Interconnects in the Office of the Future

By Contributed Article | February 05, 2016

In a recent interview with John MacWilliams, the connector industry veteran shared his best guesses on technology and its effects on the workplace of 2045.



Office of the FutureIn 2045, your work day will begin in your home office. You may still have a dedicated corporate office space to work and meet in, but the majority of your work is not done alongside your colleagues. Teams meet in a number of work locations, often spread out for a variety of reasons.

Open spaces will dictate corporate infrastructure, and technology will be more like “The Jetsons” than we ever imagined. Security, both physical and technological, will still be a big issue, and companies will maintain a global presence through telecommuting and disruptive office space.

Investment in New Technology

If this picture had been painted for you twenty years ago, you would have thought you were stuck in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Nowadays, with the ever-increasing use of mobile devices, tablets, and personal display devices, it doesn’t seem as strange. What is strange, according to Bishop & Associates’ John MacWilliams, principal at US Competitors LLC, is that “with the trend for people to ditch their computers and move to just a mobile device, companies tend to be behind the eight ball when it comes to technology.”

MacWilliams explains that while the who, what, when, where, why, and how of work will all change, “companies will still have to get their employees better technology, which is a challenge when you have to get it through the corporate budgeting process.”

Humans, Their Phones, and the Cloud

Budgets aside, there are three things that are probable about the office of the future.

First, people will always need human interaction. There will always be communal spaces in which to meet, but it will be a question of how often we go to them and where they are located; for example, will a company have its own physical building or will employees meet in one of the many daily-rental co-op offices popping up in cities? The creative process and the human need for team building might continue to require interaction for more productive thought processes.

Second, according to MacWilliams, we can’t even begin to envision the smartphones of the future. “What they will do is beyond our comprehension today. The ultimate device may not have any physical connectors, rather wireless communications and inductive charging.”

Technology is accelerating because of a combination of hardware and software options; and shortly, almost everything we do in the office will be based in the Cloud. MacWilliams anticipates that this type of work could, in theory, “create a possible revolt against the devices we use to communicate, when used 100% of the time.” Yet, the need to connect so many devices to the Internet of Things will demand more bandwidth, faster data rates, and more secure connections to keep remote employees connected to each other in addition to the main office.

Third, by 2045, “the computer market will have been engulfed by the Cloud,” says MacWilliams. “Hardware will have shifted to large data centers à la Big Data.” MacWilliams thinks Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple will be dominant, with other industry stalwarts such as HP, Oracle, Dell, and others perhaps not in the top tier.

“Most companies will have decided to outsource data center/cloud applications to Big Data leaders,” he continues. “Software-defined networks and other applications will play a major role, diminishing the importance of hardware. The PC market will still be there for user input and computational applications, but a large number of users – more than 50% – will have switched to tablets and two-in-one devices more attuned to content viewing, not creation.”

The Role of Connectors

MacWilliams believes there is the potential for a technology breakthrough in computers – like the PC itself revolutionized the office – and that there will be a desktop supercomputer with artificial intelligence. He predicts that USB-C, HDMI, and Display Port/Thunderbolt will be ubiquitous and the number of connectors per system will decline, offset by increases in system volume.

Not long ago, we bought laptops and desktops with an average of 25 – 30 connectors inside and out. Today’s technology products have consolidated this number by more than half. This is in part due to the need for smaller footprints and lower profiles in smaller, thinner devices, like the iPhone and iPad. Connections are already moving from HDMI and others to USB-C, which enables everything from charging to printing. MacWilliams believes “the connector industry is faced with a great challenge, to reinvent itself for the office of the future in order to continue the sales it wants. This holds true for sensors as well. Market dynamics 20 years out are a mere guess, however.”

Silicon Photonics

MacWilliams does believe that in 2045 silicon photonics will play a major role in computers, servers, storage, and data centers. “Intel will have developed silicon-photonic microprocessors and many/most high-performance data applications will have shifted from copper to single-mode fiber and polymer waveguide interconnects, from the CPU to the I/O port. Computer systems will have been disaggregated into their CPU, memory, storage, and I/O functions, all connected by fiber, or they may become so integrated that 90% of their functions will be on a chip or in a 3D-stacked module.”

Flexible and Reliable Connectivity

The theme for the office of the future will really focus on agility; it will have to be flexible. From technology to telecommuting, the way we work will continue to evolve at a very fast pace. What we think we know today is nothing compared to what we will see tomorrow. No doubt this will pose challenges for connector designs we may not yet anticipate, but will also spur development of innovative connector solutions we can’t even imagine in the years ahead.

Finally, there will be a decreased need for work-based travel, and an increased need for the use of technology as a means of connection. According to MacWilliams, “handheld devices, by 2045, will do almost everything we need to do. We won’t need as much computing power because WiFi will be everywhere and there won’t be any connectivity issues.” For anyone who experienced Blizzard Jonas just weeks ago, that is a tremendous statement.

Today, connectivity is one of our greatest challenges. In the office of the future, it is a no-brainer.

Author Brooke Greenwald is the president of Cornerstone Communications Ltd.

Managing Editor Patricia Staino and Bishop & Associates’ John MacWilliams contributed to this article.

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