My Eighth Blog Post: In Pursuit Of Personal And Team Productivity

08 timelapse Lytham St Annes Lancshire pier wood wooden setting sun sea reflection lee ramsden photography photographer

This is the Eighth in my series of posts looking back on my first 10 blog posts.

This is the first blog post I’ve ever written that gets into a topic that’s dominated my working life – how to help people get more done and enjoy doing it.  Over the years I’ve called this pursuit of improved personal and team effectiveness many things, but now days I call it designing services and solutions that fit a person or teams unique work style.  Anyway onto the post:

There is a conflict between people and the companies they work for, (well probably lots, but I’m only going to talk about one of them).  The bigger the enterprise a person works for the more focussed that company is likely to be in central server centric computing, central support, consolidation, BPM, single sources of information etc.  All very important for sure, but these companies will probably not even consider team productivity and almost certainly personal productivity as worthy of investment.  These companies are on a crusade to save money, real money, i.e. savings off the bottom line.  1 hours labour saving per month for a big company project would be amazing.

Individuals on the other hand, especially information/knowledge workers will happily spend hours a month honing their personal environments to suite their needs, aggregating, storing, and restructuring the data that they are researching, or creating.  They often invest their own money on Home PC’s, PDA’s, Task management Software, List Management Software, PC search software, Laptop to server file synchronisation tools etc.  In the pursuit of personal productivity they probably spend more than 1 hour per week.

So how come individuals spends perhaps 4 times longer trying to make themselves more effective, than big companies are trying to save through server side business process reengineering projects, or major application upgrades.

In my view it comes down to three things:

  1. The tools available to information workers are so poor that people live in a state of perpetual frustration, trying to find an environment that lets them aggregate, integrate, process and create information more effectively.
  2. The people working on server side improvement projects assume people only work on their project, process or team.  When often people are working with such a wide range of different web sites, document management systems, team sites, portals, networked file systems, personal file systems and trying to access them through a range of different devices.
  3. The benefits that people perceive they will see if they could only get the two issues above resolved are so amazing,  not just in raw productivity terms, but especially in quality and team coordination, that they feel very motivated to continue to strive for them.

Lots of people have tried to solve this problem.

  1. Server side guys have taken the portal approach, which at best integrates a few processes, or a few fragments of information
  2. The client side guys have created ever richer PIM’s, but made the mistake of assuming everyone will work only in their PIM
  3. The device guys have given us an ever greater number of devices to fragment our information across

Some players have realised that the only way to solve this problem is at the platform and standards level, on both clients and servers:

  1. You can see some evidence of this with groove which provides a rich set of platform services, and some real application functionality on top that addresses just this area.  But the platform is not popular enough to really transform the way people work outside a few enlightened environments, and of course the platform costs quite a bit of money, for bottom line centred enterprises to invest in it.
  2. A slightly different approach is taken by the guys developing Chandler, which is an open source set of platform services, which will eventually be funded by layered application vendors building on top of the platform.  However its unlikely to become pervasive with such a small team behind it, although the vision looks great, if a bit limited in its scope, (given the size of the team though a small scope is essential if they are to ever deliver).
  3. Everyone continues to invest in full text search and its longer term accuracy as more metadata becomes searchable as data migrates to XML format, but search is still such a blunt instrument.
  4. Microsoft have a grand vision with Longhorn at the client end, with WinFS as the store utilising the Shell and Avalon presentation services.  Reaching out and integrating a vast array of server side environments exposed through Web Services, but its a long way off. Microsoft is certainly taking a platform centric approach, and of course will deliver a slew of compelling applications to exploit that platform.  They are also in a unique position with the release of Longhorn to invest in the marketing of a new way of working, and to present the commercial opportunity for thousands of ISVs to exploit that platform to tempt people to upgrade their applications.

So what’s my take on the future, cautiously optimistic:

  1. I think Microsoft has learnt some lessons in the past and will do a great job of delivering the Longhorn platform and some great applications that leverage that platform
  2. I think Microsoft is the only company who has a vision of the future that takes an integrated and balanced view of client side and server side computing
  3. I think Microsoft is VERY strongly motivated to re-invent client side computing, which has hardly evolved for nearly a decade
  4. I think the Linux community needs to seriously look at what Microsoft is doing to the platform, and build standard services of the type provided by WinFS especially if its not to get left behind still trying to complete with XP when Microsoft has completely moved the goal posts.
  5. I think Longhorn lives or dies by how good it is at aggregating and integrating a mix of client and server side information.  Which means that it needs to be the premier client for aggregation using for example RSS as it evolves.  All Microsoft’s applications need to start exposing their capabilities in a standard way, again RSS and Windows Sharepoint Services comes to mind.  If WSS provided an RSS interface to subscriptions, lists, document libraries etc, and had come offline support it would be transformed.

Ray Ozzie, of Notes and Groove fame provides some good commentary in this area as well and Adam Bosworth’s Weblog discusses some of the server to client interactions as well.

A related area is support, almost everyone prefers to receive certain types of support from their friends and their peers, who they know to have particular expertise or who understand their needs and environment.  In a survey I did about 5 years ago over 90% of people preferred to receive support from their local “super user” rather than call the help desk.  However in the central/standards dominated corporate IT environment this support model is not encouraged, which means that it is not facilitated and made efficient.  It still happens of course, (a 90% preference is too strong), it is just not done very well.  This is a real shame because peer support tools like Microsoft’s remote assistance, discussion groups, expert groups etc can be very effective.  Again a few years ago I setup a support forum for my corporate, that provided both peer support and support directly from the developers and architects responsible for the environment.  In many ways it was much like some internet forums today and like blogs, in that it put the developers and users in direct contact.  The affects were amazing in the goodwill generated within the user community and the improvement in quality that the developers were able to achieve with this direct linkage to their users.  I will blog more on this whole area soon.

Finally I would love some of these Longhorn Evangelists to start talking about the future for Knowledge workers, and not just about how Longhorn and Indigo will affect vertical business processes.  However maybe that would mean revealing some commercial in secret stuff about the next version of the Office System and Longhorn Server.

Wow did I get this post both right and wrong at the same time.  Almost every product I mentioned in this post never made it to market, or failed to survive, but at the same time the problem I describe is as relevant now was it was then, and it’s still a huge untapped business opportunity.

It’s particularly interesting to see my enthusiasm in Windows Longhorn and WinFS, which Microsoft was forced to cancel because they were both overly ambitious and poorly executed. But I’d just come back from the Microsoft Professional Development conference and I, along with everyone else, was excited about the future. 

I think Microsoft still has the right vision in this area, but after the disaster of Longhorn, they are a more cautious company.

I’m tapping this post out in Caffe Nero in St Annes, the itching rash on my legs that’s been driving me crazy is slightly better and I slept well so I’m fairly optimistic today, and the sun’s shining so I will be out walking on the beach (pictured) after breakfast at the Beach Terrace Cafe.  I resigned from work today, so I’m feeling a mixture of anxiety and anticipation, interesting.

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. Lyn says:

    Oh my! Big decision and CSC’s loss, I have admired your work for many years, there can’t be many who have your vision and strategy skills and also care about the actual organization and it’s people. It will be great for you though. Congratulations! X

  2. Thanks Lyn, I’m away in Filey next week, but much more on the blog the week after about why I’m resigning etc

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