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    Entries in Technology (408)

    Monday
    Aug152011

    New Technology and Staying Relevant

    Technology, whether its in the workplace or in our personal lives, advances relentlessly, and it can be really daunting and perhaps frustrating for some to keep up. And of course there's the question of should you even try to stay on top of the latest developments in things like augmented reality or whether you need to sign up for an account on the newest social/reputation/gaming/location/baconated viral community?

    Here's some unsolicited advice that might help you decide whether or not a new shiny object is worth the investment of some of your most valuable resource - your time, and by asking and evaluating your answers to a few basic questions hopefully you'll be better able to make an informed decision.

    1. Do I have any idea what this new 'thing' is?

    If the new tool or technology is 100% foreign to you, never heard the name before, don't recognize any of the people that might be talking about it, and as yet, can't find anyone with a Twitter bio professing to be a 'ninja' or 'rockstar' with said new technology - then it is safe to take a pass for now. Let some other folks with more time on their hands sort out the relevance and potential use cases for you.

    2. Who is reporting about this technology right now?

    There is a kind of progression and hierarchy in the popular tech blogs and aggregators, and mainstream media about new technology.  This progression can be roughly used as a layman's guide about when to take a closer look at a new technology or gadget.

    Killer Startups.com - Still safe to ignore. 

    TechCrunch - Still generally ok to wait it out. I'll keep an eye out for you and let you know if anything that pops there is relevant.  

    Mashable - Probably still ok to ignore, but at this point you might need to feign interest as all of your online friends will have read the same information you did and you don't want to seem out of touch.

    The New York Times - Now it's time to take a look for sure. In fact it may already be too late.By now the rest of the world now knows about the new technology too. So you won't be 'cool' for talking about it with the Twitter crowd, but inside your own organization you still might be able to pull off some early adopter cred.

    Does this technology have anything to do with my job/business/industry?

    The directly relevant technologies to your business or industry are generally easy to spot.  They usually have a tagline of 'The Pandora for ABC' or 'The Foursquare of XYZ'. If ABC or XYZ are things your company does or provides, it might be worth your time to take a closer look. That is assuming of course you know what Pandora and Foursquare are. If you don't then, chasing their imitators might be a waste of energy.

    Is this technology/tool/gadget/service the answer to a real problem that anyone that has any influence over my success and happiness needs to have solved?

    Your boss. Your customers. Your spouse. What you really want from your investment of time, resources, and possibly money out of a new technology is a way to solve problems. But not really your problems, rather someone else's problems.

    Be careful of adopting too many tools or toys that really seem to only benefit you. Sure they can be fun for a while. But you run the risk of ending up like the guy who has spent his life collecting Star Wars figures or PEZ dispensers. You might get some acclaim and (limited) reward from those communities, but do you really want to be known for that? As we'd say in the sports world - that is not tremendous upside potential.

    So that's it, a some short guidelines to try and help you to assess that fancy new technology all the cool kids are talking about.

    What's your take? How do you decide when to spend time on a new toy?

     

    Thursday
    Aug042011

    I want my MTV, I mean my workforce apps

    MTV was in the news this week, as the venerable network of 'Video Killed the Radio Star', 'Beavis and Butt-head', and more recently 'Jersey Shore' celebrated its 30th anniversary. Over the 30-year run MTV has certainly changed its focus, direction, and strategy, and as many observers are quick to note, the network doesn't really have that much to do with music anymore as it has long since morphed into a more general entertainment property.

    But even noting these changes in MTV's purpose, it was kind of surprising to me when I received an email Press Release pitch with the title - 'Latitude and MTV Networks Uncover the Meaning Behind Our Addiction to Apps', referencing the results of a recent study on mobile application usage conducted by the research firm Latitude on behalf of MTV Networks.  Since (shockingly, I know), I am old enough to remember when MTV was stil about playing bad Journey videos, I had to check out the press release and some of the study's findings about mobile application uptake and the important app value propositions - after all what workplace or HR technology solution is not making a move (or already has arrived), in the mobile and app space?  And as smartphones and tablets are taking over on the consumer side as gateways to the web, there's no doubt the same will (or is already) happening inside the enterprise.

    For context here are some details on the purpose and the methodology of the study from the Latitude release:

    The study investigated the underlying psychology and current behaviors surrounding app adoption, use, and abandonment for heavy app users, and ultimately uncovered top characteristics and features of a successful app. The study included a round of initial qualitative interviews, a deprivation phase (normal app users were asked to go app-free for three days), and a quantitative survey of more than 1300 app-engaged smartphone owners between the ages of 13 and 64.

    So what did the study show the main benefits are of app usage and therefore are the primary drivers of longer-term adoption and reduced the chances of app 'abandonment?', (again, from the Latitude Press Release):

    • Apps Create Me Moments: Apps allow intense personalization and hyper-focus, filling our idle moments with “me time” on-demand. This expectation for powerful, instantaneous “me focus” is making its way into desired in-app entertainment and ad experiences. Personal context is king!87% of participants said: “Apps let me have fun no matter where I am or what I’m doing.”

    Implication for designers of 'workplace' apps: Smartphones and tablets are really personal devices, much more so than the standard-issue company PC or laptop. Apps therefore need to maintain and leverage this personalization of experience, app users like to see their apps as almost personal tools, and not just extensions of a bland or generic enterprise solution. 

    • Apps Make Everyday Life Better: Apps are enhancing our day-to-day experiences directly by enabling productivity, achievement of our personal goals, and so on—and indirectly through the resulting creation of free time, improved mental well-being, opportunities for positive discovery, and more. 

    Implication for designers of 'workplace' apps: Sort of obvious, but the main point of emphasis is that the enterprise apps, particularly ones that might be transaction driven, need to do more than just replicate processes typically performed on PCs in corporate systems. They need to make the experience and process better - more efficient, simpler, more enjoyable. If the staff hate the process and the tool while using it in the office, simply porting it to an iPad won't make them feel any better about it. In fact, they might rebel, wondering why they can't seem to escape from it.

    • Apps Open Us to New Worlds: Whether it’s learning new languages or gazing at the stars, the possibilities seem endless as apps open people’s imaginations to the new and “magical.” As mobile technology rapidly innovates, people increasingly envision apps as complementing and transforming traditional media experiences into “something new.” 91% of participants said: “Apps expose me to new things.”

    Implication for designers of 'workplace' apps: How about approaching your app strategy beyond simply taking what you have in the office and porting it to a mobile app and think about what you can deliver that is brand new? What value can you add to the employee experience that they can only get via your new app? Whether it is new learning content, a tool that mashes up data in your CRM with social web content, or simply a syndicated feed of news and events about your company or industry - consider building something brand new and exclusive to app ecosystem.

    What's your take - can the designers and workforce technology experts learn from the MTV crowd?

    Or perhaps a better question - will you be watching the retrurn of Beavis and Butt-head to MTV this Fall?

    Tuesday
    Jul192011

    Are you wearing a wire? Tracking Employee Interaction Digitally

    These days it seems most organizational leaders have bought in at least conceptually to the idea that improvements in employee collaboration - discovery of ideas, sharing best practices across internal silos, unearthing insights from the far corners of the firm, and so on, is likely to increase in importance and urgency in the coming years, as almost all organizations try to do more work with less people.The Sociometric Badge - no you don't have to tape it on under your shirt

    Sure, a raft of technologies have emerged in just the last few years to facilitate and support employee collaboration, (Yammer, Jive, Socialcast, etc.), and while these tools and others like them all have some excellent features and capabilities, they are limited in scope by their digital nature. We can use tools like these to develop, share, track, and interact, and we can measure and report metrics about those interactions, but as systems that rely (mainly), on computer-generated and supported inputs, (individual status updates, shares of a document, group edits of content, etc.), they still miss capturing a key aspect of employee collaboration, namely actual meetings and conversations between peers and in group settings. 

    A new approach towards better understanding these 'real-life' employee (and customer) interactions, created by a company called Sociometric Solutions a wearable device called the 'Sociometric Badge' attempts to bridge this gap between analog conversations and digital collaboration tools and data sets by recording and assessing the information captured in a proprietary framework for further analysis and action.

    More information about the capability of the Sociometric Badge from the Sociometric Solutions website:

    Using a variety of sensors, the Sociometric Badge is capable of, among other things, capturing face-to-face interactions, extracting social signals from speech and body movement, and measuring the proximity and relative location of users.

    The process seems pretty straighforward. Turn up at the office in the morning, check your email and voicemail, then just before heading over to the office pantry for a cup of thin, industrial coffee, place the Sociometric Badge around your neck and the badge will begin recording how much you talk (versus how much you listen); it will gauge how much you sit versus how much you move around; and an infrared sensor will track how often you're facing other people also wearing the badges.

    After a period of data collection, about a month or two, the folks at Sociometric Solutions will use their analytics platform that combines Sociometric Badges information, e-mail traffic analytics, and other proprietary data collection methods to provide individual and group visualization dashboards. The idea being that these dashboards will provide organizations a more complete view of collaborative behaviors and interactions, than simple monitoring and metrics of purely digital forms of communication like shared wikis, activity streams, or email alone.

    Sociometric Solutions points to a case study from Bank of America where that found that call center workers who interacted more with their colleagues felt less stressed, handled calls more quickly, but had equivalent customer approval ratings to those who didn't interact as much. Addtionally, Bank of America scheduled employees' breaks so that they could interact and talk with one another more often throughout the day. 

    It is an interesting, if possibly instrusive approach, but one that makes perfect sense that people have been collaboratively solving problems, determining solutions, and generating innovative new breakthoughs for ages by simply talking to each other.

    It could be the next great breakthrough in harnessing the collaborative power of the enterprise won't be limited to rolling out the next 'Internal Facebook' tool, it might be simply gaining a better understanding of the informal, verbal, and offline interactions happening all the time.

    What do you think? Would you wear a workplace 'wire'?

    Wednesday
    Jul132011

    What's more valuable, the content or the platform?

    It is no secret, at least here in the USA, that the traditional newspaper and print publishing industries have been forced to undergo significant change, adaptation, and even re-invention not only to thrive in the new digital economy, but merely to survive. While the last decade has seen the rise of new information sources architected completely for the digital age, and some other long-time industry standard bearers adapt to this new world, many others have failed and have declared bankruptcy. Being in the print news business certainly has not been easy, and for those organizations still fighting the battle for reader's time and attention with the incredible array of options for news and information that are available, it certainly seems that creativity, innovative ideas, and fresh thinking might be the only way to get by.

    Two such enterprises, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News think they have one of these fresh ideas. They plan to buy Android-based tablet computers, pre-load them with their news organization's content and apps, then re-sell the bundle (at a discount), to try and generate interest and ongoing subscription revenues for their digital content properties.  Some additional details from the Ad Week piece describing the plan:

    On July 11, the two papers plan to announce a pilot program under which they will sell Android tablets with their content already built in at a discount. Icons on the tablets' home screen will take users to digital replicas of both newspapers as well as a separateInquirer app and Philly.com, the papers’ online hub.

    The idea of giving away or selling devices has been widelydiscussed in the publishing industry, but the Philadelphia experiment seems to be the most aggressivepush in that direction thus far.

    Greg Osberg, CEO and publisher of the Philadelphia Media Network, the entity that includes the papers and Philly.com, believes the company is making history with the program, the cost for which he estimated will come in somewhere in six figures. The deal lets the Philadelphia papers keep all the revenue and the consumer data, though, which will give it a read on how people consume newspaper content on a tablet.

    A pretty bold move for sure. The Philly news organizations (correctly), get that the tablet market is where tremendous interest and consumer adoption are taking place, they can see hundreds if not thousands of locals riding buses and trains playing Angry Birds reading the news of the day on tablets and smartphones, and therefore want to create and exploit an opportunity to try and merge a real consumer need - 'I want a tablet', with a manufactured need - 'I want to read the Philly Inquirer'

    It seems today that every publisher, consumer website, online productivity tool, and even increasingly enterprise technologies meant to support functions like recruiting, performance and talent management, analytics and the like are developing solutions for mobiles and tablets, and aggressively marketing the same. And this makes perfect sense given the market's reaction and almost insatiable desire for all things mobile and tablet. 

    I wonder, particularly in the HCM enterprise technology space, if we will see a 'Philly Inquirer-style', marketing approach soon as well. One where the solution provider does more than simply demo their tablet-ready solution to an eager buying audience, but rather offers the entire package, pre-loaded pre-configured, and ready to work. Walk out of the meeting toting your brand new, ready to rock, Human Capital Management tablet. I know I am oversimplifying, but you get the idea. How many of us try on that new pair of kicks in the Foot Locker and just have to wear them home?

    Corporate IT departments have been doing this kind of thing for ages, supplying staff with PCs and laptops with the 'official' image and set of applications that are supported. But today, I wonder if this process is too slow, too inflexible and not designed for today's much more demanding consumers of enterprise technology.

    Any vendor out there in the space already doing this? If you know of someone, drop me a comment.

    Tuesday
    Jul122011

    Self-checkouts, Self-service, and Customer Experience

    This CNET News article caught my attention last week: Major grocery chain gets rid of self-checkout.

    Here is the backstory: Albertsons, a major USA grocery chain has elected to remove the customer self-checkout lanes from its 217 stores.  From the original piece in the Seattle Times that first reported the Albertson's decision:

    For Boise-based Albertsons, self-checkout no longer fits with the customer-service experience it wants, spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said.

    "Our customers are our highest priority, and we want to provide them with an excellent experience from the time they park their car to when they leave," Wilcox said.

    When Albertsons installed self-checkout lanes nearly a decade ago, "it was in response to a growing trend in retail for stores to be even more self-service" than ever before, she said. Albertsons is replacing the self-checkout lanes with regular lanes and opening more staffed lanes during peak shopping hours

    A decade ago Albertsons, (and many other retailers, certainly), began to experiment with self-checkout lanes to provide more technically inclined and self-sufficient shoppers with what should have been a more efficient and simple check-out experience compared to the time-tested, (and kind of slow), 'place everything on the conveyor belt, make sure to plop down the little plastic item divider from the guy behind you, and answer a battery of questions from a sometimes too-perky check-out person'. 

    'Did you find everything that you were looking for?'

    'Do you want paper or plastic?'

    'Do you want a bag for your milk?'

    And so on.

    So to avoid the process, particularly for shoppers with smaller orders, self-checkout lanes started to pop-up in all kinds of retail establishments. They were meant to solve (perceived) customer problems, offer some choices, and certainly shave some costs over time - stores would typically post one service rep to look after several of the self-checkout registers at a time, to assist customers who had issues scanning items, entering payments, and so on.

    But as it turns out, most self-checkout experiences in grocery stores kind of stink. The machines are large, more complex than customers want them to be, and the thousands of items that a typical grocery store stocks often present customers and the technology with glitches and issues that eventually do require some assistance from the one service rep assigned to look after the process. Beyond that though, it is quite possible that using the self-checkout machines simply was not a good experience overall for most Albertsons customers, and most were willing to forego the potential time savings and awkward banter with the check-out person to use the traditional check-out process.

    Lessons?

    Pretty simple I think - implementing systems or imposing technological 'improvements' that exist primarily for the benefit of the service provider and not the customer can't survive indefinitely. Customers, be they the Albertsons shoppers, or the employees of your organization that are the consumers of your HR services and HR Technology solutions, eventually discern the value (or lack thereof), to themselves of whatever fantastic solutions you have developed and deployed.

    I know what you're thinking, our Employee and Manager Self-Service solutions are fabulous - everyone just loves using them. We have had them in place for 10 years, and they save a gajillion dollars a year.

    But ask yourself this question, if employees and managers had the choice, like Albertsons shoppers have had, to use the supposedly faster, better, modern 'self-service' option, or have their issues and concerns handled the slower, analog, behind-the-times 'old-fashioned' way, what do you think most of them would choose?

    Are you really delivering a great solution and customer experience?

    Postscript - I hate the self-checkout lane. Except when I get stuck behind someone that decides to pay for thier groceries using an out-of-state check. We really need to do something about those people.