2011 reflections on IT

Another year has whizzed bye.  Maybe it’s something to do with running your own consulting business, having a very active family and having a curious mind.

So what sticks in my mind in terms of technology – looking back on 2011?

What have I really liked?

I have been very happy with my Android phone – Samsung II.  Great phone, easy to use, great camera, easy integration with lots of social networks etc.  Would be lost without a smartphone.

Have found myself leaning much more towards Twitter than Facebook.  Have really found Twitter useful in terms of work related research, staying in contact with other professionals, developing my own profile.  Notwithstanding this Facebook is a daily platform for me – and has lured me into chess.com.  Typically have one or two chess games on the go (48 hours to move).

I have stuck with FourSquare.  Most of my acquaintances run a mile from FourSquare – why would you want to share your location?  I think this type of location based software has a long way to run.

Have enjoyed listening in to TWIT.TV (Leo Laporte’s This Week in Technology).  I tend to download the podcast and listen to it on one of my walks.  He has had some great guests during the year and some great debates – even last week with regard to restrictions on software copying.

Leo Laporte has got me to sign up to tow of his sponsors: www.Audible.Co.UK and Carbonite.  Audible I sue to download books which I listen to when walking, taking public transport, even at home rather than reading the physical book (nice break for the eyes).  I am using Carbonite to back up my data.

I have implemented encryption using TrueCrypt – seems to work very well.  And seems to be gaining in popularity wherever I go.

And EverNote – what a great application.  Increasingly I find myself using Evernote to capture meeting notes.  And it’s available on my Android phone when I need to access a note.

Finally – Google+.  I definitely like it.  And it looks like it has traction.  But then Google has some influence!  And I should say I have had a great year with Google Apps – has not let me down.  The world needs Google and Microsoft competing – at least you can now shop and compare between the two cloud offerings.

What have been my other observations?

Lots of disillusioned IT teams in corporate world.  Lots of them working with reduced budgets, smaller teams but many of the same challenges.  Many of their users have lots more technology available to them at home or on their phones – real challenges in providing stimulating corporate IT environments to end users.

Understanding the economics of the cloud is challenging.  If I have 100 Offce/ Exchange users does it make sense to sign up to Office 365 (or Google Apps)? Do the price points make sense?  Green field site v. established business.  Many people unconvinced about the economics.  Many people committed to cloud approach.  Debate is vigorous.

Regardless, operating from Ireland, with its current economic challenges, web based technologies are being embraced and lots of entrepreneurs emerging with ideas which exploit these technologies.





No sign of a slow down in use of social networks

I come across anecdotal evidence of people becoming bored with social networks – suggesting they may shut down their Facebook account, don’t see the point of twitter, etc.  Latest report from Nielsen on the US market firmly gives the lie to this.

The reality appears to be that people are spending more of their online time in social networks.  And that’s not really very surprising – particularly if they are managing their participation in a way which provides them with value e.g. using Twitter to follow particular interests, using Facebook or Google+ to interact with specific groups of people.

I posted the other day on the subject of ‘Friends or Not‘. Social networks are not without their negatives e.g. irrelevant data, self  censorship, etc.  But the plain reality is that they do offer all sorts of ways to present information in context.

Would be interesting to see similar analysis for the local marketplace in Ireland.  I suspect it is not very different.  I think the other day I heard back from a younger family member ‘No I did not get your email, I use facebook’.  Things continue to move on in social networking and instant messaging.

Social networking in the enterprise – part 2

Social networking poses plenty of challenges also – we need to focus on why, what we are looking to achieve, how to manage the risks/ downsides.

As we seek to deploy social networking tools in the enterprise plenty of questions arise re potential waste of time and resources.  We set out with a number of positive objectives e.g. improve communication, improve ability to find people and information, support collaboration and team work.  But we also have a key question to address re potential downsides:

Does a facebook or twitter type application become a distraction – another source of interruptions in the day while trying to complete tasks; another temptation to move away from the task at hand?

We talk a great deal about the ability of people to multitask – but what does this really mean?  In many activities the ability to concentrate, focus on the job at hand, is paramount.  Constant interruptions/ distractions are more likely a hindrance than an aid.

In many ways we already have too many distractions at work – phones, mobiles, email, people, memos, noise, etc.  Social networking and ‘presence’ type applications generate additional potential distractions.

So what’s the way forward?  I think time management is back at the centre of the issue.  You have an amount of time to perform your role – within your role you have a range of responsibilities (and these have their own priorities).  Within the context of all of this you have a number of tools and resources (including people, templates, gadgets, software, social networks).  The real challenge is to figure out how to use these to the best possible advantage.  And I don’t think many of us are mastering this.  For instance when I use an application such as Rescue Time it gives me anindication of the amount of time I spend on social networking sites.  As someone trying to understand these environments and figure out how to harness them for productive use I allow myself generous amounts of time – but inevitably I am distracted and exceed my targets.

Interesting this week to read a piece in the Irish Times dealing with the concerns of parents and teachers about the impact of social networking on school children.  There was a time when parents worried about kids who were playing too much competitive sport close to exams to kids who had too active (traditional) social lives.  Now there are very real concerns about the amount of time spend on social networks – where there are unlimited distractions for any participant.

There are plenty of lessons in all of this for those of us rolling out these types of applications across  enterprises.  We need to remember what we are looking to achieve, we need to measure whether we are achieving this and we need to monitor the risks associated with these initiatives e.g. loss to productive time, unexpected bahavioural changes.  Notwithstanding all of this we need to figure out how to realise the potential benefits.

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social working/ social networking within the enterprise – part 1

Introducing social networking within the enterprise

A segment of a social network
Image via Wikipedia

Have been thinking for some time about the best ways to establish effective social networking within the enterprise.  I like the phrase I see used some places – social working.

My starting point is that  most companies that are in any way successful are already reasonably proficient at social working ie working in teams, brainstorming, sharing ideas, collaborating.  So this is not about introducing a new concept – it’s about looking to see whether we can use some of the technologies to assist in more effective collaboration, team work, etc.

Seems to me one of the challenges in commencing an initiative through a pilot is that to some extent the value of the solution is dependent on widespread penetration and adoption.  However it is also important to see which suite of products work most effectively, determine potential benefits of any preconfiguration or integration, determine any training requirements.

I am curious to see the potential benefits of a facebook or twitter type application within the enterprise.  And to understand the limitations of an enterprise walled-in solution as against a web wide solution such as twitter.  But the idea of some form of continuous stream such as a twitter type app seems attractive as a way to provide somewhere for sharing all sorts of information – notwithstanding the inevitable ‘noise’ arising from general posts.

Another challenge to many organisations is the varying level of comfort across people in using such applications.  As the social network becomes the primary communication channel there are risks associated with potentially losing some of the non participants.  Alternatively some of the potential gains are lost if we are obliged to duplicate things outside the social networking platform.

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Learning from the young – to make social networking work

Put new intake at the centre of your social networking and collaboration rollout plans – they have lived this way and get it.

Exterior signage in front of J. Crew's Factory...
Image via Wikipedia

Great piece from Tom Peters highlighting the strengths of Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew.  Peters  picks out so many things that appeal to him in Drexler’s approach – clearly a man who walks the walk and talks the talk.  But what I am drawn to in particular is his respect for younger or more junior people in the organisation:

  • Listens attentively regardless of age/seniority
  • Obvious in his transparent respect for young employees

As we begin to embrace social networking and the associated collaborative approach a key step for enterprise management  is to embrace the new generation – sometimes referred to as the F generation (in reference to facebook).  These are the people who know and understand these solutions.  Bring them on board  – put them at the centre of the required change.  Have them mentor senior, more experienced managers – mentoring is a tow way process.

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It’s still about being professional, being creative

Supporting a cause through professional, creative use of social networking platforms

The social network tools and platforms are everywhere. Largely they have improved, become easier to use and their reach has increased hugely e.g. facebook with > 500m users.

But making the tools really work for you continues to require professionalism and creativity.

Was privileged to see Deanna Lee of the New York Public Library present at the BlogTalk 2010 conference in Galway, Ireland last week. Deanna brought wide experience in jouranlism to her role. But the key skills were the thinking, the creativity and the professionalism of the productions and the campaigns.

Worth taking the time to watch her talk – to understand the background to what she was trying to ahcieve and then to see how she achieved her objectives. The videos referenced may also be seen on YouTube e.g. Who You Gonna Call?

facebook – 500m plus and rising

Facebook becoming more useful

I’ve been using facebook actively for a couple of years now. Initially saw it as a tool to stay in touch with overseas friends. But since then seems to have become a way to organise events, share photos, promote business expertise, find answers to questions, reconnect with old friends.

Interesting piece published in Forbes by Fred Wilson emphasising the same point – and the threat to google ( and the rest) posed by facebook.

Linkedin looking a bit staid?

Weedle and Worky to grab market share from linkedin

Have recently signed up to new newish sites:

worky: http://www.worky.com/barryjogorman
weedle: http://weedle.com/barryjogorman

I have been a committed user of linked in for the last couple of years – as evidenced by approx. 600 connections.

I have to say I think there is plenty of room in the market for either worky or weedle to make a real impression. Linkedin did a good job of establishing a ‘serious’ social network – targeting business users. However I think both weedle and worky, incoming later to the market, are doing a superior job in being truer examples of social networking.

My initial impression is that the worky model is easier to understand. But perhaps weedle is something different.

Just shows you – cannot stand still in this market place.

Is the person and technology becoming one?

Learning to live with a pervasive internet

Have just spent a couple of weeks on vacation – without broadband access at my fingertips.  Continued to monitor email and SMS – from my phone.  Probably online three times over the fortnight – had to make an effort.  Posted a few photos to facebook from the phone.

Real difference was not interacting with twitter and other social networks on a regular basis throughout the day.  Also – listened to the radio for news and read a few newspapers.

Just watched Kevin Kelly video/ presentation on future of the web.  KK (of Wired) sees the internet as one computer.  We use various devices to access the one computer.  ‘Things’ e.g. cars, clothes, devices which incorporate chips (e.g. RFID) are effectively part of the one computer.  And, indeed, we are in many respects sensors for this one computer – as more and more information ends up in the one computer.

This is enough to scare off a lot of people.  In the Q&A session KK fields a number of interesting questions, including what are the opt out options, is the one computer and the human race in conflict?  Interestingly seems that most people are happy to go along with what’s happening.  He has a great line ‘No personalisation without transparency’.  Effectively you have to open up, provide information about yourself, your business, whatever, if you want a personalised experience.

This morning read a posting about Gordon Bell – a Microsoft researcher who is attempting to record everything in his life digitally.

Interesting line in this from GB: ‘By using e-memory as a surrogate for meat-based memory, he argues, we free our minds to engage in more creativity, learning, and innovation (sort of like Getting Things Done without all those darn Post-its)’.

I have often thought that this is the case.  An example being that sometimes overprep for a meeting (reading all the material, anticipating the questions, etc) results in a less creative, open discussion.  Another example would be whether examinations are still bogged down in being largely tests of memory rather than tests of reasoning.

All of this relates closely to one of my own areas of primary interest – linked data and the semantic web.  Linked data requires entities to share more data – for the benefit of being able to correlate this with other shared data.  The semantic web aims to enable ‘intelligent’ processing of data by computers – ie the one computer referenced by KK.

I think KK is right.  The one computer is more and more a fact of life.  There are many benefits – and a number of threats.  While there are opt outs – and ways to escape e.g. go and live on a deserted island off the west coast of Ireland – inevitably the internet continues to be more pervasive (and invasive).

Looking forward to another few days of restricted broadband access.  And then back to life interacting with the one computer.

Making online collaboration work

In a conversation with the managing director (I will call him ‘Tom’) at a client a few weeks ago I felt I was in a time warp. I remember those conversations around: don’t want to give them PC’s because they’ll spend all day on their pc’s, don’t want them to have internet access because they’ll spend all day surfing. Tom was talking about why he didn’t want his staff accessing facebook etc. while in the office. And he was clear: it’s a distraction, keeps them from getting their job done.

A few days later we took time out to have a conversation.

Tom recruits a significant number of graduates each year. All of these people (with some small number of exceptions) are regular users of social networks such as Bebo & Facebook. They generally IM throughout the day. Many of them use twitter. Very few of them buy newspapers (they may read free papers on public transport). They use mobile devices for music, radio, telephone, IM. Many of them have their own blogs.

At senior managemenet level (generally 45-55) things are a little different. They all use mobile phones, most use blackberries to access email when out on the road. Very few use twitter. The majority read a daily newspaper and listen to radio. Very few use IM and almost none have personal blogs.

Social networking and the web is how this younger generation communicate and inform themselves. They have run and organised their lives using technology in a different way. Their attitude to news and information is different – they have an expectation that they can personalise it to themselves – not what is provided in a generic newspaper. They want it to be up to date and available when they want it. Likewise they expect to communicate with each other on an informal and unstructured way – via IM, using presence, etc. All of this works very well for them.

The senior management team is well aware of the technologies and the changes. In fact this group is using all of the technologies – even if moving a little slower. This is explained by (1) coming to it later and (2) being held back because not all their peers are comfortable with it. However through their kids, their work experiences, etc. they are more than familiar with what’s ‘going down’.

I asked Tom what were his criteria in recruitng a graduate. He mentioned: aptitude for the work, ability, ambition, education, likely fit for the organisation, ability to work in teams, social skills, willingness to learn. Not unusual.

My initial comment to Tom was to congratulate him on recruiting some very smart people. These people can helpTom to train and support his senior management team – if Tom encourages and supports this. Tom’s thinking was programmed the other way – the senior management team will train the new recruits. This ‘upladder training’ provides the opportunity to kick start a level of collaboration and team work not previously experienced in Tom’s company. From day 1 there should be a give and take – people sharing ideas and knowledge, learning from each other. But it needs a mindset change.

We then dicussed how Tom sees people learning and innovation in the company. Tom referenced the inhouse training program, the external courses to be attended, professional exams and, most importantly, ‘on the job’ training. I asked him how many of his senior guys participate in web based fora (to answer queries), publish papers on the web, etc. He had no idea and had no expectation that they would do so.

I suggested to Tom that he should survey his staff to determine how active they are on the web – in terms of active participation in relevant groups – including using twitter to follow and interact with other experts across the world. While his initial reaction was one of concern at the thought that his people may be giving out opinions on professional matters on the web he agreed to follow up.

The situation has moved on very quickly in the last two years or so. The idea that Tom would attempt to shut his people off from the rest of the web (or at best limit their access ie censor their activities) is dated and flawed thinking. Tom’s company will succeed or fail on the back of his team. He needs to find every which way possible to encourage and develop team activities and collaboration (hierarchical structures and thinking needs to be managed/ eliminated). And this collaboration cannot be restricted to his own enterprise. He needs his people networking and leveraging thier contacts to drive his enterprise’s capabilities and knowledge.

Tom had already seen the benefit of the web in terms of google search, online advertising, client communications. But that’s only one element of it. He needs to use it to enable and drive collaboration and knowledge management.