I read an interesting supplement in The Sunday Times today entitled "Business Agility" that was sponsored by PC World. Quite a bit of the content concurred with (and used the same research) as a lof of our UK work on Flexible Working and the New World of Work (NWOW) with folks like Peter Thomson of The Future Work Forum quoted. One thing didn't sit too easy with me though and that was the over-riding notion that they positioned flexible working as working from home (WFH) is one part of the story - I had a pretty flexible working week last week that took in the following venues
It does irk me a bit that this correlation often gets made - WFH is only part of the picture. The NWOW is as much about what you do as where you do it though. Technology is going to have a profound impact on the way we get stuff done over the next few years and software thankfully will move away from being a long list of features that a user has to accommodate towards accommodating (and anticipating) they way they work. It needs to - according to IDC, a typical information worker in North America has seen the daily volume of business-related email increase by a factor of ten since 1997. I can vouch for that!
Anyway...I'll be back with more on the NWOW soon...off to do some more email for now :)
It's controversial but are the days of buying infrastructure solutions over? When I joined the IT industry it was at the time that Windows NT4 was starting to take hold and Windows 95 was being dreamt of. I spent a lot of time getting to grips with the first web server in NT4 (Internet Information Server) and trying to use Index Server to index Usenet newsgroups...though I can't remember why. Whenever the new CD arrived from Microsoft or something appeared on the web a bunch of technical guys would pore over the details. As a slight aside, check out the screenshot of the original Microsoft.com homepage - we've come a long way!
Somewhere along the line though people starting being less concerned about the ever growing feature list and more concerned about what business impact the software could have. In short, solutions started to gain traction. That's not to say that the features that get added to products aren't reasons for buying new versions but businesses started to get more concerned with the business benefits of software and slowly but surely our language changed to talk about the business value. Whilst that may seem obvious, it was quite a shift for many who were product (and feature) focused.
To give you an example, in Windows Server R2 we improved our Distributed File System feature. The new features provided a more efficient replication of files and the changes between files as they changed. In English it meant that when a file changed on a system that you wanted copied to another system the technology became more efficient at send just the changes within the file, rather than the entire new file. Sounds pretty tedious and boring and you'd struggle to sell that feature to an CEO, let alone an IT Director. Try this version though:
....by implementing the improvements within Windows Server, Paul Smith, has restored one day a week of productivity to IT staff and one hour a day of productivity to branch office staff. It’s also saving $12,000 annually in tape costs and network bandwidth is 50 percent more efficient, with some file transmissions now taking eight seconds instead of eight hours....
Sounds much better? Case studies are perhaps our most powerful way of communicating the business benefit of technology. This is the kind of sale that we're talking more and more with our Microsoft Partners about. I spent some time recently with a local partner in Chiswick talking about this dynamic. Their customers don't necessarily want IT solutions - they want business solutions. If those business solutions happen to rely on IT that's not a problem - customers are happy to invest in IT if they seem business benefit. Ultimately they want something that has a business impact on the KPI's they care about. Does it make them more efficient (drive down costs), sell more (drive up revenue) or allow them to open a new market for example.
I'm off on the road shortly to talk more with our partners about this approach - taking solutions to customers focused on Business Efficiency, Flexible Working, Collaboration and Improved Customer Relationships. Software can help with all of these things but we need to turn it in to business language for it to resonate with customers. The message for me is that we need to get better at learning this language and translating our products features in to business solutions for our customers.
About 5 years ago I was asked to go to Redmond to pick up some demos of Office 2000 from the CIO summit to bring back for the UK launch of Office. It was a hairy few days in a "cube" in Redmond with 2 laptops trying to build some demos to bring back - the most tricky of which was a very early demo of the instant messenger functionality we had built in to Exchange 2000. Back then it required some "magic" to make things work and I spent a day with two laptops configuring text files to allow a very simple two machine demo of IM (at least until some orange juice leapt on to one of the laptops and fried it....not sure how that happened). Anyway, I sped back to the UK and eventually did a demo at a London hotel of me chatting our MD of the time using webcams etc. It all hung together and if we demo'ed it now people would say "so what...everyone has IM".
The silent revolution of IM has been nothing short of astonishing. From the early days of a few people around the office using IM for idle banter I now have over 100 contacts on my IM list and regularly use it to run both my business and work life. My family are all on IM and my friends around the world are - talk about The World is Flat!! As VOIP technology gets integrated in to IM we're set for another revolution that must have the mobile operators concerned but also keenly looking at the opportunity - as IM has moved off the desktop and is now on mobile devices (not just Windows Mobile devices either). Within Microsoft it has quite simply changed the way we work - more and more of my business conversations are on IM. I can get a quick answer to pretty much anything, anytime, anywhere with the beauty of presence - this is perhaps the killer element of IM. It means I know who is online and who is offline - who is busy and who isn't busy. A customer at a recent event in Cambridge recently asked me how worthwhile this is given the potential for people to simply use IM for idle chatter. I showed him a live demo by asking having him ask me a question about a product that I didn't know the answer to. Within 20 seconds I had an answer - simply by looking down my IM contact list, seeing who was online and available who may know and securing a response. The penny dropped and the sale was done :) I guess I could have done this same experiment using a phone but the difference is I knew who was available and whether it was a good time for me to contact them. In a nutshell, this is the power of IM - almost instant response to anything I need to know. Even stuff I don't know, there are an increasing number of "bots" that act like a Turing machine in their quest to find an answer. Mark tells you more about Bots...
There are some considerations of course before blindly deploying an IM infrastructure. Does everyone need it, do you want (or perhaps legally need) an audit trail of messages, should you integrate Voice Over IP. These are all valid things to think about and the technology has moved on significantly since 2000 to address all of these issues.
Back to the revolution: in 2005 I would say around over 50% of my communication in work was via email but over the last 3 years that has dropped due to the introduction of IM. It's not a massive drop though as I think I use IM for very specific reasons - essentially to get time sensitive answers to information or to share information quickly with one (or more people). I also use IM occasionally for file transfers though I'm starting to use Folder Share more for that now. The final element is of course the social side of IM - it helps me keep in touch with my family better and helps me connect with my friends at work and further afield. Does that make me less productive - for the odd moment yes but balance that out against the positive of making me a happier employee with all the work benefits of IM and it's just a must have. I suspect you use it already but if not...go forth and IM!
I gave a presentation at a series of Microsoft roadshows during the back end of last year about "the way I work" and how it's changed over the years. It was something of a revolution as I have spent most of my 8.5 years here talking technology - starting with Internet Explorer, Proxy Server (now ISA) and then moving on to Office, Exchange, Site Server and Tahoe (now Sharepoint). More recently I spent time working on the mobile device side of our business and learnt to love the 8 hour time difference between Taiwan (HTC) and Seattle (HQ). The presentation talked very little about products and more about the notion of Flexible Working - and just how much things have changed since I joined the UK workforce. A number of pivotal things happened to enable me to work flexibly
On the latter one, I remember being in New Orleans about 7 years ago trying to connect my Philips Nino via a Motorola Timeport back to our RAS server to allow me to get email. Things have changed somewhat - my email now just arrives on my mobile device anywhere I am in the world as GPRS is widely available - where it isn't I can get to my email from any Internet connected PC via Outlook Web Access.
All of this means I can work pretty much anytime, any place but there is one other key factor that makes this possible and it's not technology.
Without this, all of the technology in the world wouldn't allow me to work flexibly. What is surprising is how many organisations haven't worked this out despite that fact that folks like Drucker have been talking about it for years - he coined the term Knowledge Worker in 1959!! He also stated that "Knowledge workers don't believe they are paid to work 9 to 5; they believe they're paid to be effective"
I suppose the summary of this is that technology has to come together with a leap of faith from business leaders that they will actually get more from their employees by providing them with the freedom and technology to allow them to work more flexibly. Many of my friends work for organisations who could enjoy massive benefits (staff morale, greater productivity, employee retention and reduced building costs) by allowing their staff to work flexibly but I guess their management come from the old school of wanting to see people at their desk from 9-5....it's so depressing. The other side of that is they think I'm mad when I read my email on my smartphone perhaps on a Saturday afternoon - my view is that at least I can and I choose to work that way whereas they have no choice - their work is done at work. Perhaps why so many British workers take their work on holiday with them?
The TUC has published a paper that shows the latest figures from Britain's Labour Force Survey (LFS) that British workplaces are still far from flexible. New research for the TUC shows that the majority of employees have no individual working time flexibility. More than one in ten employees - a staggering 2.3 million - would like to work fewer hours even if this involved a cut in pay but are not able to do so. Which takes me to my final point
The difference in what the TUC seems to be saying and what I'm talking about is subtle - I am very much an advocate of technology enabling flexible working of many types (working on the road, working from home and working on outputs rather than inputs) whereas the TUC focus is on businesses supporting more flexible working practices. I think the two are not mutually exclusive as technology can enable knowledge workers of all kinds. You could say I am biased but I for one couldn't work any other way and I know several other organisations who have taken the leap of faith and seen the benefits.
Off topic (though linked to my forthcoming discussion on collaboration), I have 5 invites available to trial the beta of Windows Live Messenger which will succeed MSN Messenger. It has a cool new UI, extended contact list (600), nicknames, timestamps and more. You can find an exhaustive list on the site of the folks who build it.
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