Workplace and people

A friend penned a post on millennial workforce and currently prevalent business culture asking a number of questions at each section. I thought about it and felt need to chip in. As I do.

First things first. I think the behaviours Nicolas describes in his post do not only apply to the Generation Y and Z, they are seen to take root across the business landscape. Not everyone is directly contributing to digital economy yet many are affected by the changes it has brought about. Take any traditional trade. A brief look at its state today shows how much has changed within past 15 years. Supply chain has become global, primary distribution channel is online, delivery often by gig-economy workers who get paid per delivery and are not seen taking pride in their work as the quality suffers. Many early retirees have returned after realising the type of lifestyle their pension actually supports. Many are freelancing – not out of choice but necessity. Often they have no option but to as the organisations they work with (not for!) have their business models dependent on reduced staff overheads. Add what we sued to call “cost of doing the business” and you have no business. In some areas its global trade, in others high business rates. We have moved from stable, permanent positions to short term contracts. Many of us who have spent around 20 years working have changed their jobs three times at least, some even more. Even those of us on permanent positions don’t tend to stay with the organisations for more than three years on average. Careers built merely on longevity are out, sharp minds and clear objectives in. Or at least should be so. We are likely to see inequality in workplace for some time until the Big Reset comes. And it will come, either in form of Universal Income or nationalisation of (by then still traditional) industries.

I personally favour UI route. When set at 70% minimum wage it will enable people to just get by (on council property – hey, different topic!) and top up their earnings by freelancing and working with the organisations of their choosing. Some argue that it should be minimum wage, though latter camp will have hard time standardising this even in EU context (€1400 as minimum in France is above average in Estonia). Money will be digitised and all income over certain threshold is taxed as now, hopefully reducing incentive and options for fraud. Getting rid of physical money will also reduce the asset ownership cost to central bank and thus should again leave more to fund UI. Quartz @ Work has a very timely piece on full employment and fulfillment. Full employment is felt as cornerstone for Western society and people find usually hard explaining the gaps in their careers. Instead being out of work should choice when people feel they need a break followed by successful return to work provided people have necessary skills and attitude to perform as expected.

The themes Nicolas writes about are well covered by many – empowerment, ownership, flexibility, purpose, opportunities and new types of work. Let’s look at each once more then.

Many, not just younger expect to be empowered to make and have ownership about their decision making and outcomes. They expect to be treated as equals. Not equally capable and experienced but to get equal opportunities. Many have argued, especially about apprenticeships schemes that it’s all about them and not us, the employers. But this statement is untrue. The young, when motivated and allowed to make small mistakes, learn from them and not be punished will pay back with energy they have and willingness to throw all they have to complete the project on time. They are willing to shed that shy self in order to achieve the deadlines. Many more seasoned colleagues would try to delegate the task to someone else and stay in mediocristan. Working with apprentices 18 years ago in my own small IT business and recently with fast -streamers has shown me time and again how much value these young people can deliver with right level of coaching, delegation and independence. But wait, this applies equally to more seasoned employees as well. To ensure they don’t actively avoid decision making and taking ownership however, the organisation need to have reached necessary level of maturity. Not quite teal level, but micro-management must be out and trust in.

Flexibility in workplace is nothing new. Also not new is the notion of flexibility when it comes to choosing the place of work. I have a few friends who have been working from home study since mid-nineties. Fine, their jobs enabled this (editor, consultant, marketer, software programmer) but were never seen as revolutionary, rather as their choice. What is new is not just where but when we choose to work. Dan Pink spoke in recent RSA event about timing. I can attest to his conclusion of timing the work. There are generally three stages – peak, through and recovery. In my case its a bit like this:

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I’m usually switched on in the mornings and can stay focused for long periods of time until noon. Sometimes longer. This is the time to work on analysis and produce written content. Then comes the slump where I’n not the sharpest pencil in the box. That’s the good time for admin. Neither of the periods is suitable for meetings. When we are in focus mode, we find hard to accept others’ ideas. During the through we are simply unable to absorb any information. This is worst time for any meetings or workshops. Hence I try to schedule all my meetings (virtual or in person) either right before lunch or after 15:00. When the recovery kicks in, we are all more agreeable. This is flexibility we should grant to all our colleagues. We should deploy tools that allow people to submit the best time they are ready to collaborate in, and avoid any meetings outside this space.

You could say that people fall into two categories. First is static, second dynamic. The second crowd are after opportunities to prove how good they are. Get some testosterone going, tick that thing off the list and get dopamine kick. Feels good, right? It tends to be the younger crowd who are looking for ways to either gain some new knowledge or participate in that new venture. Perhaps it pays off. And if it didn’t, no biggie. Next time they’ll try again. What we need to encourage is looking for opportunities in the organisation. These may be incremental improvements to the process or product that drive our businessesuu forward. It’s very rare when a groundbreaking change is introduced and effectively managed to production. Th rest of the time everything is in beta. And changing. We need to create culture where risk is seen as both threat and opportunity, not just first.

Take all of these and… nothing works when people don’t have purpose in their working lives. Purpose and meaning is much coveted topic for the jobs over the threshold where increase in pay will have no effect on quality of output.

The types of work that existed in the fringe have become mainstream in Western economies and those previously taken for granted have disappeared. Manufacturing is a good example. Working for Saint-Gobain in late 90’s and first part of 21st century I saw automation and streamlining of supply chains in order to reduce the cost of product. Robotics found its way into assembly previously required highly skilled workforce performing tasks demanding precision. Need to reduce waste and not optimise but maximise output at highest level of quality will see new plants employing a handful of highly skilled operators work of many machines.

We used to cook at home and only occasionally order takeaway food. Especially in urban environment this has become mainstream – people value their time and are willing to pay for food and delivery. The delivery has often been outsourced to likes of Deliveroo and fulfilled by men on bikes searching their way through maze. They are often as lost as Über drivers. Everyone as taxi driver on their spare time? That’s not really valuing ones time, it may be seen as the only option to earn enough to live in a modern metropolis. Are these jobs going to be here in 10 years? Probably not, technology will develop along with legal framework to automate these jobs.

What will the future of work look like for us in the knowledge work? We’ll have many jobs over our working lives, quite possibly will be looking for work every few years and working for and with many different organisations. This raises need to be adaptable to the change. I thought learning enough but not mastering a single skill was not sufficient. Shallow generalist over highly skilled specialist? A recent Medium post by Michael Simmons nicely builds the case for polymath as probably best placed to survive in the unknown future. It’s not just transferable skills we need. We need to be able to synthesise useful elements from different disciplines to meet the future challenges.

 

I hope this sparks some debate.

Surveillance and sales pitch

I stumbled upon an article on a new trend in he US to scan the streets with cars equipped with thermal cameras. It’s all in the interest of public and energy providers to tell the homeowners how inefficient their house is and how much or little it leaks.

Reading this raise two questions for me.

1. How accurate is the measurement as the buildings are scanned mainly from the front. Will the rest be rough guesstimate or scientifically calculated accurate u figure?

2. How will the results be used? Will it be to advise homeowners of potential savings they may be making? Or will the aim be more sinister – to sell the information to insulation installers and impose fines on those who won’t budge?

On the surface nothing seems to be wrong with this initiative. However it’s likely to face resistance from the privacy advocates. As this comes as extra cost to the energy suppliers, someone has to pay for this. My money is on customer.

Links

Article – http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/e-innovation/energy-leaks-sniffer-cars-158626

u value – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R-value_(insulation)

Windows 8 tablet as my one and only PC!?

I have toyed with the idea for a while. Starting last year when more mobile staff started asking for iPads to get job done when away from the office. Their Toshiba R600/700 laptops were lightweight, but lacked in battery life department and remote connectivity was not something to brag about.

They wanted tablets, however I didn’t like the idea of having whole heap of devices (the same staff had also desktop computers). Why? Well, paying double for all support (we outsourced all our IT support) and software licensing is not my ideal way of running the business.

Over many discussions the brief was formulated. The device to be used needed to:

  • Be lightweight
  • Have a reasonably good battery life
  • Be able to connect to internet via WiFi and 3G/4G (directly or via smartphone tethering)
  • Have a good screen resolution
  • Be usable as product/literature demo device

I also added a business continuity – when office goes offline (post Office365 implementation!), you work from wherever it’s most suitable for you.

Then back in December 2012 HP was debuting its ElitePad 900. Shortly after came Dell Latitude 10. I went with the latter for Windows 8 Pro pilot. Two months later it was clear that Dell Latitude 10 is not fit for purpose. It is designed to hold with two hands, has no proper keyboard folio and Windows 8 drains battery very quickly on standby. Proprietary connectors didn’t help either. Dock was a nice option, but I wanted to connect two monitors instead of just one. Anyway the setup looked awkward and I handed the tablet to a colleague to use during her holidays.

As an interesting side-note I took a phone call form HP earlier this week and our discussion went over mobility. The sales rep was rather adamant that 32GB storage is adequate as “tablets are not storage devices”. I explained the way I see market going and we agreed that event device trail would be wasted time for me.

Looking at options available to us I got an iPad to play with. It’s good and has excellent battery life, delivers my email and works as an entertainment device. And that’s where it pretty much stops. Yes, I agree, there’s an app for anything, but business apps cost as much as on PC on average. Conclusion – It’s a companion device as I knew before and was telling all around me.

Earlier this year I took decision to move from Blackberry phones to new Nokia Lumia 920 handsets running Windows Phone 8. As most of our mobile workforce is now well familiarised with the interface and know what to expect from the handset, supplying Windows 8 Pro tablets seemed suddenly like an option again.

Last month I started investigating the topic again and looked at various devices from Lenovo Yoga to Microsoft Surface Pro. Considering weight, SSD size and screen resolution I got one Surface Pro with 256GB SSD and HP Port Replicator 3 (USB3 version). Running it currently as a pilot the setup includes tablet with two 1080p monitors and USB3 port replicator when in the office and with Microsoft Type keyboard when out. All this under £1000 looks reasonable deal. We’ll deliver Office365 project to all staff within next two months which means roaming users will have access to their files via tablet, smartphone or web browser. All other software is web based and available via secure access.

The only downside of Microsoft tablets (both Surface and Surface Pro) is lack of mobile internet. Some see this as cost cutting mechanism and prefer tethering internet via mobile phone. Let’s hope that whatever surfaces from Microsoft workshop next will be lighter, better connected and have longer battery life.

Weekly reading list – social, cloud and brains

Alongside meetings and events I have come across a number of interesting articles.

Here’s the list:

Mobile is The New Face of engagement – an executive summary by Forrester research (http://docs.media.bitpipe.com/io_10x/io_105129/item_542878/Mobile_Is_The_New_Face_Of.pdf)

Why Amazon and Salesforce are pulling away from the cloud pack – good article and follow-up discussion on #cloud, #saas, #paas and disruptive technologies (http://gigaom.com/cloud/why-amazon-and-salesforce-are-pulling-away-from-the-cloud-pack/)

Three Ways to Think Deeply at Work – how to use short disruptive tasks to focus on larger problems and working in four hour blocks uninterrupted to achieve result. (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/09/three_ways_to_think_deeply_at_work.html)

5 Ways To Transform Meetings With Tablets – some disruptive ideas for the enterprise. However I still favour one screen and NO laptops nor tablets in an engaging meeting. Big screen – yes, digital whiteboard – even better! That’s at least what we use for internal development meetings. (http://www.businesscomputingworld.co.uk/5-ways-to-transform-meetings-with-tablets/)

EC sets out strategy for EU cloud data and standards – more centralised thinking coming form the #EC. Good if this is to set out ONE framework and member states need to abolish their own #cloud legislation. However there’s one massive flaw here (as well as in #EU in general) – none of the member states are usually forced to follow this framework and larger players don’t want to let go of their own. Good initiative anyway. (http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240164009/EC-sets-out-strategy-for-EU-cloud-data-and-standards)

Helping you to help me to help everyone else…

A good point has been made about the amount of email we receive with initiative to change the way we treat others by email. It is more relevant now where we think of email as part of unified communications. That is – you treat email as every other means messaging – sms, twitter, facebook, IM. Anything, but email that was to carry a message of some importance without too much clutter in it.

the solution is proposed by people behind this site and I encourage everyone to read it through and give it some thought. And where applicable, pass the message on.

Thanks for taking time to read. EOM.

What’s happening in the cloud this fall?

There’s a lot of talk about cloud computing, IT consumerisation and moving toward smarter systems, but a handful of people only seem to know what is hidden behind these keywords. And more importantly (as the topics are hot!) what’s in this for us as consumers of IT services? I will touch on smart systems and consumerisation later and give an overview of cloud-based trends and approaches in this post.

I went to Business Cloud Summit last week to learn just a bit more from the people who are behind the cloud initiative and vendors who are there to offer anything-as-a-service (xAAS) as I like to call the new offerings in the service catalogue.

Professor Leslie Willcocks gave a great presentation ending with main takeaway – Cloud Computing should rather be calledBusiness Cloud Services. Why? Cloud Computing is a clumsy term for a service platform. The Cloud offers elasticity and consumerisation, ease of use and purchase. Cloud services are available on-demand, packaged are rather flexible and broad. You pay what you need and when your requirements grow, the service providers are more than happy to expand your use of their service platform.

This has inevitably led us to explosion of cloud-based application services. It’s good. No, it’s really good, absolutely fantastic. I would be appalled if in ten years time applications would not be provisioned as services and require application specific plugins to work as expected. What is needed is an open platform for developers to work with. I do like RightNow approach where emphasis is on providing and selling business value, not technology where software is subscription based. This enables the customers to start with manageable size pilots and grow organically.

It’s quite clear that cloud-based services may not be treated as hype any longer and those are definitely not aimed for only a specific sector (corporate / SME / individuals). The ‘cloud’ is there for everyone to use, build their business and meet regulatory requirements. Currently there seems to be tendency for business executives to see value and show more enthusiasm towards cloud-based services, than IT management. Is it peer pressure? Everyone is doing it, what are we waiting? With younger and more tech savvy CxO’s around it should be easier for CIO to transition (where applicable and viable, of course) IT services to the cloud-based platform. I believe the problem to lie in the industry standards, or more precisely lack of those. Andy Burton from Cloud Industry Forum gave a good overview of where we are not in terms of standards and where we need to be. And the sooner it happens, the better. Key takeaways from his presentation in panel were interoperability, data locking that should decrease and finding balance between need for security vs. creativity that is required to drive new solutions. Several speakers also brought out exit provisions and compatibility issues that businesses see as potential risk to the cloud-based implementations. IT departments, while wanting to play with new technology, see the cloud-based services as a threat to their future. What needs to be realised is that by moving from in-house operations to the outsourced or hosted services a number of staff can concentrate to actually creating value to the business rather than just keeping the lights on. A good point made by Greg Gianforte from RightNow and something to remember, is that ‘Cloud’ is just a delivery mechanism for the enterprise applications.

Although expectations to the ‘cloud’ are high, according to Gianforte, nearly 30% of SAAS (Software-as-a-Service) products do not get used. This was said pointing openly at SalesForce.com. Many software vendors want to carry on their existing software distribution mode, by selling boxes, not creating value to the customers. This creates something Gianforte called “Shelfware-as-a-Service”. With investments to the cloud services set to double over next 18 months, this is not something business executives want to hear. Still, according to professor Wiilcocks from London School of Economics and Political Science, over 60% of organisations have strong momentum towards cloud computing.

This opinion was also supported by Gordon Frazer from Microsoft by estimating that cloud R&D today is around 70% and it is forecasted to grow to 90% over next three years. I believe this opinion to be slightly too optimistic, but considering a huge variety of applications that are already delivered as services, he may not be too far off. With large ERP providers (Microsoft, OracleInfor) moving towards subscription based services where the subscriber is in need of a good and reliable internet connection we are already seeing the change happening. It would be unwise for the businesses not to embrace the opportunity, but the decision should derive from a solid balanced business case.

Looking back to the event, what did we hear that was worth bearing in mind?

Jürgen Strahwald, Vice President Corporate Information Technology Governance at Siemens, brought out three key points that seem to well summarise what cloud adopters need to do:

·         Services that businesses are looking to transition from own data centres to the cloud service providers, need to be ‘must haves’, not ‘niceties’.

·         Security is important and not only on paper. Businesses need to do penetration testing, not only rely on service specs.

·         Integration to the existing IT systems and services. Unless this is achieved, the whole project is likely to fail.

And more generally, some key points for those who are still in the dark clouds:

·         Cloud-based services are set to grow over the coming years reflecting software licensing and provision.

·         Communication and collaboration are set to improve with cloud-based services.

·         ‘Cloud’ is quick, secure and scalable.

·         Provisioned services are to become more interoperable and vendors should drive towards less data locking. Now, who want to do that?

·         Cloud-based applications need to internet-native applications, not adoptions.

“Fake cloud” providers will eventually fail. The term came again from Greg Gianforte describing service providers who try to provide existing technology in somewhat migrated and adopted way packaging it as cloud services.