Enterprise Software

IT must change to keep pace with connected users

Customers, fresh-out-of-school employees and other consumers of our information today learn more about the flow of information and how individuals and groups can use it, before they've finished high school, than we currently teach them in college. This generation of iPhoning, iPodding, tweeting, txting MySpacers has not only driven a change in the forms; they're defining "content" for themselves, and they like it that way. What will this mean for IT?

There's this great moment in the movie "Men in Black" when Tommy Lee Jones is explaining to Will Smith how all of humanity's greatest technologies - velcro, and so on - were actually lifted from advanced alien civilizations. Tommy Lee holds up a new widget, destined to replace the compact disc, and mutters, "Damn ... gonna hafta buy the White Album again ... "

That's essentially the history of IT, in 30 seconds: a procession of better, faster methods of doing the same thing we were doing before. But this time around, we have to change more than the medium. Just as Tommy Lee has to let go of his concept of "the album," so we who build and implement information systems are now called upon to reject the concept of those systems as we've known it.

In my own career, I've bought the White Album several times, moving from IT vinyl to 8-tracks to CDs. Those transitions looked like this: from mainframe to desktop; from desktop apps to distributed web apps; and now, from linear, hierarchical processes to collaborative ones.

Of the three transitions, this latest is by far the biggest and toughest - and, in the marketplace, the most unforgiving. We landed here because we leveraged the utility of web browsers more than a decade ago, and gobbled up the savings it yielded in training our employees and information consumers. They knew this general interface, because we all use it constantly, informally, recreationally. Well and good, up till now.  But at this point, that recreational technology has left most of us in the dust, and fundamentally changed the way our users think.

Customers, fresh-out-of-school employees and other consumers of our information today learn more about the flow of information and how individuals and groups can use it, before they've finished high school, than we currently teach them in college. This generation of iPhoning, iPodding, tweeting, txting MySpacers has not only driven a change in the forms; they're defining "content" for themselves, and they like it that way.

The irony is harsh, and a little bit funny. This is the world we made; we just fell asleep after we made it. We hitched a free ride on general browser technology and raked in the benefit. Now the world around has leveraged all that utility and turned the tables on us. We must recognize how our users are doing things now, understand it, and re-think our dialog with them. We have to see that they are already collaborative - the Internet and its tethered technologies have made them so - and the future is, in part, already written: we can't keep re-releasing the White Album. We must change today, more than we ever have before, if we are to have any hope of offering anything meaningful tomorrow.

To say that this prospect is unsettling is a staggering understatement. Authority and accountability will be redefined; empowerment will become an entitlement (it already is!). New boundaries will be drawn throughout the enterprise, boundaries with a different feel and function, and new, emergent rules.

How do we compete in this brave new sphere? How must we change, in order to keep up, and meet these evolving expectations? Collaborative systems and the redefinition of content are already an unstoppable tsunami. Over the next couple of months, we'll dig in and hash out what this new landscape is going to look like.

Scott Robinson is a consultant and speaker specializing in server-side integration technologies, including MS SharePoint, BizTalk Server and SQL Server. He is currently consulting as an architect for Kentucky state government.

About

Scott Robinson is a 20-year IT veteran with extensive experience in business intelligence and systems integration. An enterprise architect with a background in social psychology, he frequently consults and lectures on analytics, business intelligence...

19 comments
dkmcadow
dkmcadow

I think a lot of the responses here reflect the very problem the writer warns about...narrowly focused viewpoints risk becoming an impediment to progress. I don't mean that as a criticism, really, I'm just trying to make a point. The blog entry was classified under "IT Leadership," and leadership requires a broad, big picture perspective. You can lead during a time of change, or you will be led by it - I'm sure I've heard that in a TV commercial somewhere, but nevertheless, it's true. Rather than being dismissive of popular trends, instead consider that they often evolve into to new approaches to business, new expectations for success, new technologies, etc. I think the article encourages us to start to think about how IT can thoughtfully and effectively incorporate the "new" into the "established." I think we have to keep finding ways for IT to bring solutions to the table, solutions that not only preserve the integrity and efficiency of a business's technological infrastructure, but also help a business achieve its goals through technology, and ideally, provide the business a competitive technological advantage.

Steve Romero
Steve Romero

The one aspect of your post that remotely answers the above questions is: "We must recognize how our users are doing things now, understand it, and re-think our dialog with them. We have to see that they are already collaborative - the Internet and its tethered technologies have made them so - and the future is, in part, already written: we can?t keep re-releasing the White Album. We must change today, more than we ever have before, if we are to have any hope of offering anything meaningful tomorrow." Is it really a mystery to anyone as to "how are users are doing things now?" Who doesn't understand it? Re-think what dialog? I can appreciate these new users have different expectations, but that leaves two alternatives: the one you seem to be suggesting, meeting those expectations; and one more, resetting those expectations. Just because somebody expects something, it doesn't mean that expectation must necessarily be fulfilled. The "flow of information" to which this new breed has become accostomed is arguably suitable for the social networking that has evolved before our eyes. Does that mean we need to apply the same exact conventions to a business setting? A few minor concerns start to arise up when it comes to risk and security (to site but one example). Should we ignore the fact that countless people have been victimized by this flow of information? Yes, they will be disappointed when we raise risk and security concerns and they will balk at how those concerns will hinder them. This won't be new. We went through the same scenario when we had to mitigate the risk and address security when data communications and teleprocessing came into vogue. Yes, users did not like the limitations risk and security imposed, but can you imagine the alternative? Finally, the "it" they are using is fulfilling their personal needs (to some extent). Does that mean we must mirror or duplicate the same "it" in a business setting? Are the benefits tangible enough to warrant our "changing IT?" I would love to accommodate these new expectations, but it cannot be at the expense of ignoring the barriers and rightful concerns that stand in the way. Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

sshead
sshead

This is phrased somewhat like it's a bad thing. I'm not so sure since enabling us to do our jobs easier is a good thing. The learning curve, for me, is half the fun (yes - really - fun!) so it's a natural process. If you don't want to play, get out of the playpen (not a derogatory comment I might add). The challenge is always their, the goal post just moves more often. As I'm sure a lot of people are going to say does it matter what the technology is, as long as you can still listen to White?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"We must recognize how our users are doing things now, understand it, and re-think our dialog with them. We have to see that they are already collaborative ..." I can intellectually understand the benefits of collaboration tools. My problem is I don't see any business benefits being derived from the current popular services. I tried documenting a project in a web log for a couple of months, but it took longer to post useful entries than the work I was recording. I tried Twitter for a week and found I had nothing to post worth reading. I've got a little used LinkedIn page, but since I'm not in the job market or self-employed I get no value from it. In short, my perception of these services is that they are almost useless as corporate communication tools. Obviously I'm missing something, but I don't know how to effectively use them in a business setting, or where to find out. Just jumping in isn't getting me anywhere. Edited to add - I'm looking forward to this series in the hope that it will give me a better idea of how to use these tools, if not professionally then at least personally.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]Customers, fresh-out-of-school employees and other consumers of our information today learn more about the flow of information and how individuals and groups can use it, before they?ve finished high school, than we currently teach them in college. This generation of iPhoning, iPodding, tweeting, txting MySpacers has not only driven a change in the forms; they?re defining ?content? for themselves, and they like it that way.[/i] 1. Maybe they do know more about the flow and uses of content, but can they determine the accuracy of that content? 2. How much of that content is meaningful? 3. Most important to a businessman, how much of that content is [u]profitable[/u]? Edited to rephrase: How much of that content can be put to profitable use? My feeling is that the whole "business should adapt to the new employee" that you will be pushing 'over the next couple of months" is an extension of the self-esteem movement and will have the same results in business as it did in the schools: everybody's happy, but things are getting worse. In the business case, self-esteem must give way to profit or the US economy becomes an also-ran.

Maarek Stele
Maarek Stele

the ITers are there to make sure the database can handle the traffic and to make sure the servers do not go down. They also have a backup plan if they did.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

[i]Customers, fresh-out-of-school employees and other consumers of our information today learn more about the flow of information and how individuals and groups can use it, before they?ve finished high school, than we currently teach them in college.[/i] I wonder about that. They know how to point and click, how to text, punch numbers on that cell phone, plug in that bluetooth device, sure. But about the actual flow of information, I kinda doubt that. Too many of them still expect an email to be immediately in their friend's Inbox just because they clicked 'Send'.

dwdino
dwdino

Interesting that with all this progress and availability the capability has been diminished. Ever try to converse with these "up and comers"?

franziskamoegel
franziskamoegel

you wrote about MiB. more important that lee has to get his album again is, that after all, he will listen to the same music. in other words, the technics of saying changes, the old bullshiet* stayes. *learn from spam and you win :-)

rdwollenberger
rdwollenberger

I view my role as an IT Director as one responsible for supporting the business needs of my non-profit organization. As one of its leaders my responsibility includes showing others what tools are out there, and suggesting how they may help our business. When my staff members show me something new, like when Twitter, Facebook and others first started becoming prominent, my first question is always how can we use this to further our business. The issue to me is taking advantage of the tech savviness of the younger folks so that they can use the right tools to support the needs of the organization. And if they can "only" communicate in 140 characters or less, than they probably don't belong in the business role they have. The tools are just that. Tools. They help you achieve goals which must be clear to those given the job of meeting them, and the organization (for-profit or non-profit) needs to be clear with their customers about the goals of their company...

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

in exchange for a reduced sentence, one that takes into consideration that I'm aware of the problem and have already voluntarily entered a rehabilitation and treatment program. I'm not in a leadership role, at least no more so than any other tech has a responsibility to ensure others to get the most out of the tools available. It's that implied role that brought me to this discussion. Yes, I have been dismissive of these utilities. I'm waiting to see a practical business use for many of them, a use beyond public relations / customer communications. I'm hampered by a lack of social interaction, off line or on; it's tough to figure out what to do with social tools when you don't socialize. My attempts at a web log, Twitter, and LinkedIn have been unpleasant at best; I have nothing to say. My inability to use these tools personally lends a negative bias to my attempt to find practical uses for them.

Tech D
Tech D

I'm glad we can lock down the desktop and run a spam shark and antivirus on the mail server and desktop it saves the company from hours of re-imaging, it saves the company assets from being used for social networking, and unnecessary downloading, it all depends on the industry you are working, certain technology trends can be useful and productive to while others are danagerous and non-productive. So be aware of the trends, as storage space and memory is expanding so is the data that holds it which means the data to restore it. I think IT should be aware and adapt but be cautious on integrating new trends. The connected user doesn't mean they are the most productive user, it doesn't mean someone who will bring profitability or any transferrable skill to the company.

sharrison
sharrison

Users of today are only interested in the current topic. How many phones are full of old text messages and full mail boxes. I know mine is. In the company I work for, we have the issue of users not deleting old data. I would speculate that over half of the data on any one individual's device is useless and outdated. That means we are holding on to way too much trash. Techno pack rats are being bred every day. I can't tell you how many people I know who have bought a new computer or had an old one overhauled because of the fact that they can't clean the HD out. But the point here is that we are teaching the future to use these devices and technology but we are not instilling the best practices of maintenance and upkeep. I can't help but to think that great civilizations have fallen because of the lack of education provided. Ingorance is the best way to ruin a society. What good is out technology if we cannot teach the young how to use and maintain it. In hte future I do not want the majority of the country to be obese techno junkies locked onto their computer screens relying on decades old technology to give them the fix of information and visual stimulation they so require at that moment. Instant gradification is great, but what are we going to do with a 500 pound plus society on our hands that cannot even leave their homes. Hey, maybe socialism can work for us! Lets all grow fat and lazy, the government can take care of us, it's their job anyway, right? Give me convenience or give me death!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Something many of these up-and-comers apparently forgot in their rush to post nude drunk photos on their social web sites. That doesn't give me a good feeling when they become responsible for my bank account.

FortBragg_Surfgoddess
FortBragg_Surfgoddess

While it is true that most of the younger generation is exiting school and College with a great deal of Tech savvy user knowledge. It is just that, AOL/MySpace user based knowledge? Most know enough to be dangerous to a corporate IT department. Furthermore, Most can not articulate correctly anymore. The language skills of folks coming out of college and high school (yes not all go to college) are atrocious. I recently went back to university to add a second degree to my skill set; and I was appalled at the lake of initiative by the younger students in class projects. I was stunned at the lack of grammatical skills too. Sure they can twitter and text with the best of them, but can they actually communicate? That is the question?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm missing your point. Are you saying that because a message was formatted for an older medium that it's not worth repeating? Is Casablanca not worth streaming?

dkmcadow
dkmcadow

Sorry, I didn't mean to sound so authoritarian. I'm just another guy in the peanut gallery, really. It just seemed like folks were more focused on picking nits. Being pro-active has always benefitted me in the workplace (as has erring on the side of caution), and I've been trying to do that with social media tools. Personally, I don't get much out of them, either. I agree with you - there must be a practical business use for them. At the moment, my workplace uses them for the two things you mentioned: public relations and customer communications, almost exclusively.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Everybody recognizes when a desk drawer or a full file cabinet is full, especially with all those papers piled up and falling out. A full drive, on the other hand is not quite as abvious.

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

they have no concept of how important accurate communications is to understanding. World problems will get worse not better because of ineffective communication. I also agree that the skills(?) they are learning is of no use to a business environment. In fact it is detrimental in that they are more prone to attempt non-work related activities than someone who is less "tech savvy". The generally know enough to be dangerous as evidence I can show the number of times I have to fix the family computers of people whose kids have totally trashed it.