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    Entries in Technology (227)

    Thursday
    Nov202014

    Facebook at Work and Google Wave

    Remember Google Wave?

    Sure you do. You probably even recall nagging your friends and contacts for a (at the time) coveted invitation to join the Google Wave beta.

    Google Wave was going to be the next big, big, transformative thing in workplace collaboration technology. It was the re-imagination of email, chat, file sharing, and 17 other things - packaged in a completely new way. It was, for a little while, exciting and cool. Most of the folks who get paid lots of money to prognosticate on such matters expected Google Wave to become, if not truly transformative, at least an important and eventual essential component in the enterprise software tool set.

    Fast forward about a year (give or take) from the launch of Wave and somehow, for some reason, those optimistic forecasts about the importance of Wave turned out to be wrong. Wave did not catch on, at least not enough, and not as a workplace essential tool, and Google pulled the plug on the adventurous project. (Still, mad about that, personally.)

    I have not thought about Google Wave all that much in the ensuing years, (man, it seems like just yesterday, but it has literally been YEARS since Wave was shuttered), until the recent announcement and reactions to the reports that Facebook is planning on releasing its own workplace collaboration technology, which most are simply calling 'Facebook at Work'.

    But unlike Google Wave, which was greeted with (generally) optimistic predictions about its importance and relevance to work and workplaces, the early reaction to the notion of 'Facebook at Work' has been almost universally pessimistic and negative.

    The arguments against the success of 'Facebook at Work' are numerous and expected:

    People don't want to mix personal online socializing and networking with work.

    Facebook can't be trusted to secure sensitive and proprietary corporate data.

    Enterprise social networking tools, ironically often referred to as 'Facebook for the Enterprise', have been around for years, and have never really, truly caught on in a substantial way.

    That kind of thing.

    I have no idea if Facebook at Work will even be released as a product (Facebook has not made any public comment on these reports), much less become a successful, popular, and essential workplace collaboration technology.

    Maybe it will. And maybe it will fail spectacularly like Google Wave. And maybe it will never even be a 'real' product.

    Who knows?

    But I would also suggest the litany of commenters and pundits who have already written off Facebook at Work as a potential important enterprise tech solution also have no real idea either.

    Google Wave was going to be the next big thing. Until is wasn't. Facebook at Work has no chance of infiltrating the workplace. Until it does. Or maybe it won't.

    I think you get what I am driving at by now. No one, not me, or any of the smart people at TechCrunch or Business Insider or CNet or anywhere else really knows.

    So stop worrying or thinking about Facebook at Work for the time being. If and when it ever is released, then make your own evaluation.

    And while you are waiting, maybe send an Email to Google to see if they will reconsider resurrecting Wave. I liked that thing.

    Wednesday
    Nov192014

    There's more to User Experience than usability

    Here is a quick take and a diagram on UX that I wanted to share on a cold, kind of snowy Wednesday in my part of Western NY, (and thankfully not too snowy, lake effect snow is a funny thing, one side of town can get buried in snow, while a mile away sees hardly anything at all).

    I was plowing through my Feedly last night, (while watching my Knicks fail, admirably however in Milwaukee), and I came across this really interesing piece on API design from the Nordic APIs site. 

    I know what you might be thinking: Really, you must have a terribly exciting life, reading about API design and watching basketball. And you would be right! It is terribly exciting. 

    You don't have to read the entire piece about API design, (I admit, it gets a little ponderous near the end if you are not really, really into APIs), but I wanted to share what I thought was the most interesting and perhaps relevant part of the piece, a diagram called the UX Honeycomb, originally developed by Semantic Studios. The diagram is meant to portray the facets or elements of User Experience, and as you will see, there is much more than 'usability' at play here.

     

    The point of the UX Honeycomb is to make sure that designers understand the various components that encompass UX, and to also emphasize the center element - 'Valuable'. So while for UX professionals, 'usability' remains important to overall UX, it is not by itself sufficient. And it is also a great reminder that the elements like 'useful', 'accessible', and perhaps most importantly for HR readers, 'credible' remain critical.

    And the way that the elements of the UX Honeycomb seem to have really close applicability to lots of what HR in general and HR technology projects in particular is the primary reason I wanted to share the diagram. Whether it is a traditional HR-led initiative like training, or performance coaching, or rolling out a employee wellness program, or a straight up HR systems implementation, evaluating your approach against these UX elements I think makes a ton of sense.

    Is what you are doing, or trying to get others to do, useful, usable, desirable, credible, valuable, etc.?

    I think you have to be able to check 'Yes' on just about every one of the elements on the UX Honeycomb no matter what the project is, in order to have a chance to capture the attention and the time of your users, employees, and leaders. I am going to keep the Honeycomb in mind moving forward, and I think you might want to as well.

    Anyway, that's it.

    Stay warm out there today.

    Monday
    Nov032014

    No one can find anything in a massive Home Center. Except this robot.

    Getting back to the 'Robots are going to take all of our jobs' beat that I feel like I have been neglecting for a while and I wanted to share with you a short video, (Email and RSS subscribers click through), and some quick thoughts about a recent, and pretty interesting 'Robots in the workplace' development.

    This one, perhaps surprisingly, comes to us from the folks at Lowes - the mega-chain of supersized home improvement centers. You know the ones I am talking about. Each one about the size of the town you grew up in, carrying tens of thousands of different items, and once within, it's usually impossible to find the specific item you are actually looking for (or a store employee to help you).

    Enter OSHbot. A fully independent, multi-lingual, and infinitely patient Home Center assistant. Need to find an item in the store? OSHbot knows exactly where everytihng is located. Do you have the actual item in your hands? Hold it in front of OSHbot's camera and the robot can recognize and identify the item. Don't speak English? No problem, OSHbot will engage with you in the language you prefer.

    Check the video below, (about 2.5 minutes), and then a couple of comments from me after that.

    Seems like such an obviously good idea, right? This (pretty simple, really), technology goes a long way towards addressing the most common customer complaints with massive, big box stores.

    Where is the item I want? Can you take me there? What is this part I know that I need to replace but I have never seen before? Can someone here speak to me in my language?

    But I bet even more interesting, (and challenging for HR/Talent pros and organizations), will not be whether or not customers will embrace/adopt these robot store associates (I think they will), but what this might mean for staffing, deployment, and management of the robot's human co-workers.

    Once technology like the OSHbot becomes more widely deployed, human employees will have to become accustomed to working with technology that at some level is 'better' than they can likely be. By 'better', I mean that the robot, with access to real-time store inventory, sales, and perfect recall, will have the 'better' answer (or at least just as good an answer as a human) to probably 90% of customer inquiries.

    Certainly in a home center environment there will be some level of customer support, for more complex or nuanced questions, that actual human experts in paint or lumber or plumbing will be best prepared to answer. But I wonder for how long? I mean, couldn't Lowes just deploy a few more OSHbots to 'shadow' the best human experts to record, classify, evaluate, and share with all the other OSHbots across the world the 'best' or 'right' answers to these complex questions? And once that process starts, won't the line or level where actual humans remain 'better' at serving retail home center customers recede even more?

    And finally, one last thought. Robots taking customer service jobs in a Lowes or similar might not be alarming to you yourself right now. But these applications are not going to stop at the Lowes or the Walmart. They are being developed everywhere.

    How long until we see the first HR robot?

    Have a great week!

    Thursday
    Oct302014

    Microsoft Band and the Future of Wearables at Work

    As a certified data and tech geek, and a wannabee runner, (slow runner at least), I am totally fascinated and interested in the launch of Microsoft Band, the software giant's new wearable fitness tracking device. 

    What interests me with the Microsoft take on wearable fitness tracking, which admittedly is not really in and of itself all the groundbreaking, we have had Fitbits and Jawbones and all kinds of other fitness and activity tracking devices for some time now, is how the folks at Redmond are talking about and developing the Band as much more than a personal activity tool, but rather as a productivity tool.

    Read the (long, but interesting) post on Microsoft's News Center describing the new Band. The word 'productivity' pops up at least a half dozen times in the piece, (including in the title). Microsoft is still and probably will always be known as the company that makes the software most of us use to do work. Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints - heck I bet 80% of the people reading this blog use Exchange/Outlook for your business email.

    Microsoft is about WORK. Getting work done even in 2014 still often equates to dragging your mouse and keyboard around some kind of Microsoft product. 

    So the fact that Redmond is diving into wearable/fitness tech, and openly talking about Productivity in that conversation is eye-opening. Here is just one representative reference to work and productivity in the Microsoft piece:

    Microsoft Band’s cutting-edge continuous heart rate monitoring provides a detailed calorie count and sleep quality measurements. With the inclusion of intelligent personal assistant Cortana on Windows Phone 8.1, the band also offers hands-free access to the web and your most important correspondence whether you’re at the office or at the gym.

    And here is one more snippet:

    With the inclusion of productivity and communication features, they aimed to make not only a wearable personal trainer but also a wearable personal assistant. Productivity features would deepen the device’s connection with the consumer and free them from having to keep their eyes glued to a smartphone.

    While the initial interest and appeal for a wearable like Microsoft Band might be at the individual consumer level, it is pretty easy to see a (near) future when the deep integration of a fitness/activity tracker with the workplace productivity tools that Microsoft has long dominated, would present a compelling value proposition to organizations. I can easily see a day where organizations pass out a Microsoft Band along with a company-issued laptop and corporate Email account. The potential for not only Level 1 benefits (more exercise by employees, better dietary/sleep habits, weight loss, etc), but deeper insight into how work patterns, activities, schedules, and even personal interactions impact employee health and well-being will just be too tempting to pass up.

    Think for a second about the potential benefits for organizations of deeper integration between wearable fitness/activity trackers and the tools we are used to using at work - Email, Office docs, even IM and collaboration tools.

    I can think of at least three really compelling use cases for this kind of integration right off the top. 

    One - how work itself effects employee health. Does someone's heart start racing in every staff meeting? Do they begin to get twitchy when called upon to present to a group? Does a certain interaction with a colleague result in three nights of poor sleep? And then what can organizations then do to better understand and potentially align individuals with projects and team members that can aid their ability to perform, while not making them crazy? How do schedules, (and in particular over scheduling), impact employee health and activity? Do we need to be more mindful of how overworked and over scheduled many of our people are?

    Two - Insights into who in the organization inspires, challenges, and lifts people up, and who serves as essentially the corporate buzzkill? Imaging a meeting with 10 people inside, all wearing the MS Band. One person dominates the meeting, maybe it is the boss, and immediately after the other 9 people begin to show signals of nervousness, irritability, or even lethargy. Maybe email and collaboration patterns in the team begin to show signs of changing as well. Perhaps some members of the team skip their normal workouts for a day or two in the aftermath. Maybe some folks don't even turn up the next day. 

    Three - How much (or little) are employees actually disengaging from work to do things like exercise and even to just relax without worrying about and reading/responding to emails and texts? Activity tracking data should show a fairly regular and consistent pattern of employee activity and (hopefully) reveal that people are getting enough activity and also are not trapped to their work 24/7. What is the relationship between extended periods of downtime and subsequent well-being and productivity? Do we need to be more adamant that people actually take their earned PTO in order to ensure better long-run health and on the job success?

    Ok, I could be jumping the gun on this. But I can't help but see a potential future where activity/fitness/health tracking information becomes a vital input into overall workforce management and planning. Sure, some folks will scream about privacy and employer intrusion into personal areas where they should not be. And while that is a valid concern, if the macro trends hold up, and people continue to be more open and public about their lives, then a future where employees physiological responses and activities to work and the workplace are just another set of data points to overall HR/Talent/Business planning seems almost inevitable. Besides, employers 'spying' on employees did not just get invented with fitness trackers and it will be with us long after we all toss out our Fitbits. 

    So what do you think?

    Does Microsoft Band signal something potentially really important for HR and workplaces?

    Or am I naive to the extent to which people will not want to share this personal data with their employers?

    Friday
    Oct242014

    From HR Executive - On being a better HR Tech consumer

    Some readers might know that in addition to being the Program Co-Chair of the HR Technology Conference that additionally I write a monthly column for Human Resource Executive (magazine and online), titled Inside HR Tech. The latest Inside HR Tech piece 'Being a Better Consumer' posted earlier this week, and I wanted to share a little bit of the piece here (since I liked the piece and I think it relevant to many of the blog readers here).

    From Human Resource Executive - 'Being a Better Consumer'

    Recently I had the opportunity to talk with executives and product leaders from a small group of HR technology start-up solution providers. The conversations were primarily focused on these start-ups’ product offerings, their positions in the market and their various approaches to development, software user experience and deployment. It was really interesting stuff for a HR tech columnist for sure!

    But some of the most interesting and engaging elements of the conversations with these providers was hearing from them about their challenges dealing with prospects and customers in the sales, contract negotiation, implementation and post-live support processes.

    They shared some of the specific obstacles they've come across when educating, trying to sell to, and lastly, finalizing contract agreements with HR leaders and organizations. I thought it would make sense to share what they shared and offer some tips for HR leaders to be better customers.

    Though the start-ups, themselves, are small, many of their customers are quite large, even global organizations.

    And while some of what they had to say was certainly flavored by their relative small size and inexperience, I know for sure from having worked for very large HR-tech providers (and customers), that many of these buying process issues are common no matter what the HR-tech vendor’s and the customer’s current size may be. Big company or small, these kinds of challenges arise all the time. So here, without further delay and presented in no specific order, are my tips for being a better HR-tech customer:

    Define and share your decision process/timeline.

    Once the initial contact is made between your HR organization and the HR-technology provider, you -- as a customer -- can significantly assist the overall process by sharing with the tech vendor the motivations behind your inquiry, the specific business needs or problems you are hoping to address, and -- most importantly -- details about your internal decision making process and desired timelines for the technology decision to be made will

    Many of the start-up vendors shared their frustration with long and winding product education/demonstration cycles with customers that seemed to have no end in sight.

    Even if that “end” is a decision not to purchase, the vendors are often better off getting that information sooner in order to shift their time and resources to other prospects.

    And if your decision process, (for whatever reason), is long, that is fine too, just be up front with the vendor early on so they can align their resources and expectations.

    Explain your purchase approval and payment process.

    As a customer.....

    (catch the rest of the piece at Human Resource Executive online 

    I invite blog readers interested in these longer form HR tech pieces to subscribe to get every Inside HR Tech column in convenient email form. I would also invite suggestions and ideas for future Inside HR Tech columns.

    Have a great weekend!