the Internet across the globe,” Mr. Fisher says.

TECH TALK: Reinventing Computing: Six Challenges

(I have adapted this column from one that I wrote for Business Standard in July.)

There are six important computing challenges that need to be tackled:

Affordability: The existing solution, created by and for people with very high incomes, is too costly for most people in developing countries. While hardware costs have dramatically and monotonically declined over time, software has become more expensive to own and manage. Consequently, the total cost of ownership of computing solutions is still very high. (Piracy is a commonly used workaround when it comes to software. But most have to take the non-consumption route when even the pirated software plus the hardware costs exceed their budgets.)

Desirability: The utility of computers derives primarily from the services that it provides users. Even if the total package of hardware and software was affordable, people will not buy unless the services they derived from the computer were relevant to their lives. Furthermore, while the utility of computers is a necessary condition for their widespread adoption, it is not sufficient. People have to be knowledgeable about the utility of computing.

Accessibility: Given the low per capita incomes of developing countries, only a relatively small fraction of the population can afford to own even low-cost computers. Yet a significant number of people who cannot afford to own computers can still derive benefits from having access to computing services and be able and willing to pay for these.

Manageability: Computers require significant amounts of back-end support because of the complexity of the software. The cost and complexity of administration, support, and defence against spam, spyware and viruses act as significant deterrents to using them. Upgrading software, applying patches, managing conflicts between different applications are also issues that users need to worry about.

Security: Using computers is not for the faint-hearted. Rarely a week goes by without the discovery of some flaw in the software that users have on our desktops which, if left unattended, could cause serious damage to the data we have stored, and perhaps, worse. In a world of connected computers, security has become one of the most important concerns not just for CIOs but also for individual users.

Ubiquity: It is still hard for users to get access to the information that users have whenever they want and wherever they are. This is especially true for personal and group information stored in local databases or files on computers which may not be available when one is away from the computer. Instead of relying on syncing different devices, it would be nice if there was a single data store which made available information on-demand.

Tomorrow: Five Goals

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