Monthly Archives: June 2014

Being productive is often a case of not being outsmarted by the tech


It appears that a Productive day for most is deemed to be of the type categorised as ‘I’ve cleared all my email’. Perhaps for many of us this is not true ( or it is but we are in denial ) but I tend to find that it is true. Unbelievably this ‘coping’ with the volume, velocity and variety of information being driven to us is  sadly the norm, and if the ethos of the individual organization is to ‘just cope with it’ then we can predict more and more ‘admin days clearing email’.

But can you blame them? Unless you are a senior stakeholder operating at a  level where your exposure to the distraction is well protected by teams of ‘protectors’, the bulk of the modern organization live in this ‘coping’ landscape.

Hang on though. Surely better ways of working identified by ‘mobile friendly buildings’ with clear desk, hot spot, always on and device independent are going to make this characteristic a thing of the past? And doesn’t the advent of social tools into the corporate world make the modern worker so much more productive due to the range of options to converse, communicate and collaborate?

100% correct. All these shifts in the modern way of working totally address the needs of the modern worker. And as we all know a more productive worker  is the magic dust all the senior level types need to sprinkle on their business plans to ensure growth is on-going and that their products and services are driven to greater heights through the people centric convenience that smarter buildings and technology afford.

100% incorrect. What is this? An alternative view?

Well sort of. In the excellent book “The Rise of the Humans: How to Outsmart the Digital Deluge”,  Microsoft’s Dave Coplin argues that all of us are subject to so many more distractions in our daily toil that the digital deluge of information is counter productive, and harmful to us as individuals and a shadow killer to organizational growth.

One telling example Coplin highlights is this cold and sobering fact “the typical office worker gets about 11 continuous minutes of work done before an interruption”, and that “on average it took them 15 minutes to return to a serious mental task…”. If this is true – and I personally believe it to be very true – the challenge the business faces is one of adoption.

Adoption of smarter working patterns of course, but smarter ways of using the ‘tech’ to the advantage of the worker to the extent that they are able to cope with interruption and return to work almost immediately.

Take SMS messaging. People are faced with a private deluge of messages during the day from friends, family and colleagues. And whilst the information contained is of little commercial value ( I hope ) the urge to discuss the “my daughter passed her driving test” or “did you see the football last night” is hard for many to resist.

Take email. No lets not. We know what happens in there.

Take Twitter. or Facebook. The merge of a worker’s private life into their working day, and the inherent involvement of colleagues in their ‘stuff’ is never ending. Everyone seems to know everyone else’s stuff.

I use the word Adoption because there are two interesting aspects of this ‘deluge’ as illustrated by Coplin and others.

Firstly, the ‘cook book’ of business success is to digitise once time consuming analog processes, and move to faster and streamlined business processes that drives business change to ever increasing levels of revenue and operating margin success.  Adopting the switch to the application platforms that are enabling this paradigm shift to digital inputs and outputs requires a people shift as well. For sure the explosion of cloud based applications that simplify and accelerate information flows breath intuitive interfaces, and the ease to ‘learn’ what to do is often a short exercise of on the job training and then all is good to go. However, it isn’t always that easy.

Secondly, the fly in the anointment of business change is the people. People have a habit of reverting to type and will only ‘adopt’ change once they have been ‘trained’. Now I don’t necessarily mean application training, though many of course need this. No, I mean training in to become a ‘smarter worker’. Perhaps this training does exist today, but I envisage that organisations’ will increasingly need to ‘train’  or ‘blend’ workers on how to minimise the digital deluge, and become smarter at protecting their time against distractions. Call it ‘multi-tasking’ training if you like.  This training course may combine the digital business process side of their daily working life, with the smarter ways to use technology to collaborate in such a way as to maximise their interactions, and ensure that any genuine distraction is accommodated sufficiently to allow them to return to the task at hand with minimal impact. It may embrace guidance on the situations when or when not to use technology, and how human communication may still be the default approach. Call it the organization’s people centric DNA or other similar catchphrase. The important aspect is that for the first time in the history of technology ( which goes a long way back ) the worker needs help in how to take all this data, information, tools, combine them with all the distractions around them and finally, deliver a ‘solid day at work’.

Why is all this important?  Well I posted about the UK hourly productivity has finally increased ( ), and whilst this is merely useful anecdotal opinion, it is well known that the modern organisation is now measuring the productivity of their workers, not as a ‘nice to have’ but as a formal checkpoint that all their strategies for business change initiatives,  digitization of business processes and deployment of smarter devices and productivity software are actually working.

Some days you feel really ‘smart’; others you feel ‘outsmarted’……..



When spending 70% of I.T money keeping the lights on…. used to matter

Remember the days ( not long ago ) when our IT organization would stare at  ‘ stuff’ and wishfully cry ” we are spending too much of our IT cash keeping the lights on, and not enough on innovation”.

Man and whiteboard
Keeping the lights on was the mantra used by all us to describe the extent the IT organization had to maintain a basic level of service. And for many it seemed that all of their cash just being spent on just standing still with none spent on driving projects forward to real business outcome. For many the effort in people needed  to manage the breadth of technology deployed to run the service fast became unsustainable, and as the demands from business change increased, just keeping the lights on was never going to be enough.

Maturity models were in abundance as organizations choose to measure their current state and the future state. As we all learned back then being able to measure a current state was very easy. After all counting up assets, reviewing processes and identifying technological and people next steps really did follow a particularly well laid out path. For example, when we knew we had issues with power and space in your datacenter, virtualization was the answer. When you knew that our users were operating 24 x 7  offering self service password reset was logical. And so on.

But then we  realised there was a problem. We were taking this maturity journey on a very prescriptive waterfall approach, taking steps with upgrading our technology driven by the manufacturers and appropriate to the skills of our people and partners. And we did it really well.

On paper this motion would have been very much Left to Right and we were loved for it. We drew plans and programmes that made it all look achievable. Trust us we know what we are doing. We were loved because we were the experts, and the business were beholden to us to build platforms to let them make small steps in their business strategy.

Unfortunately our business stakeholders had a different maturity journey which was on a very different agile plane. On paper this motion looks very much Right to Left and we were scared of it. They had three dimensional pictures of how their business needed to look and they had developed a different way of describing the role of IT in the outcomes.

Agile behaviour meant that there was no step through technology refresh of the IT platforms. Instead IT were being presented with integration challenges that hadn’t appeared on their programmes and charts. Enterprise mobility perhaps became their biggest threat, because it presented a uncontrollable  growing pain, quickly followed by all manner of new challenges for information security and business workflow that they could not have predicted with their one dimensional page or whiteboard map.

Successful IT organizations are the ones that realise that whilst its necessary to keep the lights on every day, they also need to blend their approach with the business by seeing business change in the eyes of their non IT colleagues. For many this is incredibly hard to do’; easy to say but incredibly hard to do.

There are no lights on in a cloud datacenter. Its dark and just works.