Posts filed under ‘Technology’
“How do you suggest we deal with the victims of the changes we embrace?”
“We produce a magazine. A new application offers too many advantages for us to ignore. With decreased markets, we must be very cost conscious if we’re to survive. This new solution will almost totally eliminate the need for our current Grpahic Designer
The downside to this new way of doing business is the loss of significant annual income for this designer.
I am looking at transitional solutions, but all so far are only temporary, and seem to delay the inevitable loss of income for this person.
Do you have any suggestions or broader perspectives that might help me find transitional strategies that are more acceptable to both parties? (Us and the Designer).”
That you even feel the need to ask the question means that you’re doing more in this area than most. Whether you can take comfort in that or not is up to you. The question is a real one, New technologies often displace workers – as you point out in your description, there is an inevitable loss of income for the individual(s) being displaced. You also recognize that it’s the transition that’s most painful. The bad news is that unless we, both employers and employees, plan in advance for these types of transitions, then there is little we can do to mitigate the pain unless the organization is willing to assume the bulk of the burden and carry the employee through the transition. MOst organizations don’t choose this course.
The organization, for the reasons you offered, must more forward with any process that legitimately reduces costs without compromising quality of products & services. An organization can, either through incompetence or deliberate intent (or a combination of both), delay the deployment of an advantageous advance, but to do so for too long places the organization at risk.
To seize upon a displacing technology without considering the impact on the employees is not uncommon. As to whether or not it is ‘moral’ is another matter entirely, one I’ll leave for ethicists to debate. Regardless of whether or not such practices are moral or not, they do have inevitable consequences.
The survivors of any one particular round of technological displacement will inevitably ask themselves, “Is this how the organization will treat me when something comes along to replace what I do?”. The amount of loyalty & dedication they afford the organization in the future is in proportion to the amount of caring and compassion the organization displayed to them in the past. It’s not a complicated equation – and it’s one that the organization creates, and they control all the variables.
Putting aside the contentious questions of what an organization is obligated to do for their employees, there’s the legitimate question of what they’re capable of doing.
Helping an employee transition via re-training is one option. Another is to reposition the employee in some other capacity within the organization. This is one of those situations where the employee’s ability and willingness to learn new things is crucial. If the employee fundamentally does not want to learn a new skill, then they are deciding that obsolescence is preferable to change. An irrational, though common, response to this type of change.
The other side of the coin is that the employee can, I’m reluctant to use the word ‘must’, take responsibility for their own future. Unlike ‘Diamonds’, there is no guarantee that any skill is “forever”… A flint knapper has no place in a modern knife factory – a pen & paper draughtsman has no place in a modern architect’s office. The list is endless, and endlessly growing. Almost all the skills we have today WILL be obsolete before we retire. Anyone who thinks otherwise is going to be stunned and surprised by each transition.
It might sound like a cliché, but if an organization wishes to assist their employees through this type of change, then glorifying our ability to learn new things is a good first step. This means, that training budgets must increase beyond today’s paltry pittance, and such budgets must acquire a certain robustness that allows them to survive at consistent levels through downturns in business.
If the desire is to increase an organization’s ability to Change, then it must increase its ablity to learn.
It’s ubiquitous, (and it’s everywhere as well) and some would have you believe that if you’re not using the latest and greatest product, then you’re falling behind. This “you’re not keeping up” sales pitch is very effective at striking at the heart of our insecurities; am I falling behind? Will I lose out if I don’t buy this stuff? Don’t the ads claim that they’ll make me more productive, more efficient, and even more attractive to the opposite sex? How could I possibly live without it? Here’s my credit card.
Before attempting to answer the question, “How should we go about adopting a new technology or product?” we first have to have a clear definition of what it is we’re trying to accomplish. To decide what product we’re going to use to improve our organization, we need to embrace a strategy more reliable than submissively accepting the carefully chosen blather of the wordsmiths who wrote the glossy ads.
What problem are we trying to fix? What specifically do we want the technology to do? Better yet, since “technology” by itself doesn’t do anything, how exactly are we going to use this technology to change an existing process? To put this advice into concrete terms, how exactly will the work of department ‘X’ change because of the technology purchase we’re contemplating? And finally, in excruciating detail, what benefit do we expect to reap from our investment?
If that sounds like a lot of intensive work, it is, and it’s necessary work, unless you wish to add your organization to the long, and still growing list of embarrassing examples of how we shouldn’t implement technology.
Once you’ve done all of the above, then and only then are you ready to start looking at what’s available.
Phase 1.0: Advertisements and articles from your trade publications will provide you your first truckload of information. Read everything you can lay your hands on. Create, and maintain a research file. Keep in mind that all of the advertisements and most of the articles will paint the rosiest of pictures. According to most of what you read, everything works as intended, it’s as effective as was promised and the tooth fairy will visit you tonight while you sleep.
At this point, every product claiming to address your problem is a possible candidate.
Phase 2.0: Put on a large pot of your favorite brew and head to the internet. The websites associated with the products you’re researching will provide details beyond what they decided to put into the ads. Use this information to connect what they claim to do, with what you need them to do. From your perspective, every claim is an unproven assumption. The more you need a specific function, the more you must verify the company’s claim that they can deliver the functionality.
By now, you’ve rejected at least a few of the products you found earlier. You’ve made some progress, not much, but some.
Phase 3.0: Get another pot of that brew, and head back to the internet. This stage is incredibly informative, even entertaining. You want to track down the discussion groups where users of the products are talking about the real world functionality of the product, the actual delivered service, their pet peeves, the new, next and previous releases, the known bugs, problems, anomalies and their general experiences. You’ll find some of these discussion groups on the product sites, others you’ll have to search for, a good place to start are the discussion groups of your industry associations.
If you don’t see the answers to the question unique to your organization then post those questions and wait for the results. It’s important to remember, if you decide to purchase a particular product, then there are dozens, if not thousands of existing users all with more experience than yourself. These existing users represent a goldmine of experience, of use to you only if you ask for the information you need. Don’t be shy, most people are more than happy to answer your questions.
After reading just a few product discussions, you’ll have quickly trimmed your list down to a more manageable size.
Phase 4.0: Put a call out to your existing associates, do any of them use the products you have your eye on? If so, it’s time to get on the phone and arrange a meeting. If they have the time, spend an afternoon with them; see how they’re using the product. What problems have they encountered, what benefits have they gained? The assumption here is that you already trust their opinion. If you have the time, attend an industry conference and buttonhole anyone who uses what you might decide to use.
Have you noticed we’ve not even spoken to the vendor yet? By now you should have only a handful of products in mind.
Phase 4.9: Buy some insurance. I don’t mean life insurance or accident insurance; I mean something a bit more peculiar. Rent yourself a technical consultant who knows far more about technology in general and perhaps this product category in particular, than you’ll ever need to know. They’re your hired gun; they’ll accompany you to vendor meetings and demos.
Their role? Just by introducing who they are and then by having them sitting quietly in the back of the room they’re going to keep the vendor honest. If necessary, they’ll ask the relevant ‘hard’ technology questions, they’ll ensure that the demos presented to you are ‘real’ and not simulations of what the product might do someday. (In the next release — honest!)
They’ll also ensure that the questions you’re receiving to your questions are accurate. They’ll do that just by being in the room, but again they’re your technical backup, ready to jump into the fray conversation if there’s something missing or unclear in the answers given to you.
This type of companion is a vendor’s worst nightmare in any demonstration, that alone justifies having them along for the ride. Life is fun; enjoy it while you’re here.
Phase 5.0: See the demos of the products on your short list. Narrow that list even further, and then make no commitment until you’ve had the chance to experiment with a pilot project, using your data, your people, and your environment. Does it work the way you expected? Are you getting the benefits you hoped for?
Phase 6.0: There is obviously a technical component to your search. Will the product you’re purchasing operate within the context of your existing infrastructure? If not, what gaps need filling? Will it handle the expected workload? What about the unexpected, but reasonably likely spikes in that workload? Will you be able to operate and maintain this product with existing skill sets? Or will you need to hire experts? How available are these experts and at what cost?
You might have gathered the answers to all of these technical details in earlier phases, or you might not. The most likely place to verify the technical details is in Phase 5.0, nothing is more effective at weeding out problems than trying to actually implement a pilot project. What is important is that they all get answered before you sign on that dotted line.
Congratulations, you’ve selected a new technology, all you have to do now is ‘implement’ it, but that’s another story.
My interest is in the Future, because
I am going to spend the rest of my life there.
Charles F. Kettering
1876-1958 American Inventor
At the foundation of most Strategic Plans there rests a simple question, “Where do we want our organization to be in five years, and what must we do, and when must we do it, to get there?”
That question looks like a good one. The answer will have all the attributes of a sound objective. Asking, “Where do we want our organization to be in five years?” entices us to paint a picture of what we want to achieve. We can call this picture our “Vision” or “Vision Statement”, in either case it creates a target worthy of our attention.
Since these things don’t happen by accident, “What must we do, and when must we do it, to get there?”, outlines our footsteps towards a rudimentary project plan. Since we know what we want to achieve, we now define the “what” and the “when” of our “To Do” list for the next few years.
Most strategic planners would agree that this question lies at the core of the strategic planning process. It is certainly the most common approach, and while sometimes the objectives we choose are overly simplistic, perhaps even ambiguous i.e., “We want to be the world leader in ‘X'”, they provide something to work towards.
And that’s the issue. Unless the next problem is addressed by some hidden assumption, this type of planning cannot succeed other than by luck, no matter much effort is put into that project plan.
Here’s the problematic snag, we cannot answer the question, “Where do we want our organization to be in five years?”, unless we first answer a bigger and more complex question, “Where will the World be in five years?”
Crafting a Strategic Plan is sort of like trying to get to Mars, or running to catch a baseball, you don’t go to where it is now, but to where it will be, when you finally get there.
Obvious? Of course it is. Yet most Strategic Plans make no attempt to determine where the World will be, they plan as if the World stands still in time, when in reality it is rocketing off in some unknown direction under the influence of Moore’s Law, politics, demographic trends, diminishing resources, new opportunities, aging populations, shifting alliances and a thousand other trivial and humungous forces.
If we do try to target the future, we plan for it based upon our understanding of the past. ie. Transactions have been growing at a rate of 10% per year, so we will plan for similar growth in the coming years.
New developments, “wild cards” if you wish, can erase all credibility from this type of reasoning. The rise of digital music and the ease, with which it is shared over the Internet, eroded the relevance of all historical sales figures for the music industry.
Of course, our real problem is that answering the question, “Where will the World be in five years?” is a challenge… as Yogi Berra, the great Philosopher King and sometime baseball player said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Tough? Yes, definitely. Impossible? No. Even if we choose to ignore them, there are developments we know will affect us in the future. Here are a few worthy of consideration;
The Collapse of Constraints: (The result of Moore’s Law)
Computer and telecommunication technology is going to get more powerful, faster, cheaper, more reliable, more accessible, smaller, cooler (in more ways than one), better and more convenient.
What technologies would you like to implement in your organization today, but can’t because of some limitation? Chances are that within the next five years, the natural advance of technology will collapse those constraints. Then what? Here are some reminders from our recent past, imminent future, their impact and possible implications;
Digital Music => Copyright => Music Industry Sales?
Telecommunications => Offshore Outsourcing => Local White Collar Work?
Voice over IP => Personal Communications => Phone Companies?
RFID => Inventory Costs => Privacy & Security?
Flat Screen TVs => Redesign of living space => Furniture Sales?
(An off topic question we might ask ourselves, “Which solutions implemented a decade ago, are the wrong solutions considering current technology?”)
The Passage of Time: (Demographics)
We’re getting older… all of us, soon the elderly will outnumber the young whippersnappers.
No secret here, as we get older we change in predictable ways. How do you differ from your parents? Imagine their buying habits and lifestyle rolled out as the norm. Imagine the bulk of marketing targeted at something other than teenage tastes, how does that affect your business… more importantly, the business of your clients.
Not to mention of course, the financial impact on poorly designed, naïve and idealistic Social Security programmes.
New Markets & New Competitors: (The Third World is no longer Third)
One word: China. Okay… two words: India.
According to some statistics, America makes up 5% of the world population and consumes 30% of the world resources. Imagine a new nation (or two), with the buying power, consumption, resources and production capability of 5-10 USAs.
Now… Can you imagine a Future where these new juggernaut nations do NOT affect your business?
These are just three of the many developments you might choose to incorporate into your strategic plan. Which ones do you factor into your planning? That depends on how far you choose to cast your attention. What could provide a threat or opportunity to your business? Or are you convinced that tomorrow is just today, plus another day?
How exactly do you factor in these future forces? There are no easy answers, yet there are lots of different approaches, tools and methodologies; from generic Scenario Planning, to Joel Barker’s Implication Wheel; from simple ‘What If’ sessions to more involved Brainstorming. The goal is not to do the impossible, we cannot predict with great accuracy what tomorrow will bring, but we can get a sense of what tomorrow might have in store for us and put together a Strategic Plan which will perform well against a handful of likely future possibilities.
No matter how we factor them in, the sooner we do it the better. As the quote at the start suggested, we’re going to live in the Future; we might as well look forward to it.
“The Internet ignores both political and geographic boundaries!” To anyone with even a minimal level of technical expertise, this statement is nothing more than a grade level observation. Yet if we use it as a lens to examine the future, it offers a few interesting implications. Especially if we have a minimal level of technical experience, and are living outside of what we refer to as the “third world”.
As a writer with regular columns in computer magazines for the past few decades, I receive many e-mails requesting my view of trends in IT employment opportunities. I repeatedly get asked by people who should have the answer within their reach, if the current down turn in North American IT opportunities will end… and when?
The reasons for the down turn are many: a recession, an oversupply of capability, a recent house cleaning in most IT shops worldwide, the trend to outsourcing and the real threat, the rise of off shore services in the white collar arena.
Will the downturn end? Look back to the opening line of this article… “The Internet is ignorant of both political and geographic boundaries!” now add an additional ingredient. The cost of living in third world countries is significantly less than it is here in North America and Europe.
This results in the following prediction: IT employment opportunities for particular skill sets will continue to plummet. There will be no turn-around. Technology is the great equalizer. Just as heat travels from hotter to colder, and a high pressure zone will equalize with a low pressure zone if given the chance, by eliminating the geographic boundaries, telecommunications allows “work” to seek out the most hospitable climate.
The “work” affected is not restricted to application development, it includes the following categories; Data Entry, Call Centers, Back-Office Operations, Document Imaging etc.
One response to this is… “We’ll do it better! We’ll be more efficient! We’ll use technology!” and the counter strategy is… “Anything you can do, we can do cheaper… because we have an advantage — our standard of living is lower.” Another response is to attempt to legislate a solution, which only serves to create a black market of opportunity.
There is no new force at work here. We’ve seen this happen before. People from China were shipped into NA to build the great railroads because they were cheaper than local labour. This time we’re shipping out the work, instead of shipping in the people. Exactly the same concept, just implemented differently.
The world is filled with economic inequalities; there are the Haves and the Havenots; the “1st World” and the “3rd World”. With the stated goal of working towards some sort of economic balance, we go to great lengths to provide loans to developing companies, and according to many, these loans do little to redress the balance. Meanwhile the global telecommunications network, part of which we know as the “Internet”, is becoming the unexpected solution.
Of course, there isn’t any solution which isn’t seen by some as a new and threatening problem. If you’re someone in North America who is losing, or has already “lost”, their job to a programmer in India, Pakistan, China, Poland etc. (the list is long… but then so was the imbalance) then you’ll have an understandably different view of this rising trend. From your perspective you’re losing your livelihood to an outsider, to someone who doesn’t even live in your country.
There are many who argue that off shore outsourcing is unpatriotic. That work generated in “insert country of your choice” should remain in that country. That argument, while compelling at various levels, ignores the economic reality. While there are many who only “buy” products made in their own country, there are very few who would support a boycott of sales to ALL other countries. Question? MS Windows is developed in the USA… should we stop selling it to other countries, because it has put their O/S programmers out of work?
1st law of economic entropy: Work flows from higher to lower standards of living. The Internet facilitates this process.
The IT industry is afflicted with a brain eating virus for which there is no known cure. The medical term for this highly contagious disease is Argotism. The incubation period of the disease ranges from one to eight hours, at which time the subject becomes highly, and permanently, contagious.
The primary symptom of this incurable malady is the ability to speak for hours at a time without uttering a single comprehensible sentence. A secondary symptom is the uncontrollable desire to display incredibly complex visuals using the most sophisticated technology available.
At first it was thought these visual manifestations of the disease, were failed attempts by the patient to overcome the impaired ability to speak plain English. However, extensive content analysis of more than 10,000 visuals has uncovered no evidence to support this hypothesis.
While medical experts admit to similarities between Argotism and certain aspects of Tourette syndrome – in particular the uttering of coprolalia – they have, as yet, found no biological connection between these two conditions.
Scientists are baffled by the contagion vector. The primary methods of disease contagion are typically inhalation, ingestion and physical contact. Argotism ignores these vectors and is instead, spread through the auditory and visual systems. The World Health Organization (WHO) headquartered in Atlanta, GA admits that this method of infection will lead to a global pandemic unless a cure, or at least a vaccine, is found.
Early onset of the disease is identified by a subject’s inability to raise a hand above their head and voice the words “I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Could you please explain it to me?”
In the advanced stage of the disease, subjects repeat the phrases which first infected them, but which they still don’t clearly understand.
(In the interests of not spreading the disease further, this author does not wish to represent any of the “active” phrases in this article. Luckily there is one phrase which has lost most of its ability to infect, which will serve as an example of the virus. Please read it carefully and if you sense the urge to use it in conversation in the next 24 hours, please report immediately to your nearest medical facility. The phrase is “Web 2.0″.)
While it is possible to become infected after a single exposure to Argotism, it usually takes repeated exposure before the subject demonstrates full blown Argotism and becomes a carrier.
A recent WHO study found that being in the presence of a superior when first exposed to Argotism, greatly increased the risk of infection. This increase in the risk factor is assumed, though not yet verified, to stem from our natural reluctance to admit ignorance to management.
While there is no known cure for the disease, there is evidence to suggest that those already infected with Curmudgeonism, or those equipped with a technological advance known as a “BS Detector” (origin unknown), are highly resistant to all known strains of the Argot virus.
An additional finding which has researchers puzzled, is that all the inhabitants of, and everyone from, the state of Missouri are immune to the disease. While stumped by this finding, researchers do believe this anomaly could eventually lead to a cure for Argotism. The researchers are currently herding thousands of Missourians into medical facilities for extensive testing.
Citizens are warned the most likely places to contract Argotism are technology conferences. The most virulent strains of this disease are usually found in the keynote presentations. Members are urged, if they must attend these breeding grounds of pestilence, to bring blindfolds and earplugs to reduce the chance of infection.
There is another home remedy proving useful in isolated cases. Prepare a small tape recorder loaded with the sentence, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you just said. Could you explain what you meant by that?” When a presentation drops into incomprehensibility, you know the presenter is falling into an acute attack of Argotism and is entering their most contagious stage. Before you lose consciousness, press the PLAY button on the recorder and hopefully this will jolt the presenter back into a temporary state of comprehensibility, perhaps long enough for you to escape into the hall.
© 2009, Peter de Jager – Peter is an inoculated Keynote speaker and Management consultant, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org – This article first appeared in Computer World Canada 2003. Sadly – as of this posting, no progress has been made in the search for a cure. We are beginning to lose all hope.
I’ve become a bit of a GPS addict. I now have maps for both all of North America and the UK and Ireland. I can’t imagine driving to someplace new, without the assistance of strange unseen satellites.
Despite the benefits, there is a peculiar downside to these navigation units. With a map, you always have some sense of where you are, with Mapquest type instructions, you have some sense of where you’re going… but with a GPS? You only have a moment to moment sense of where you go next. If (when… I have a story to tell the next time we meet in a pub) the device breaks down, you are completely, totally – almost permanently – lost.
Benefits and disadvantages aside, there are a few things we can learn about project management from the lowly GPS.
This is the very first ‘strange’ thing that I noticed when I first used the GPS. When you make a mistake and go ‘off route’ (or off plan if we’re replating this to PM), no matter how many times you make that mistake, the voice giving you directions remains calm, cool and unfluttered.
“Well of course it does!”, Someone mutters from the back of the room… “It’s a machine!”, and my response is, yes I know that, but when I make a mistake I’ve come to expect that the response will communicate someone’s displeasure. And, that expectation of a negative response to a mistake is the primary reason why status reporting is so difficult. We’re afraid of the negative response so we ‘shade the truth’ to make ourselves look better.
I would not suggest for a moment, that your project is monitored as closely as GPS monitors your location, but the lesson is plain. Knowing where you are, is crucial to getting to where you need to be according to your plan.
Regardless of the effort it takes to where we are against the plan, it’s something we have to do. If it’s not done, then we’re not managing the project. I’m not sure what we think we’re doing, but whatever it is, it isn’t project management.
Track the project isn’t administrivia is the heart of the PM concept. To state it even more plainly; everything done in the name of PM, is done to make it possible to know where we are. To do all the difficult preliminary work and then not track our progress is a form of insanity.
Not allowing time in the plan to track and report progress against the plan, is to state publicly that our planning activities are a farce… something we do to merely ‘look’ like professionals. The solution is obvious; learn what we can from the GPS
Retracing vs. RePlanning
When you go off route with a GPS, it will, for a period of time, do nothing more than try to get you back on the original route. It’s do this, until you get so far off the correct path, that it’s better to replan the trip.
That’s a great PM lesson. If we’re off the plan, how long do we just try to get back on the original plan… before we sit do and replan the project? Frankly, not enough replanning is done, in it’s place there’s a lot of wishful thinking – we’ll catch up on the weekend.
Macro vs. Detail views
If you’re paying close attention to the GPS, and that’s what we usually do, you’ll notice that when the next ‘check point’ is far away, then it zooms out to an overview, but when the next turn is just a little bit ahead, the instructions happen faster, the map zooms closer, proving you more detail of what’s ahead.
Project management can emulate that approach. Having a project status report ‘every three’ months works reasonably well when the work between markers is much of the same… but when key deliverables arrive more rapidly, when they get bunched up on the Gantt Chart, then more frequent status updates are advised.
While this is a tongue in cheek comparison, there’s some truth here. Driving from Dublin to Sligo has much in common with a project where both the starting date and deliverables are known. One difference? There are more Pubs on the road to Sligo.
When Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”. I’m sure he knew he was right in theory only; that his vision of “world moving” was forever beyond the physical reach of individuals. Yet he was perfectly correct in another sense. Individuals, by applying the right technology in the right way, can move the world.
In many ways this is an observation of the obvious, or at least it should be. The category of human achievement we label as “technology”, is nothing more than a collection of tools leveraging every aspect of human ability: Cars, trains, planes and ships, leverage our ability to move; Microscopes and telescopes leverage our sight; Hydraulic pumps leverage physical effort; Computers leverage every aspect of the mind, from reasoning to memory … The list goes on, yet people are continually and genuinely surprised when individuals achieve what was once achievable only by corporations, industries and Nation States.
Technological progress continually increases personal ability. It makes us more capable than those who went before us. Even more powerful than the companies, infrastructures and governments they erected to increase their capability.
A transportation example: I’ve visited more than three dozen countries, crossed the Atlantic at least 200 times, and traveled a great global circle twice. A century ago, I would have been the envy of Presidents and Kings. Today this achievement is practically without merit. I barely qualify as an elite frequent flyer.
Immersed in capability, we lose sight of what technology has made possible. Constant acquaintance with the amazing, immunizes us against awe.
Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt; because contempt requires conscious recognition. Familiarity breeds apathy, even ignorance of the wondrous. Once upon a time, only governments and big business could send a message around the world. Today the most disadvantaged of us, the homeless, own cell phones. Ho hum.
Because of this dramatic increase of leveraged ability, individuals can now compete with corporations, even industries. The almost exhausted example of Napster… an application developed by two students in a dorm room on a personal computer, placed the multi-billion dollar music industry at the edge of a precipice in less than a decade.
Even the loosely organized Fourth Estate is challenged by an individual’s ability to communicate on a global scale. Matt Drudge and his Drudge Report was as much a legitimate news source during the Clinton scandal, as the New York Times or the Washington Post. Personal Web Blogging by individuals has awoken and is considered as much a reasonable source of news and opinion as the major distributors, by a generation disenchanted with these traditional media channels.
This ability to leverage is not restricted to the domains of commerce. The world’s largest military machine is at war with an individual and his relatively small network of like minded ‘ associates’. Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, and author of “Losing Control – Global Security in the 21st Century” (Pluto Press), acknowledges this shift in power when he recognizes: “the capability for relatively weak groups, whether states or sub-state actors (italics mine), to be able to exercise political violence against advanced urban-industrial states.”
There is a growing awareness that through their increased ability to wage war, individuals can demand equality with the Nation State. Given the current world stage, it is difficult to argue they haven’t already succeeded.
Our shared fear is that these individuals will gain control of WMD. This acquisition immediately elevates them to the status of world powers. The military experts have even coined a perfectly appropriate term “Asymmetric Warfare”… while it was meant to describe those situations where smaller forces apply their strength against the weakest defenses of stronger forces, it aptly describes any situation where governments must devote their full attention to the attacks from what were once considered gnats.
Nor is the ability to wage war totally dependent on mere acquisition of ready made WMD. We now have the ability to create WMD in the back room. Specifically the weapons of biological, and chemical warfare. Germ warfare has always been an option, it’s nothing new. Poisoning a well, contaminating a food supply or distributing infected blankets are all low tech, historical versions of modern biological warfare, accessible to anyone with malicious intent, but technology has once again, raised the ante.
A team of researchers, at the University of New York, led by Dr. Eckard Wimmer have assembled a viable Polio virus from tailor-made sequences ordered from a supply house. Their ‘blueprint’ came from the Internet. According to one of the researchers, Jeronimo Cello, “It was very easy to do.” While the more dangerous viruses we know of are more complex, and therefore more difficult to assemble, the researchers admit that constructing such viruses is a distinct possibility.
As stated in the beginning, none of this should surprise us; these developments merely echo the trend of democratizing political power. Kingdoms once concentrated the power to shape and change the world in a single individual, now all individuals can move the world. Today we’re all Heads of State.
Archimedes’ lever, much to his eternal surprise, is now a common reality.
One of our local newspapers recently ran a series of articles on the phenomenon of ‘commuting’ and how some people spend 3-5 hours of their day travelling to and from ‘work’. While the focus of the series was mostly the ‘human interest’ angle the question that kept intruding into my thoughts was ‘Why?’… Why are we still flowing into small geographical areas in the morning and then flowing out to find our beds in the evening? An alien looking down from on high would be very curious as to the our reasons for the daily migration
Thankfully, I no longer work in a corporate cubical, but I have taken the time to reflect on what I used to do day in and day out, and as a white collar worker there was VERY little I did, that I could not do from a desk located on the other side of the city – if not the other side of the world. This was true as a regular grunt in the organization and as a high mucky muck.
As a white collar worker – I moved nothing from one location to another, I did not physically manipulate the world, I really had no good, persistent reason to physically travel from my home to the ‘office’ on a daily basis.
This is driven home today where my reality is that as long as there is electrical power and internet access, my office is wherever I, and my trusty laptop, are ensconced.
While I’m a card carrying techno geek, I’m not one of those who believe that all meetings are replaceable by ‘virtual meetings’ – that wouldn’t be much fun – I speak for a living – there is something about sitting across the table from someone that pixels on a screen cannot replace. More is communicated in a handshake (or a hug) than is possible to transmit on a 50gb optical cable. That said, It is possible to shift all those types of meetings to a single day each week, allowing most people to remain at home, in a properly equipped office, most of the time.
As I’ve discussed the topic of telecommuting with people over the years, the #1 objection/fear that I’ve heard (the one that is the real reason IMO that Telecommuting hasn’t taken off) is that we don’t trust our employees to produce if we aren’t looking over their shoulders all the time. That’s it in a nutshell. We don’t trust either our employees to produce at a distance OR we don’t believe our managers are competent enough to manage remotely.
There’s an irony here – and that is that management usually lets people work entirely on their own for weeks at a time. All too often managers have admitted to me that they don’t have regular 1-on-1 meetings with their staff… in fact they rarely meet with their staff.
Sometimes other reasons for not moving into telecommuting are raised, cost, security, privacy, etc. but there are more ‘excuses’ than they are legitimate objections. Many of these, possibly all of these, are solved via technology.
And then there’s another irony in the resistance towards telecommuting… any time we ‘outsource’ something – not to mention ‘offshore outsourcing’ then we are making a decision to do the work generated at this location in a remote location… ‘outsourcing’ is nothing but telecommuting on a grand scale.
So? Why the post? I’d like to ask two sets of questions…
1) What is it that you do at the office that you cannot do at home? Assume you have access to power, internet and a phone at home.
What % of your time in the office are you engaged in that activity?
2) Has your organization even considered the possibility of telecommuting?
If you have… what’s the status of that thinking?
Contribute if you wish, either in the comments (preferred) or off line (happy to start a few conversations – Pdejager@technobility.com)
I’ll assume that the benefits of Telecommuting are well known… let me know if listing a few would add value to the conversation.
Many years ago I was handed an assignment which would cause any technologist to drool over their keyboards. At the time I was working for a retail company with about 100 stores spread across Canada. The question raised by management was “should we install personal computers into the stores to improve store efficiency?”
The motivation for the question was obvious. PCs at head office were delivering huge gains in productivity. If this was possible at head office, was it also possible in the stores? If it was, then it would reduce store workload allowing store management more time on the sales floor.
To answer the question, a consultant – yours truly – was sent into a store for six months. The rationale was that there was no better way to gain store experience/knowledge than by assuming the role of a store employee. I was given no other responsibility but to observe the store, identify all store activities that might benefit from a local PC. Once the six month sojourn was complete I was to present a report and a conclusion. Oh… I also had regular store duties. I offloaded trucks, did inventory and sold goods.
The in-store experience was invaluable. It is one thing to have an intellectual understanding of how your company operates, and something else entirely to be a part of that process. To put it very bluntly… there’s a very good reason why the ‘field’ nearly always believes that ‘head office’ is populated by fools. This isn’t readily apparent until you are given totally contradictory prime directives… sell more… and always complete the paperwork.
It convinced me, beyond all reasonable doubt, that to intelligently integrate computers into an environment, one must be more than casually acquainted with that environment.
To that end we did something rather unusual. Stores received information in the form of memos, updates, shipping lists, inventory sheets, sales figures, employee schedules etc. etc. from every department in the organization. Since nobody at head office had an accurate sense of how much info was being sent out, we had to correct this. The solution was to identify the CEO’s office as store #999 and everything sent to the stores was also sent to his office and piled on a desk. The CEO had only to ‘read’ everything sent to him. That alone reduced the flood of info being sent to the stores, as he began to complain there was far too much junk in his growing store pile.
The final report concluded there was no question that PCs, properly used to manage store activities by properly trained store managers, would significantly reduce store work load allowing managers to work the floor and increase sales…
BUT… far greater and more immediate gains were achievable, if we reduced the amount of paperwork sent to the stores. Conclusion? Do not automate anything until what you’re already doing makes sense.
To my great surprise, this conclusion wasn’t embraced. There was a covert belief that we could find the solution to the problem of overworked managers in technology, and not in changing existing management practices. It was perceived that spending money to put PCs in the stores was an ‘easier’ solution than changing the existing Status Quo.
Here are the prime highlights of the ‘context’ into which we’d have catapulted the PCs:
i) Store employees, including managers, were not hired for their technical expertise. The effort necessary to bring a geographically dispersed group to the necessary level of technical competence, while taking turnover statistics into account, would be huge, expensive and ongoing.
ii) The development time necessary to create a system capable of supporting all the existing, and rapidly evolving, paperwork would take at least 2-3 years.
iii) Store managers motivated to sell would ignore our efforts to achieve that objective. They would ignore/resist the automation project.
These issues by themselves, were sufficient reason not to introduce PCs into the stores.
Regardless of how capable technology is, the readiness of the users to take advantage of the technology is the determining factor of the final result.
When someone accidentally does something which results in an extremely negative consequence, it’s not a surprise to feel some sympathy. After all, it could happen to anyone. When they do it again, and get the same predictable result, we scratch our heads in some puzzlement, but we might, if we’re in a good mood, still retain a shred of compassion for their woes.
When they persist in this behaviour several dozen times, then all empathy flees and we can only conclude they’re lacking the necessary mental capacity to put two and two together and get a single digit answer. In other words, we’re idiots. (I’ll explain why I’m using ‘we’ instead of ‘they’ in a moment.)