Another good spot from Steve.

I blogged about Software Consumarization before. The Unilever example is not atypical. Businesses from all walks of life are finding it challenging to integrate a digitally enabled workforce into an organization viewed by that workforce as digitally disabled.

Call them Gen-Y, Digital Natives, Millennials, whatever you want - a changing workforce has changing expectations. I personally don't believe in such classifications (I am one of the so-called Gen-Y workers) as I think technology driven/enabled changes in lifestyles are a constant change. And that change is increasing in velocity.

Meeting the expectations of a fresh workforce is becoming increasingly difficult.

There's understandable inertia to much of this "technology populism" (as coined by Forrester). Much of it is due to a clash of cultures. Many business leaders would consider Instant Messaging or Social Computing as anti-productivity tools. This is an understandable viewpoint. But it is driven by an industrial-age view of productivity and it's value. It's an industrial view that says that if you are not sat at your desk (or your machine) you are not making things and you are not creating value. Time spent talking (on the phone, IM or at the water cooler) is not productive. I've heard many customers say exactly that.

"What's the point in me creating an extra x minutes a week of time savings? That just means people will spend more time stood by the water cooler".


But maybe that's exactly what they ought to be doing. My team's made most of the progress in our work through chance encounters with people by the coffee machine. When I develop an idea, most of that development is driven by ad-hoc conversations with people I happen to bump into. I'm also far more likely to bounce an idea off of people I know, on a personal level. After all, team-building days are not new. It's well recognized that a team that works well on a personal/social level works well on a professional level.

So why are personal/social computing tools resisted?

Inertia. Change is difficult.

And there's clash of cultures.

Perhaps Einstein put it best: "I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity."

It's not the first time that differing cultures and expectations have collided. There was significant upheaval in labor practice over the first 50-60 years of the 20th century. The expectations of the workforce shifted towards ideas of fairness and equality and a more respectful employer-employee relationship. That was a tough change.

When the telephone entered the office it was viewed as a distraction. So was the computer, the Internet and e-mail. Now they are widely accepted essentials.

Now social and consumer technology is entering the workplace.

'At Unilever, half of the desktop software and services used by employees comes from outside the company, and a lot of it shouldn't be there—Skype (EBAY) and iTunes, to name just a couple. "We can't stop them," says Chris Turner, Unilever's chief technology officer. "They're not accepting no as an answer."'

It's perfectly understandable to fear this "infestation" of non-corporate technology. The productivity "benefits" aside, the compliancy and regulatory difficulties made possible through consumer technology are chilling.

But consider the benefits first. These tools aren't popular because they change the way "young people" or "Gen-Y" thinks. They are popular because they compliment exactly the way we think. Human beings are classed as social mammals. We are more like dogs than cats. We evolved as a species to work together, for our own protection and for our own advancement. This is stone-age instinct being leveraged by a digital age.

Using non-corporate technology always carries risk. Compliance and security just two of them. But don't resist the idea of social computing purely because it conjures the image of Facebook and Live Messenger. Corporate social computing is a reality, and a reality made available in BPI.

'Unilever is still testing how to give employees more digital freedom. It may move users outside the corporate firewall and allow them to connect via their own computers, provided they're using certain security technologies. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the savings could be millions of dollars. "We see this as a real opportunity to start altering the cost model to deliver IT," says Turner.'

Henry Ford is famous for the expression "we don't pay you to think". Well thinking is pretty much the core of what I get paid to do. Some of that comes out in this blog, some of it through our campaigns, some of it in helping others to solve their own puzzles. Most of your workforce is probably in the business of thinking also. Help them think together.

//steve clayton: geek in disguise : Unilever staff use Facebook