People First

2014-07-11 12.48.52As I’ve said on this blog many times, throughout my career my over-riding motivation and interest has been to make peoples lives better.  For the last 20 of those years it’s been by improving their productivity, eliminating frustrations, improving autonomy, enabling effective team working and creating work spaces that enhance the work experience.  Ultimately I want people to be happy and effective at work.  In the last 10 years as mobile working has become widespread these objectives have expanded to improving peoples work life balance and now work life integration, but I’ve always been working on personal computing (not personal computers) and collaboration.  I’m convinced that my interests in these areas closely align with where my company needs to invest to grow it’s business. I like to summarise this as the need to focus on people, places and teams. 

As end-user computing matures the device, applications and infrastructure management considerations are gradually fading in importance with the rise of BYOD, the cloud and well behaved applications.  However the need for people, the places they work in and teams they are part of to be effective as possible has never been more important.  In fact there’s a particular niche that I’m really excited about that I call VIPPP or Very Important People, Places and Processes, but I will leave that for another post.

Despite the technology world having transformed beyond all recognition in the last two decades, everything I believe in, am interested in and expert in has remained pretty much the same.  That said even though every project that I’ve run in a people centric way has been very successful, it’s been incredibly hard to convince a stream of managers over the years to focus on people rather than technology.  Even Microsoft’s people centric IT vision a few years ago was really just glossy marketing, the reality was a company focussed on stove piped products and technology, Satya Nadella might finally be changing that, as this extract from his recent open email shows:

At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more

The world is changing though and not just at Microsoft, I’m seeing a new focus on people everywhere I look:

  1. Experience design is becoming as important as product design
  2. End to end integrated eco-systems are replacing individual disconnected products
  3. Mobility and personal clouds are the buzz words on everyone’s lips
  4. Everyone realises that productivity is what users are looking for
  5. Personal knowledge management is seen as a more achievable start point than enterprise KM
  6. Enterprises are realising that people collaborate best when their personal productivity and PKM needs have been met

It’s all very encouraging,  even when people don’t say they have a people first strategy that’s often what they really mean:

  1. Although everyone is talking about mobile this is just really this years way of thinking about personal computing, just taking it to it’s next logical step.  Unfortunately people assume that mobile is the end goal,  but the end goal is still personal computing,  personal computing is device independent, context sensitive, anticipates needs, available in whatever form factor suits the task at hand.  Personal not just mobile is the goal.
  2. When people talk about cloud they are still really talking about personal computing,  the cloud is just a way to make a users personal computing environment available across multiple devices, to provide common services to those devices and applications and to keep working on behalf of the user when their devices are ‘off’.  The cloud is still personal, it just extends personal computing to an ecosystem of devices and services.  Of course there’s many layers to the cloud, but the one that interests me is all about people.
  3. When people talk about security, most of the focus now is on protecting users from themselves.  IT professionals are usually pretty good at protecting their computing environments on their own.  Typical users need help though.  The myriad security protections that we put in place allow users behave like real human beings again, rather than security procedure manuals, and still stay protected.  The new realism within the security world comes from the recognition that security measures need to fade into the background, to be baked into the design of systems, so that they don’t get in the way of getting things done, otherwise they will be ignored or worked around
  4. Big data is all about generating insights about people or marshalling and visualising data and presenting it in a way that is useful to real people who need to get things done.

I’ve focussed so far on personal computing rather than collaboration, but we see a return to a focus on people there too:

  1. Gone is the focus on collaborative portals where people upload files that they want to share.  We are returning to the beloved file system, that is a people first working environment that provides any device (cloud assisted) file access and one click sharing.
  2. The any device access to a personal ‘single inbox’ benefits of email are being recognised with all systems now supporting email subscriptions and innovative email clients finally starting to appear
  3. Gone is the focus on users carefully curating collections of knowledge assets that other people can never find and rarely want anyway.  We are returning to a focus on personal knowledge management and easy ways to promote and discover the few documents worth sharing via tagging and search
  4. Gone is the focus on heavy weight dedicated voice telephony hardware for most users.  We are returning to personal telephony devices, albeit sometimes with VOIP clients on the smartphones and PCs

Unfortunately though despite all this focus back on people, especially in consumer IT, in the enterprise we seem to be poorly equipped to do our part:

  1. We have few people who are skilled in understanding the needs of users, the way they think, behave, are motivated
  2. The discipline of experience design has not grown from it’s root in software development to crafting user experiences that orchestrate the multiple devices and services that users need to get their jobs done
  3. We have few people who understand how to improve user productivity, build high performance collaborative team working solutions, to design high performance workplaces, to enable and support VIPPPs
  4. We don’t collect the metrics that enterprise need to visualise their benefits delivery success, to coach their users in more effective business practices, to figure out what’s working and what’s not and why

Despite all this I’m fairly happy,  there’s still a lot of opportunity to improve peoples lives, to deliver major business benefits and agility improvements to our customers and to make money doing it.

The photo today is of my favourite spot in Rivington, taken from a bench with a view!  I sketched out this post sitting on that bench as I reflected on a conversation with Stu Downes that touched on many of the topics discussed.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

2 Responses

  1. September 20, 2014

    […] I mentioned in a previous post I work in end-user computing, mostly focussed on strategy.  I’ve worked in all aspects of […]

  2. December 16, 2014

    […] Fundamentally we need to put people first! […]

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