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Ovum analysts recently held a Future of Work conference with presentations from various vendors including Google and Microsoft and systems integrators such as Computacenter and Wipro, along with some great industry case studies. Here is a short summary of some of the conversations that took place.

Google and Innovation

The Google talk on innovation was very popular with the audience. I had some reservations. On the one hand, it is great how driven Google is to innovate on such an ambitious scale. On the other hand, I sympathise with the vendors currently dominant in target markets. Most established organisations face ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ – how do you innovate and grow without cannibalising your current business in the process. Google is focusing on markets where it earns little or no revenue whatsoever. And often shows little intention of ever planning to earn revenue in those markets, instead collapsing them to ‘free’. I’m not sure I want every aspect of technology in my life to be funded by advertising…

One slide shared listed 7 notions for innovation. 3 were wooly but 4 were great:

  1. Share everything you can
  2. Rely on data, not opinions
  3. Focus on users, not competition
  4. 10 x moonshot thinking

In short, think big but act small. And recognise that pursuing a big idea – those moonshots – takes a team of people. You cannot succeed alone. Google’s priorities for engineering projects are healthcare, education and working practices. For a project to get funding and focus, it must affect at least one billion people for the better. Impressive stuff. And still leaving plenty of room for smaller innovations by others.

Deloitte case study – Establishing an internal social network

Deloitte provided some great practical experiences about how they successfully grew adoption of an internal social network. After the technology was first implemented, traction was very slow with classic concerns raised: “It’s not for me, it’s all tech talk or gossip”; “I don’t know anyone in my group using it”; “I don’t want to say the wrong thing”.

To increase participation, they found the following steps had a significant impact:

  1. Increase the presence of senior management on the network – prove that it matters
  2. Simplify the terms of use and mitigate the risks or concerns that deter people
  3. Increase training and awareness – acknowledge contributions, boost morale
  4. Focus support towards groups rather than treat it like an ‘All Company’ feed
  5. Put management processes in place – monthly metrics, reports and housekeeping

The biggest lesson learned was to not just assume you can create something like Facebook internally. People only wanted to use the network if there was a purpose behind it. Frequent chatting was what they do in their downtime, they don’t want distractions when they’re busy at work. A lot of guidance was needed to breakdown traditions that stopped people from speaking out, providing examples to show what others are doing and how they are benefitting.

I found the fourth point interesting as it correlates to what I see in organisations. The best uses of internal social networking tools connect distributed peer groups. Those who share a common language and don’t have the benefit of frequent close proximity for those adhoc conversations and serendipitous moments.

Barclays case study – Mobile devices in the workplace

Barclays talked about the roll-out of mobile applications in the workplace. Their approach was to start with forms that had started out in life as paper and had moved online in a desktop environment. Now it was time for interactions to work on a much smaller screen. The first mobile application deployed was for submitting expenses, to enable people to do it immediately from anywhere rather than having to wait until the end of the month.

The biggest issues experienced during the project were people and cultural, not technology.

One observation was the difference in behaviours across generations in the workplace. The older workforce were far more tolerant of failures and design short-comings. Having grown up through the introduction of digital technology at work, most expect there to be problems with any new solutions, at least to begin with. The younger employees had far different expectations. They have grown up with technology embedded in their lives but have far less understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. And as a result, have a much lower tolerance level when things don’t work.

One of the most interesting decisions was that Barclays chose not to roll out mobile device management (MDM) software across personal devices being used for work. At first blush, this sounded like a bad idea – most analysts predict MDM to be a growing market as more people bring their own devices to work. But Barclays reasoning was sound – they did not want IT support staff being blamed for a remote wipe that caused personal data loss, such as family photos. Instead, the decision was made to make all apps self-contained. Manage the app and the data within it, leave responsibility for the device to its owner.

In a separate case study by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, they explained how they provide a separate wifi network for personal use in their offices. The nature of their work – the legal sector – means most business data is of a highly confidential nature. They have very strict guidelines in place – no personal content on company devices. However, to mitigate, they have made it easy and encourage people to bring their own devices for personal activities in downtime.

Panel Soundbites

One aspect that is always good with Ovum events is that they include a number of open panel discussions, which encourages more participation than the usual ‘sit back and be talked to’ format of presentations. Throughout the day, there were some great soundbites shared. Here are a few:

It’s time to reassess what tools will help make people more productive – Ovum on next-generation collaboration

Information security has become too much about a checklist for compliance than about effective processes – Diageo on borderless collaboration

There will be more pressure on IT departments to do better at supporting consumer devices and applications – BBC on workplace trends in 2014

The technology barriers are coming down but risk, compliance and culture are holding many organisations back – Computacenter on cloud computing maturity

Controlling the device is key to controlling the market – Wipro on mobile futures (and neatly sums up why Microsoft bought Nokia)

And to close, an old quote from the dawn of business computing in the 1960s shared by Richard Edwards during the opening keynote that is perhaps more relevant today than ever before:

Anxiety occurs when people try to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools – Herbert Marshall McLuhan (d.1980)

Some great comments for consideration when introducing new technologies into the workplace.

Flickr image ‘Google Glass‘ featured in this post kindly shared by infocux Technologies

Blog, Case Studies, Event Notes
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